WELL, HELLO DOLLY! Almost as stunning as the news concerning Dolly herself, has been the strength of reaction to reports of the first successful cloning of an adult mammal. This is all the more surprising given that cloning is not really new. It has been going on for years. However, until now cloning has involved working with embryos.
The problem with embryo cloning is that you don't know exactly what you're getting multiple copies of. You have to make the copies before development has taken place. With the technique developed by the Scottish team it is now possible to select and clone the most useful and successful adult mammals.
Dr. Wilmut and his team pointed to the potential benefits brought by this technique, particularly in the area of pharmaceutical research. However, while there are issues to be addressed even for the cloning of animals, it is the potential for cloning people that has provoked the greatest anxiety.
Dr. Wilmut himself rejected the application of his work to clone persons, but strong voices have been raised against any attempts to prevent such uses of Dr. Wilmut's techniques.
It is worth noting that although illegal in Britain, human cloning is not illegal in the U.S. or Canada at present. What then is at stake if this technology is transferred?
Doomsday scenarios modeled on science fiction fantasy of the sort we find in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are often cited, but probably premature. The technique is still very rudimentary and is difficult enough that it is unlikely to have widespread availability any time soon. It took 277 tries to produce one Dolly.
In any case, while Doomsday scenarios would be the most difficult to control, they are not where I see the most immediate and urgent problems.
Perhaps people are anxious because this development brings home the ambiguity at the heart of the progress brought about by modern science and technology. While the benefits are real and important, the costs have also been real, and those who have borne the costs have not always been those who have enjoyed the benefits.
There is little reason to believe that cloning will be different, and as Christians, we are called to look very carefully at who stands to gain and who stands to lose from this new technology. We also need to raise questions concerning what impact this technology might have on the way we understand ourselves and our relationships.
Instead of asking why we should not clone humans, I think it is important to ask why we should. To make a clone of oneself is to make a genetic replica. The new individual will be different because of the effects of development, but will be genetically identical.
Why would we choose this route rather than one of the reproductive technologies already available? Why would we make a replica of ourselves rather than bring into being a new individual with a unique genetic makeup? What does this say about our appreciation of diversity?
One effect of cloning is to exclude the genetic contribution of another person to our offspring. …