Human Cloning and Genetic Engineering: The Case for Proceeding Cautiously

Article excerpt

The irony inherent in the debate on "whole human" reproductive cloning is the amount that has been written and the emotions that have been stirred regarding a scientific advance that has not yet occurred (1) and that, at present, is only a potential threat to family and social structures. (2) This article is in no way intended to minimize the fears raised in the ongoing discussion regarding the potential for superhuman or subhuman replicants, (3) or the potential adverse impact upon the family from the need to nurture genetic duplicates of one or two parents. (4) This paper is merely presented as one alternative to the entertainment industry's popular depiction of the horrors of cloning (5)--a depiction that has the effect of detracting from a debate that is, potentially, highly productive. Arguably, a more realistic focus upon the beneficial, as well as on the destructive, potentials of human cloning would permit the evolution of a reasoned set of legal controls designed to protect the interests of individuals, the family, and society.

A debate motivated by fear is more likely to result in extreme solutions or absolute prohibitions; these are unlikely to withstand the test of time. Enforcement of absolute limitations in the face of continuing scientific curiosity and societal needs will ultimately fail. (6) Laws that attempt to ban what people want to have (7) or to find out about (8) are, generally, honored only in their breach. To presume that the enactment of laws prohibiting the application of scientific advances will end the debate on human cloning, is, in this author's belief, the height of folly. Our curiosity regarding the essential elements of our physical being have led us to the strands of DNA and, even deeper, to the basic protein structures of which those strands are composed. (9) Human cloning is merely a predictable tangent to the study of the human genome. (10)

The purpose of this article is to suggest that an absolute prohibition against human cloning is unworkable and ill-conceived; and, further, that there is sufficient time to engage in a reasoned debate to develop the type of restrictions upon cloning practices that will protect the interests of individuals, families, and the human species, while permitting an exploration of the potential benefits of cloning technologies. The first part below briefly discusses the scientific history of cloning and how this has led to present efforts to clone higher animals. The second part identifies the risks that have been identified in the current debate, and also considers some of the potential benefits implicated by both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. The third part presents a constitutional framework for either supporting or denying an individual right to engage in human cloning. The fourth part considers the present national legislative response to the prospect of both therapeutic and human reproductive cloning. Finally, this paper presents suggestions for the continuing debate and argues for the imposition of a more logical framework in order to achieve a reasoned result in light of the inevitable advances being made in the science of human cloning.

I. BACKGROUND

Scientific advances allowing the cloning of plant and lower animal structures are longstanding. (11) The replication of organisms for agricultural purposes has been commonplace for many years. (12) Similarly, cloning of certain animals, particularly for food production, has become commonplace, if not universally accepted. (13)

The progress heretofore made with respect to plants and lower animals was dramatically enhanced with the public disclosure that researchers in England had successfully cloned a female sheep by transplanting the nucleus of a cell--removed from an adult sheep's udder--into an enucleated egg cell from an adult female sheep. (14) After 277 attempts, scientists at Roslin Institute utilizing the process of somatic nuclear transfer succeeded in producing the genetic twin of the sheep whose nucleus was transplanted into the donee egg cell. …