The Perfect Copy (Unraveling the Cloning Debate) by Nicholas Agar Essay

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Nicholas Agar is a professor of ethics and a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). Agar has an MA from VUW and a PhD from the Australian National University. He has been teaching at VUW since 1996. He has been known as an expert writer particularly in the field of genetics and ethics. In his book The Perfect Copy: Unraveling The Cloning Debate, he attempts to unravels the science and the ethics of cloning and proposes ideas on how we should face this highly controversial topic.

 To clone or not to clone, that is the question that is in the center of one of the most controversial debates within the scientific community today. The present technology today has given our imagination an opportunity to deal with the perils and possibilities of cloning. Even Hollywood has ridden the cloning bandwagon and has turned out many films which exploit the topic.  Although these films are a departure to what is possible, they still manage to pique our imagination and implant in us false notions and promises. These past few years, with the advances made in regards to cloning, the ethics of this act has become a great issue. Both sides present valid reasons to defend their claim.

The debate over the morality of cloning human beings becomes a debate over contrasting images of cloning. The method of moral consistency may not give us a simple permitted or not permitted answer. The reason is that no single familiar practice will resemble cloning in every morally interesting respect. In all likelihood, we will end up constructing a moral image of cloning out of a variety of familiar activities and practices.

It is often pointed out that cloning differs from the natural sexual way of having children. Some say that this unnaturalness alone suffices to make cloning wrong. A solid rebuttal to this is that things deemed unnatural but have received no objection like insulin shots, airplanes, and life saving medicine are a integral part of mainstream society. If you would follow the unnatural proposal, these things must also be unallowed.

The main concern in ethics is the unease which people have regarding cloning. This instinctive revulsion is said to be due to ingrained wisdom or to an upset stomache. Agar argues that if this was the basis to oppose cloning, then it is very unscientific and flimsy. Moral progress is all about subjecting sub-rational moral urges and aversions to rational scrutiny.

The word clone obtains it etymological origin from the greek word klon meaning branch. Clones are copies of organisms currently or previously existing with the exact same nuclear DNA. They do not result from a sexually beginning and thus are not genetically different from their parent organism. In our world, clones are the rule rather than the exception.

Most low level organisms like algae, bacteria, lower vertebrates, and plants use cloning as a means to ensure their reproductive survival. The case of twins is a clear example of cloning which occurs in nature, even among human beings. Twins come from one egg that divides into two. There is cloning from the moment when multiplication begins to produce two genetically identical children.

Cloning ensures that the exact genetic code of the parent is passed on as opposed to sex where only half of each parent is transmitted. This makes cloning more efficient in ensuring the survival of a genetically fit species.

One technology that has been used to create clones is reproductive cloning. An example of this is Dolly, the first ever cloned sheep. Dolly was cloned using the process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).  A reconstructed egg which derives its genetic material from an adult donor is electrified or treated chemically. The resulting cloned embryo is then implanted unto the uterus of a female host.

It is relevant to point out that clones produced by using nuclear transfer technology are not a truly identical clone of the parent animal. This is because nuclear DNA composes only 99.7% of the actual heritable data. The rest are found in genes located in the mitochondria.

There are numerous barriers in cloning humans. Aside from the legal and social issues still currently being debated, cloning with todays technology is also very inefficient and dangerous. Cloning technology today is highly expensive. Also the success rate is dismal with only less than 10% of cloning attempts achieving success. Also, clones have relatively poor health, and are susceptible to diseases, tumors and other illnesses. And clones like the first cloned sheep of Australia have been known to die without known cause. Scientist theorize that these defects are due to errors in the reprogramming process. However there has been several claims by Clonaid and Italian scientists led by Antinori that they are either capable or on the verge of creating human clones.

A problem arises in a cloned embryo due to imprinting. It is the marking of the genetic material for the mother and the father so that only one can be utilized. An error in the genetic imprint from a single donor cell may cause some of the developmental abnormalities of cloned embryos. Also it is postulated that clones are unhealthy due to the fact that they have short telomeres. Telomeres act as clocks, directly affecting the cell structure of an organism before they pass away. Due to the process clones have short telomeres, making them sickly and frail.

Cloning is deemed wrong for many reasons. First the process results in the death of many embryos, which may constitute murder.  Also cloning is seen as unnatural when they are view in concepts that are taboo to society, like having clones of the dead, the unborn and the dying. This problem comes from an individuals sense of uniqueness. This can be repudiated by the cases of identical twins. Twins may have identical genetic components but they turn out to be different individuals. Moralists have also a problem that cloning gives us a concept of playing God. Bringing back a dead person or ensuring that a baby will be born as well as extending the life of a dying person is seen to be in the realm of the Almighty.

