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.
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