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An argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering

Animal studies also suggest the likelihood of health risks to the woman who carries the cloned fetus to term. The animal data suggest that late-term fetal losses and spontaneous abortions occur substantially more often with cloned fetuses than in natural pregnancies. In humans, such late-term fetal losses may lead to substantially increased maternal morbidity and mortality. In addition, animal studies have shown that many pregnancies involving cloned fetuses result in serious complications, including toxemia and excessive fluid accumulation in the uterus, both of which pose risks to the pregnant animal's health.

Results of animal studies suggest that reproductive cloning of humans would similarly pose a high risk to the health of both fetus or infant and mother and lead to associated psychological risks for the mother as a consequence of late spontaneous abortions or the birth of a stillborn child or a child with severe health problems. Because of these risks, there is widespread agreement that, at least for now, attempts at cloning-to-produce-children would constitute unethical experimentation on human subjects and are therefore impermissible.

These safety considerations were alone enough to lead the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in June 1997 to call for a temporary prohibition of human cloning-to-produce-children. Similar concerns, based on almost five more years of animal experimentation, convinced the panel of the National Academy of Sciences in January 2002 that the United States should ban such cloning for at least five years. Past discussions of this subject have often given the impression that the safety concern is a purely temporary one that can be allayed in the near future, as scientific advances and improvements in technique reduce the risks to an ethically acceptable level.

But this impression is mistaken, for considerable safety risks are likely to be enduring, perhaps permanent. If so, there will be abiding ethical difficulties even with efforts aimed at making human cloning safe.

The reason is clear: Any such experiment unavoidably involves risks to the child-to-be, a being who is both the product and also the most vulnerable human subject of the research. Exposed to risk during the extremely sensitive life-shaping processes of his or her embryological development, any child-to-be is a singularly vulnerable creature, one maximally deserving of protection against risk of experimental and other harm.

If experiments to learn how to clone a child are ever to be ethical, the degree of risk to that child-to-be would have to be extremely low, arguably no greater than for children-to-be who are conceived from union of egg and sperm. It is extremely unlikely that this moral burden can be met, not for decades if at all. Even a high success rate in animals would not suffice by itself to make human trials morally acceptable.

In addition to the usual uncertainties in jumping the gap from animal to human research, cloning is likely to present particularly difficult problems of interspecies difference. Animal experiments have already shown substantial differences in the reproductive success of identical cloning techniques used in different species.

There can in principle be no direct experimental evidence sufficient for assessing the degree of such risk. The answer, as a matter of necessity, can never be better than "Just possibly.

Similar arguments, it is worth noting, were made before the first attempts at human in vitro fertilization. People suggested that it would be unethical experimentation even to try to determine whether IVF could be safely done. And then, of course, IVF was accomplished.

An argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering, it became a common procedure, and today the moral argument about its safety seems to many people beside the point. Yet the fact of success in that case does not establish precedent in this one, nor does it mean that the first attempts at IVF were not in fact unethical experiments upon the unborn, despite the fortunate results.

With IVF, assisted fertilization of egg by sperm immediately releases a developmental process, linked to the sexual union of the two gametes, that nature has selected over millions of years for the entire mammalian line.

But in cloning experiments to produce children, researchers would be transforming a sexual system into an asexual one, a change that requires major and "unnatural" reprogramming of donor DNA if there is to be any chance of success. They are neither enabling nor restoring a natural process, and the alterations involved are such that success in one species cannot be presumed to predict success in another. Moreover, any new somatic mutations in the donor cell's chromosomal DNA would be passed along to the cloned child-to-be and its offspring.

Here we can see even more the truly intergenerational character of cloning experimentation, and this should justify placing the highest moral burden of persuasion on those who would like to proceed with efforts to make cloning safe for producing children. By reminding us of the need to protect the lives and well-being of our children and our children's children, this broader analysis of the safety question points toward larger moral objections to producing cloned children, objections that we shall consider shortly.

It therefore appears to an argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering that, given the dangers involved and the relatively limited goods to be gained from cloning-to-produce-children, conducting experiments in an effort to make cloning-to-produce-children safer would itself be an unacceptable violation of the norms of the ethics of research.

There seems to be no ethical way to try to discover whether cloning-to-produce-children can become safe, now or in the future.

Human Cloning: Arguments for

A Special Problem of Consent A further concern relating to the ethics of human research revolves around the question of consent. Consent from the cloned child-to-be is of course impossible to obtain, and because no one consents to his or her own birth, it may be argued that concerns about consent are misplaced when applied to the unborn. But the issue is not so simple. For reasons having to do both with the safety concerns raised above and with the social, psychological, and moral concerns to be addressed below, an attempt to clone a human being would potentially expose a cloned individual-to-be to great risks of harm, quite distinct from those accompanying other sorts of reproduction.