The promise of being able to create an exact replica of a given genetic code has given many opportunities for those incapable of having children. Of primary concern are those who are infertile. Cloning as with artificial insemination and other in vitro techniques provide a way for their aim of having children to come true. Another is the families of those with deceased or dying children. They view cloning as a means to once more experience the love of their child. Also, lesbian couples who wish to have a child look on cloning to fulfill their dream. But it must be noted that were the technology realizable and actual human clones producible, cloning can only go so far.

The debate of whether a cloned person still has the same trait and behavior as the original leans in favor of no.  It is vital to note that it is not only the genetic code that forms the persons identity but that persons experiences, teachers and influences. The issue regarding human clones is that they are born with a genetic bias of who they are, denying them the open future that is a right to every human being.

They may be treated as objects rather than as persons. This underlies the discussion o whether the act is that of making rather that begetting. The problem is will being cloned from the somatic cell of an existing person result in the child being regarded as less of a person whose humanity and dignity would not be fully respected. This points us to the dilemma as to the humanity of clones. And the question is clones less human than we? Are clones of us us in every way, or are they new individuals?

One reason to clone humans is for research. The process of therapeutic cloning uses cloned human embryos for research. cloned human beings are not the target of this process but the production of stem cells for research. Any specialized cell in the human body can be derived from stem cells. Stem cells come from five day old eggs..  This act destroys the embryo, raising ethical concerns.

Therapeutic cloning has been touted as being able to produce human organs for transplants. Scientists say that for this to be possible, DNA would be obtained from the transplant recipient and injected into a enucleated egg. Stem cells can then be gathered from the egg. These can then be used as a template to produce the specific tissue or organ needed which would be an exact genetic match to the transplant recipient. Because of this fact, it is postulated that the organ will not be rejected by the body during transplant.

Another use of therapeutic cloning is the creation of genetically modified pigs which can also be utilized as a source of human organs. The process of xenotranspalntation or the transplanting of animal organs into humans is seen as a medically viable way to accommodate the increasing demand for organs.

Pigs are used due to their high rate of reproduction and their being able to be cloned with relative ease. Primates, who are of a much closer genetic match to humans, are more complex and thus much harder to clone. In comparison to other animals, the tissues and organs of pigs are the ones more similar to humans. To be able to achieve this, scientists deactivate the gene in individual pig cells that when detected by the human body, leads to organ rejection. Harvesting of the organs of the resulting clones is then done.

Cloning has been seen as an advance in eugenics. Eugenics is the act of manipulating a population to promote one race or type as superior to others with the end goal of ultimately taking over the population. The idea is that people who are exceptional, who are deemed superior to others in one or many fields, must be cloned since they represent the best of the human race. This idea has many ambiguities particularly on the concept of superior and inferior. Although there were some unlikely ideas in the book, like trading gene samples as a commodity, Agar fails to fully express the debate in this topic.

What he does show is that eugenics, by using positive methods would be beneficial to the race. And he also shows the impact of being a clone born under a eugenic driven ideal. There are different cases and different problems with cloning as a reproductive tool. Striking the right balance between procreative freedom and childrens welfare in the age of reproductive cloning is likely to require a case-by-case approach.

Nevertheless, the transcendental advantage of cloning will be brought about not for simple transplants in mans body to replace his sick organs, but for the complete cloning of the human being to eventually achieve the immortality of the individual. Man will no longer change the parts of a body damaged to a greater or less degree, but he will leave the old body and change to a new one, which will be also improved by genetic engineering. Thus, the long-sought-after immortality, which man has always desired with all his being, will be achieved.

It has been repeated insistently that the human being has a right to life. To ban cloning, then, would be to deny him the right to continue living.

If clones were to be feasible, they would probably suffer. This can be brought upon by errors in their production leading to medical illnesses or to the preconceived notions that surround them. It is stipulated by Agar that the human race may not be ready to incorporate the idea of clones living among us. We simply have too many fears and false notions that inevitably we would end up stigmatizing them. Agar proposes that we get rid of these notions and keep an open and intelligent mind as to what cloning can offer us. We must learn as a society to separate fact from fiction and to rationalize our views about cloning.

 

References:

Alan Man Humanity and the Cloning Question: Comparing and Contrasting Arguments http://www.amsa.org/bio/clone.cfm searched October 21 at using google.com

What Are Some Issues In Cloning? http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/cloning/clissues/ searched at Yahoo.com

CloningFactSheethttp://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml searched October 22 using google.com

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