Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Barack Obama and Human Cloning

Obama took a step forward in ending the restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research. This decision is correct. However, in announcing this decision, Obama declared that under no circumstances would he allow human cloning which he called “dangerous, profoundly wrong.” Obama went on to declare that cloning “has no place in our society, or any society.” On the cloning issue, Obama is both scientifically and ethically wrong.

Cloning falls into two broad categories: “therapeutic cloning” and “reproductive cloning.” Therapeutic cloning involves making a clone embryo and then extracting its stem cells for use in therapy. Reproductive cloning involves making a cloned embryo and bringing it to term.

The chief ethical issue for both cloning and stem cell research is the moral weight to assign to embryos and fetuses. Generally, people who are strongly “pro-life” assign a high moral status to embryos , at or close to the level they would assign a baby. Others assign less ethical value to embryos and fetuses.

Reproductive cloning should not be bothersome from a strong pro-life perspective. Indeed, reproductive cloning is functionally identical to the process which creates identical twins. No one can claim that reproductive cloning involves the destruction of a human life or of the potential for a human life whereas such claims can be made about certain types of stem cell research. At minimum, if one believes that embryos have the same moral rights as adult humans, then embryonic stem cell research benefits from murders. Even if one assigns some but not much value to embryos, this concern still exists. Similar concerns should apply to therapeutic cloning since such clones might potentially be able to be brought to term. (Indeed, I’m continually puzzled by studies showing far more people approving of therapeutic cloning than reproductive cloning). The serious ethical moral issues raised by embryonic stem cell research are not raised by reproductive cloning.

Reproductive cloning does raise legitimate worries. There are concerns about egotistical people trying to make copies of themselves. And we must worry that cloning on a large scale could reduce genetic diversity in the human population. Genetic diversity is necessary to protect against disease and sudden environmental shifts. And as long as mammalian cloning continues to have its high complication rate, we cannot ethically attempt it with humans. However, these are all concerns that can be addressed by further research and informed debate. None of these concerns justify President Obama’s claim that there is something fundamentally wrong with cloning.

10 comments:

treehouses said...

I think people who don't like reproductive cloning want to avoid the issue of clones being used as non-consenting organ donors or surrogates of some sort. No clones, no problems.

No spare organs either though. :(

Joshua said...

That may be where part of the concern is coming from. But that's still something that can be handled by appropriate discussion and legislation. So it doesn't substantially help defend Obama's remarks.

sniffnoy said...

Regarding reproductive cloning - honestly I think a lot of the objection is just the "ick factor" (what's the technical term for what I'm thinking of? I can't remember it, assuming there is one). And the association of any non-random people-making with eugenics (and, for that matter, the association of eugenics with the Nazis).

Sniffnoy said...

And people who object to "playing God", I meant to add.

Russell Blackford said...

I don't see any strong objection to reproductive cloning if it is ever safe and effective. I think most of its opponents just have an emotional reaction of repugnance (is that what you meant, sniffnoy?). Most of the people I deal with seem to think much as I do, but it's another matter to explain just what's wrong with all the rationalisations that are put up by anti-cloning Luddites. It's another thing again to get politicians and journalists to look at the issue a bit more rationally.

jaredcormier said...

Aside from the initial reaction of cloning being "profoundly wrong" or "ick factor," how is reproductive cloning wrong? As Dr. Dr. Blackford stated, it is only an emotional reaction rather than a logical one. One of the positive sides of reproductive cloning is that one individual may have a certain genotype more suitable for certain conditions; i.e. space travel. We ought not to dismiss reproductive cloning completely as an individual's personality and decisions are far more than his or her genes.

Generic Viagraww said...

I imagine that in most countries cloning is forbidden but in my personal opinion I would like to clone my girlfriend, she's been so nice to me that I to do it.

Anonymous said...

God bless everyone who reads this post! I believe that human cloning would ultimately end the NATURAL, process of making life. We should advocate natural means of perserving life and restrict or eliminate cloning for any means.

Bk Kapil said...

Human Reproductive Cloning would lead the world in a better direction. However, there could be notable bad consequences which can be overcomed very soon. We should vote solidly for human reproductive cloning!

Zoe said...

I think it's interesting that the only comment on this in opposition to reproductive cloning (Anonymous) used the "naturalistic argument" (*sigh). Why do you guys always say that because something is "UN-NATURAL", that automatically makes it immoral. Just the Ick factor coming through again I think. I really believe that if the technology is sufficiently safe it will allow people who are reproductively challenged to have children who they are genetically linked to, which is a very important part of being a parent to some people. Reproductive cloning will just become another option for people like other Assisted Reproductive Technologies.