Intervening with Mother Nature: The Ethics of Human Cloning

By Itzkoff, Seymour W. | Mankind Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Intervening with Mother Nature: The Ethics of Human Cloning


Itzkoff, Seymour W., Mankind Quarterly


The author examines reactionary ethical objections to research in medical genetics with particular regard to human reproduction, and selects the debate over the ethics of human cloning as occupying a central position for further analysis.

Key Words: Medical genetics; human reproduction; germ-line intervention; genetic disease; intelligence; human cloning; eugenics.

Leon R. Kass, Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, has stated that "Cloning not only carries high risks of bodily harm for the cloned child, but it also threatens the dignity of human procreation, giving one generation unprecedented genetic control over the next. It is the first step toward a eugenic world in which children become objects of manipulation and products of will."2

As a scientific experiment in bio-cloning may not work. Kass may be right. The bodily harm may be too great to yield a viable and functioning human being. We do not know, but we will try, despite the objections of officialdom. What is just as important as this most recent meddling with Mother Nature is that, if successful, human clones will constitute a truly remarkable, if not a revolutionary break with our reproductive sexual heritage.

Before we cry out with revulsion, our churches, synagogues, mosques, echoing lamentations of the power brokers and the religious conservatives fear less the poisonous smog of the internal combustion engine or the deafening cacophony of the "boom box" need to see what is behind the Current panic. Is it a real concern for human welfare or is it the politics of reaction?

We humans have tampered with nature ever since we experimented with the fermenting of grapes, or plunged a stuck pig into a blazing fire. Edward Jenner in the late century intuited the solution to the scourge of smallpox. Inoculate a related weak strain, cowpox, to prevent a truly horrifying plagues of small pox. Jenner's scientific insight empowered us, in the medical sciences as elsewhere in technology and engineering, to shape nature so that it might serve the good of the human species.

Certainly, "giving one generation genetic control over the next" is an ambiguous phrase. For, in inoculating children against disease we will the softening of the randomness of disease and death in terms of the demographic profile of the next generation. As such, we exercise a measure of control over the genetic nature of subsequent generations.

During the twentieth century, two world wars and countless genocidal events selectively affected the most talented and productive minorities in the world, eliminating by the millions their genetic profiles from the generations that would follow. The twentieth-century contribution to the future of the species was the destruction worldwide of approximately 200 millions of our most talented, intelligent, productive humans.3

By the actions of human will, politically nihilistic and barbarous, we have reshaped the genetic nature of futurehuman generations throughout the planet.

The unprecedented nature of genetic transmission through cloning might be revolutionary both in technology and in character. The future impact of a successful cloning methodology is difficult to foretell, were there to be large-scale adoption of such asexual reproduction. It could be a widely accepted international methodology for the conscious improvement of the species, i.e., eugenics. Else, an elitist preoccupation of the few. What we do know is that disease, war, genocide, even the subsidization of life at the edge, the medically salvaged, genetic carriers of disabilities have long become clear interventions with nature that allow the present generation to shape the genetic nature of the future. Cloning Humans?

The debate within the scientific community focuses on the use of experimentally-created (cloned) and normally conceived embryos in their first few days of existence from which we might harvest colonies of stems cells, the root structures out of which so many other organs are formed. …

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