Apr 162002

Bush is at it again, wanting to forbid all human cloning for any research or reproductive purposes. To use his words exactly, “Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be unethical.” The obvious, blunt response is, “Why is human cloning unethical?”

There are only two exceptionally good reasons. The first is maternal. Humans can get a fairly unique form of cancer called choriocarcinoma, which comes about from abnormal placental behavior. Tweaking around with placental programming by placing an unpredictable baby clone inside a mother could be dangerous. Still, frozen embryos are put in women all the time and, with the proper amount of research, these problems could probably be avoided.

The second problem is that defective human clones could be born. Of course, defective children are born all the time. Anybody would certainly argue that it’s perfectly OK to allow the birth of children with genetic diseases because they are “natural.” Many religious sects say that fetuses that have already been detected as abnormal should be carried to term – no abortions period. To this, I say, “bravo!” because these religions are at least consistent. In our country, however, abortion is perfectly legal and common. With this precedent, then, why not allow the abortion of human clones that are detected as being abnormal as well?

You might say there are many other reasons why we shouldn’t clone humans or allow cloning research to precede. According to Bush, “Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts and children are engineered to custom specifications – and that’s not acceptable.” Not allowing humans to be grown for spare parts is a valid concern, until you use your human brain and realize it’s a pathetic excuse. Does Bush seriously think that human beings with thoughts, emotions and experiences would be bred for body parts? Science guys want to clone body parts, yes, but these parts would not be attached to a human brain – headless clones, if you will. These cloned body parts could care less about being organ donors because they can’t care about anything.

This may sound Frankensteinian, but honestly, what is it that separates humans from animals, animals we kill all the time for food? The human mind. How is a heart grown in a beaker going to care that its genes are being exploited? It would probably care much less than the human whose life was saved because of this cloned part.

Bush’s second concern, that we shouldn’t build children to custom specifications, also seems valid at first. Who would want parents to choose the eye color of their child on a whim? However, what about parents who find out the embryo they just created contains two copies of a Tay-Sachs (a fatal brain disorder) gene? Wouldn’t it be nice if the doctors could, using technology gained from cloning research, remove the embryo, insert non-lethal genes into the cells and replace them in the mother?

Nah. Having a Tay-Sachs child would be much more rewarding.

The list of “ethical” concerns could go on and on, most of which are knee-jerk, superstitious, paranoid blatherings. However, what the American cloning debate all boils down to, really, is Bush’s tendency to be not a president but rather a theocratic interpreter of “God’s will,” as is evidenced by his repeated tendency to call “birth” an act of the Creator.

The easiest counter to Bush’s assertion that human cloning would make God sad is to say, “No, it wouldn’t.” Both are equally childish statements that have no true ethical backing. Using Creationist views as the fundamental backing for a national policy is preposterous.

This isn’t, after all, a Taliban regime. This is America, which is a secular nation that must use secular methods to determine its secular laws. Before we call something “unethical,” let’s first understand the meaning of the word “ethics.” Then, maybe, we will be able to rationally discuss human cloning and how seriously bad an outright, complete research shutdown would be.

Ken is a microbiology grad student

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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