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A 3 Pages Term Paper on CLONING


     As bioethics Leon R. Kass points out in his essay "The Wisdom of Repugnance", those who defend human cloning regard themselves mainly as friends of freedom: the freedom of individuals to reproduce, the freedom of scientists and inventors to discover and devise and to foster 'progress' in genetic knowledge and technique."

     Kass goes on to stress that in fact, a "right to reproduce" has always been a peculiar and problematic notion. Rights generally belong to individuals, but this is a right which (before cloning) no one can exercise alone. Does the right then adhere only in couples? Only in married couples? Is it a (woman's) right to carry or deliver or a right (of one or more parents) to nurture and rear? Is it a right to have your own biological child? Is it a right only to attempt reproduction, or a right also to succeed? Is it a right to acquire the baby of one's choice?

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Critical analysis

     Kass's debate on human cloning has brought to the surface a glaring deficiency of bioethics. It has few if any good methods for dealing with new and novel technologies. By that I mean those technologies where there seem to be no relevant historical precedents and where the potential benefits and harms are speculative only, not yet available for empirical testing. How might we try our best to assess such technologies, and what counts as a good or bad argument for ethics and for public policy? Nor is it reasonable to insist on "empirical evidence" of benefit or harm when the scientific outcomes are still in the future and wholly speculative in nature. Such evidence could become available only when human cloning was a reality; and then it could take years or decades after that to determine whether it had been a wise move to allow the research to go forward in the first place

     The key issue here is not genetic determinism or genetic identity but the preservation of individuality. Even, so-called "identical" twins are not wholly identical genetically. More to this point here is the issue of parents trying to use children for parental ends, procreating them with traits chosen by the parents for the purposes of the parents, not the welfare of the children. We happily accept twins when they are born, but no parents I have heard of go out of their way to procreate twins, or turn to assisted reproduction specialists to procreate twins.

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     If the cloned children share no other trait than simply looking like the parents (give or take minor variations), then that child's individuality will be compromised. Is it too hard to imagine that a child might not choose to look like a parent, even if most of his other traits are different?

     As it happens I do not support a ban on cloning. I don't think it could be enforced. I will be satisfied if the federal government does not provide grant money for that purpose, and if most scientists, together with Ian Wilmut [who cloned the sheep Dolly], continue to feel repugnance at the idea (however badly they may articulate their reasons). As for Macklin and Brock, fine and conscientious philosophers, I would hope that they might cast a broader imaginative net as they continue to think about this problem.

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     Kass argues that this is an impossible standard to impose on radically new technologies. He is correct, of course, that we cannot show "demonstrated" harms from an as yet undeveloped and unused technology. But this is not to say we cannot impose reasonable standards on the speculations many opponents of new technologies offer about disasters the technology will bring.

     There are two aspects to reasonable standards for claims about prospective harms. One concerns a showing about the probability or likelihood that the harms will occur, the other a showing that the feared effects would indeed be serious harms. Even in the absence of experience with the new technology, we can assess the likelihood of causal relationships between the technology and the feared harm, in part by reviewing experience with similar kinds of technologies in the past.

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     However, even if people can come to agree about the probability of such posited harms, they may still disagree about the magnitude of harm. In the case of a new technology like human cloning, it is reasonable to demand of opponents that they identify tangible and serious harms of the sort generally required to support a prohibition of research on or use of the new technology. The language of repugnance, used by Leon Kass and apparently endorsed by Callahan, makes clear that they find human cloning deeply offensive, but it does nothing to identify the harms, much less to establish that those harms are of sufficient magnitude to support a public prohibition of human cloning. In a free society, the burden of proof should be on those who wish to prohibit behavior, and mere offense to some people typically is not, nor should it be, sufficient to meet that burden.

     The possibilities of producing serious human defects raises ethical dilemmas as well as the question of the social responsibility involved in the care of deformed beings produced by human cloning experiments. Fervent pro-cloners like Antinori and Zavos deny there are any risks to cloning humans and claim that there is "enough information" to proceed with confidence. If pressed to admit there might be "mistakes," they simply write them off as necessary means to the end of reproductive freedom and medical progress. Ignoring the availability of frozen embryos and existing children for adoption, they claim the "right to reproduce" as crucial for human beings, and argue that this "right" -- which in fact does not exist in any social constitution -- outweighs any risks to the baby or to society as a whole, once the doorway is opened to the world of human cloning.

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What sane person would want to produce a possibly freakish replication of him or herself or a dead loved one? What are the potential health risks to women who would be called upon to give birth to human clones, at least before artificial wombs make women, like men, superfluous to the reproductive process? Who will be responsible for caring for deformed human clones that parents renounce? Is this really an experiment that the human species wants to undertake so that self-centered infertile couples can have their own children (apparently some can only love a child with their own DNA), or misinformed narcissists can spawn what they think will be their carbon-copy twins? What happens if human clones breed? What mutations could follow? What might result from long-range tampering with the human genome as a consequence from genetic engineering and cloning?

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Works cited

Leon R. Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance.

Excerpted by permission of the author from Leon R. Kass and James Q. Wilson, The Ethics of Human Cloning, AEI Press, 1998

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