Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2002 / 4 Adar, 5762
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- SOME people worry that we humans will be cloned; others worry that we will not.
It is an iron -- well, maybe plastic -- law of modern discourse that the more complex the problem, the worse the plays on words. So has it been with the furor over cloning. Hello, Dolly. Send in the Clones. So in the interests of (pardon the pun) getting beyond the punishment, a few over-simplified but nonetheless reliable facts.
In essence, cloning is the process of reproducing cells by techniques and manipulations not encountered in "normal" biological reproduction. The purpose is to produce developed and differentiated cells that can form new tissues, organs, and organisms. Organisms can be anything from the simplest denizens of a Petri dish up to and including human beings.
Generally speaking, cloning is undertaken for either of two purposes . . . with a potential third we'll get to in a bit. Cloning can be either therapeutic or reproductive, aimed either at producing items for medical use or complete and living beings.
Obviously, using a patient's own cells for THERAPEUTIC cloning has great advantages. Your immune system will recognize them as yours and not attack or reject them: a major problem in organ transplants, and a serious potential problem in treating a patient with some one else's cloned products. An additional dilemma is that cloned products, once implanted, may not continue to develop as desired, and may themselves mutate and grow cancerous. We conclude that therapeutic cloning must remain a remote possibility until lots of problems are solved, and a lot of knowledge about the nature of life acquired.
REPRODUCTIVE cloning, however, is here and now. But it too has a long way to go. Remember Dolly the sheep? It now seems that she developed into an adult animal only after several hundred previous attempts failed. Now she's growing old and arthritic before her time, in part because the embryonic cells used to produce her were aging even as they divided in the lab. Apparently, these cells suffered mutations which they passed along, but could not be detected until she developed completely and aged. So reproductive cloning, like therapeutic, has a long way to go before it can offer any useful benefits.
Several more or less fanciful scenarios arise. Sheer ego, perhaps. Sheer curiosity. A replacement for a departed loved one. An endless supply of Einsteins, Mozarts, George W's, Britney Spearses. The problem here is, of course, that human beings cannot be duplicated emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. Too many other factors enter in, from environment and experience to sheer persnickety will. As for those who look at their teenaged kids (or their political leaders) and get the urge to try again . . .
Another scenario seems less fanciful than ghoulish. Why not clone yourself for therapeutic purposes, should you need replacement organs or spare skin or whatever down the road? Why shouldn't everybody, at least everybody who can afford it, have a duplicate stashed somewhere?
The answer is that every human being, regardless of how he or she gets here, is a unique human person. A cloned person must have the same rights as a natural person, unless the concept of personhood regresses to those centuries when some human beings were the property of others, to dispose of as they saw fit. Nor should a cloned person ever be regarded as inherently inferior or any less worthy of life.
Will there ever be cloned persons? We believe that human cloning is prima facie wrong, and we welcome all the new evidence attesting to its difficulty. We do not believe that it is now or can be justified by pointing to some shopping list of potential miracles. We're against it as IMMUNO-ILLOGICAL.
But history shows that, more often than not, if something can be done, it will be. There is no reason to think that some of the obstacles cannot eventually be overcome. History also shows that when something is pointless, immoral, and destructive, it usually suffers from no lack of enthusiasts. So how to deal with this conundrum of relentlessly advancing technology and just plain wrongness? Perhaps the best way is to start with a bit of common sense.
How many people do you know that you'd like, and we mean really like, to see more than one of?
02/08/02: Searching for Dr. Strangelove