All in the Family: A Child Welfare Perspective on Human Reproductive Cloning

By Keough, William J. | Health Law Journal, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

All in the Family: A Child Welfare Perspective on Human Reproductive Cloning


Keough, William J., Health Law Journal


One of the chief philosophical problems raised by human cloning is the question of how we should respond to the interests of people not yet in existence. (1)

Introduction

For centuries a woman who bore a child was clearly the birth mother of that child: mater est quam gestatio demonstrat. (2) However, this relationship is no longer unequivocal. The possibility of embryo transfer or egg donation separates biological motherhood into genetic and gestational components. With the announcement in 1997 of the live birth of the first cloned adult mammal using differentiated bodily (or somatic) ceils from an adult organism, the prospect of creating children through somatic, cellular cloning has pushed the envelope wider than ever before.

The prospect of creating children through cloning has caused widespread concern, much of it based on the nature of fears about the possible harm to the children who may be born as a result. Concerns exist as to possible physical harms from the manipulation of the ova, nuclei and embryo as part of the process of cloning. Most scientists agree that, currently, cloning technology has not advanced enough to ensure its safe use in humans. (3) The long term effects on animals created through cloning have not been determined--with some literature indicating that the cells of clones age more quickly than those produced through sexual reproduction. (4) Similarly, other studies have suggested major long term side effects, such as the effects of mutations on the health of a clone,5 as a basis for concern. Other possible physical harms relate to psychological harm in the form of a diminished sense of individual and personal autonomy on the part of the cloned child. (6) Indeed, the American Medical Association's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs Position Paper argues that: "[h]uman cloning is a matter for the medical profession's attention since it would involve medical procedures and technology, and it may result in the creation of new genetic and psychological conditions that would require professional care." (7)

But human cloning is far more than a medical issue, it is a legal issue as well as a profoundly ethical one. The ethical concerns can be categorised into two distinct groups: The first group involves harm to procreative realism--specifically, that reproductive cloning would devalue the procreative process and degrade the parent-child relationship, as well as violate the dignity of the child as an autonomous moral agent. The second group is involved with concerns about the psychological burden on the cloned child and fears that the child would suffer, inter alia, from social prejudice as well as concerns as to his/her identity. It could be argued that any psychological burden on the cloned child as to issues of identity, and the like, is a sequelae that could, in turn, degrade the parent-child relationship as well as violate the child's autonomy. (8)

Proponents of human cloning tend to justify the use of somatic nuclear transfer on arguments rooted in autonomy, ie: freedom of reproductive choice and freedom of scientific inquiry. (9) A further argument that can be advanced in favour of cloning is that the psychological effects of the same referred to previously are, at best, only speculative in nature and, accordingly, give rise to the question as to whether or not it is morally right to condemn further scientific inquiry into cloning purely on the basis of such mere speculation. An analogy can be drawn with the concern and uncertainty that surrounded the test-tube baby in the early days of assisted reproductive technology.

It is the nature of this paper to examine human reproductive cloning from the perspective of the welfare of the cloned child. The paper will examine the basic science of cloning as well as the current legal framework regulating somatic nuclear transfer before examining cloning from the perspective of parental responsibility and the fiduciary nature of the family. …

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