Ever since Dolly the Sheep was successfully cloned in 1996, scientists, commentators and the public have rigorously debated the ethical implications of cloning.
While the technology may have seemed a long way off in the mid 1990s,human cloning, in particular, has been a topic that’s inherently fraught with controversy.
Sir John Gurdon, the Nobel Prize winning British Scientist, who has been a pioneer in the field, added further fuel to the debate in December 2012, by asserting that human cloning could be feasible within the next 50 years.
With animal cloning already successful, human cloning only a half century away and even the cloning of Neanderthal man discussed as a theoretical possibility, the lists of pros and cons associated with cloning are growing ever longer.
The cloning of human embryos would allow those who have genetic diseases, or an inability to conceive, due to infertility, to have their own children. This would positively transform the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world.
In addition to providing benefits to those who are unable to conceive, cloning would also benefit members of society who wish their child to possess certain genetic characteristics, such as height or intelligence. If, instead of conceiving naturally, parents were to clone embryos, and undertake IVF treatment, they would be able to implant the embryo which contains the most desirable genetic profile.
Apart from benefitting people on an individual level, cloning could also be beneficial for mankind as a whole. Cloning would make it possible to replicate those individuals whose immune systems are resistant to certain diseases, thus helping to eradicate them.
The process of human cloning is not straightforward at all. In fact, it is fraught with technical difficulty. Dolly the Sheep, for example, was one of 29 embryos and the only one that survived the cloning process.
While cloning techniques may have come a long way, the replication of humans would require host bodies on a vast scale. This creates ethical complications as volunteers would be extremely likely to have miscarriages or stillbirths, creating much physical and emotional pain for the individual volunteers and their families.
Even if the human cloning process were to be a success, the resulting child could be susceptible to a whole range of health issues that naturally conceived children are not. The clones would, furthermore, likely suffer psychological issues in later life, owing to society’s judgment of them, as well as the pressures placed on them by their family and peers, whether conscious or not, to live up to an ideal.
At the ethical level, a number of opponents of human cloning also claim that the process begins to change society’s perception of children, from that of a gift and birth as a miracle, to a commodity. This, in addition to the concern of giving parents the power to “play God,” is treacherous ethical ground to say the least.
The Debate Rages on
While some opponents argue that society will never accept “genetically engineered” clones, we must bear in mind that we are also the product of our environment; cloning does not, necessarily, mean predetermining the life path of any individual.
Perhaps the only surety on this subject is that cloning appears likely to be a discussion topic over which society is destined to disagree.
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