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The Debate about Cloning

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In a paper, published in "Science" in May 2005, 25 scientists, led by Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University, confirmed that they were able to clone dozens of blastocysts (the clusters of tiny cells that develop into embryos). Blastocysts contain stem cells that can be used to generate replacement tissues and, perhaps, one day, whole organs. The fact that cloned cells are identical to the original cell guarantees that they will not be rejected by the immune system of the recipient.

The results were later proven faked by the disgraced scientist - but they pointed the way for future research non the less.

There are two types of cloning. One involves harvesting stem cells from embryos ("therapeutic cloning"). Stem cells are the biological equivalent of a template or a blueprint. They can develop into any kind of mature functional cell and thus help cure many degenerative and auto-immune diseases.

The other kind of cloning, known as "nuclear transfer", is much decried in popular culture - and elsewhere - as the harbinger of a Brave, New World. A nucleus from any cell of a donor is embedded in an (either mouse or human) egg whose own nucleus has been removed. The egg can then be coaxed into growing specific kinds of tissues (e.g., insulin-producing cells or nerve cells). These can be used in a variety of treatments.

Opponents of the procedure point out that when a treated human egg is implanted in a woman's womb a cloned baby will be born nine months later. Biologically, the infant is a genetic replica of the donor. When the donor of both nucleus and egg is the same woman, the process is known as "auto-cloning" (which was achieved by Woo Suk Hwang).

Cloning is often confused with other advances in bio-medicine and bio-engineering - such as genetic selection. It cannot - in itself - be used to produce "perfect humans" or select sex or other traits. Hence, some of the arguments against cloning are either specious or fuelled by ignorance.

It is true, though, that cloning, used in conjunction with other bio-technologies, raises serious bio-ethical questions. Scare scenarios of humans cultivated in sinister labs as sources of spare body parts, "designer babies", "master races", or "genetic sex slaves" - formerly the preserve of B sci-fi movies - have invaded mainstream discourse.

Still, cloning touches upon Mankind's most basic fears and hopes. It invokes the most intractable ethical and moral dilemmas. As an inevitable result, the debate is often more passionate than informed.
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See the Appendix - Arguments from the Right to Life

But is the Egg - Alive?

This question is NOT equivalent to the ancient quandary of "when does life begin". Life crystallizes, at the earliest, when an egg and a sperm unite (i.e., at the moment of fertilization). Life is not a potential - it is a process triggered by an event. An unfertilized egg is neither a process - nor an event. It does not even possess the potential to become alive unless and until it merges with a sperm. Should such merger not occur - it will never develop life.

The potential to become X is not the ontological equivalent of actually being X, nor does it spawn moral and ethical rights and obligations pertaining to X. The transition from potential to being is not trivial, nor is it automatic, or inevitable, or independent of context. Atoms of various elements have the potential to become an egg (or, for that matter, a human being) - yet no one would claim that they ARE an egg (or a human being), or that they should be treated as one (i.e., with the same rights and obligations).

Moreover, it is the donor nucleus embedded in the egg that endows it with life - the life of the cloned baby. Yet, the nucleus is usually extracted from a muscle or the skin. Should we treat a muscle or a skin cell with the same reverence the critics of cloning wish to accord an unfertilized egg?
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Is This the Main Concern?

The main concern is that cloning - even the therapeutic kind - will produce piles of embryos. Many of them - close to 95% with current biotechnology - will die. Others can be surreptitiously and illegally implanted in the wombs of "surrogate mothers".

It is patently immoral, goes the precautionary argument, to kill so many embryos. Cloning is such a novel technique that its success rate is still unacceptably low. There are alternative ways to harvest stem cells - less costly in terms of human life. If we accept that life begins at the moment of fertilization, this argument is valid. But it also implies that - once cloning becomes safer and scientists more adept - cloning itself should be permitted.

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Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and (more...)
 

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about cloning and that anomaly is reflected in thi... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Sep 12, 2006 at 8:51:30 AM