Given the risks, and the fact that consent cannot be obtained, the ethically correct choice may be to avoid the experiment. The fact that those engaged in cloning cannot ask an unconceived child for permission places a burden on the cloners, not on the child.

Given that anyone considering creating a cloned child must know that he or she is putting a newly created human life at exceptional risk, the burden on the would-be cloners seems clear: Why, after all, does society insist upon consent as an essential principle of the ethics an argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering scientific research? Along with honoring the free will of the subject, we insist on consent to protect the weak and the vulnerable, and in particular to protect them from the powerful.

It would therefore be morally questionable, at the very least, to choose to impose potentially grave harm on an individual, especially in the very act of giving that individual life. Giving existence to a human being does not grant one the right to maim or harm that human being in research. Problems of Exploitation of Women and Just Distribution of Risk Cloning-to-produce-children may also lead to the exploitation of women who would be called upon to donate oocytes.

Widespread use of the techniques of cloning-to-produce-children would require large numbers of eggs. Animal models suggest that several hundred eggs may be required before one attempt at cloning can be successful. The required oocytes would have to be donated, and the process of making them available would involve hormonal treatments to induce superovulation. If financial incentives are offered, they might lead poor women especially to place themselves at risk in this way and might also compromise the voluntariness of their "choice" to make donations.

Thus, research on cloning-to-produce-children could impose disproportionate burdens on women, particularly low-income women. But we go beyond the findings of those distinguished bodies in also pointing to the dangers that will always be inherent in the very process of trying to make cloning-to-produce-children safer.

On this ground, we conclude that the problem of safety is not a temporary ethical concern. It is rather an enduring moral concern that might not be surmountable and should thus preclude work toward the development of cloning techniques to produce children.

In light of the risks and other ethical concerns raised by this form of human experimentation, we therefore conclude that cloning-to-produce-children should not be attempted. For some people, the discussion of ethical objections to cloning-to-produce-children could end here. Our society's established codes and practices in regard to human experimentation by themselves offer compelling reasons to oppose indefinitely attempts to produce a human child by cloning.

But there is more to be said. First, many people who are repelled by or opposed to the prospect of cloning human beings are concerned not simply or primarily because the procedure is unsafe.

To the contrary, their objection is to the use of a perfected cloning technology and to a society that would embrace or permit the production of cloned children. The ethical objection based on lack of safety is not really an objection to cloning as such.

Thus, anticipating the possibility of a perfected and usable technology, it is important to delineate the case against the practice itself. Moreover, because the Council is considering cloning within a broad context of present and projected techniques that can affect human procreation or alter the genetic makeup of our children, it is important that we consider the full range and depth of ethical issues raised by such efforts. How should these issues be raised, and within what moral framework?

Some, but by no means all, of the deepest moral concerns connected to human cloning could be handled by developing a richer consideration of the ethics of human experimentation. In addition, we often hold a rather narrow view of what constitutes "an experiment. And it would represent a social experiment for the entire society, insofar as the society accepted, even if only as a minority practice, this unprecedented and novel mode of producing our offspring.

By considering these other ways in which cloning would constitute an experiment, we could enlarge our analysis an argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering the ethics of research with human subjects to assess possible nonbodily harms of cloning-to-produce-children. But valuable as this effort might be, we have not chosen to proceed in this way. Not all the important issues can be squeezed into the categories of harms and benefits.

People can be mistreated or done an injustice whether they know it or not and quite apart from any experienced harm. Important human goods can be traduced, violated, or sacrificed without being registered in anyone's catalogue of harms. An argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering form of bioethical inquiry we are attempting here will make every effort not to truncate the moral meaning of our actions and practices by placing them on the Procrustean bed of utilitarianism.

To be sure, the ethical principles governing human research are highly useful in efforts to protect vulnerable individuals against the misconduct or indifference of the powerful. But a different frame of reference is needed to evaluate the human meaning of innovations that may affect the lives and humanity of everyone, vulnerable or not. Of the arguments developed below, some are supported by most Council Members, while other arguments are shared by only some Members.

Even among the arguments they share, different Members find different concerns to be weightier. Yet we all believe that the arguments presented in the sections that follow are worthy of consideration in the course of trying to assess fully the ethical issues involved. We have chosen to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion of arguments because we acknowledge that concerns now expressed by only a few may turn out in the future to be more important than those now shared by all.

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Our fuller assessment begins with an attempt to fathom the deepest meaning of human procreation and an argument in favor of cloning and genetic engineering necessarily the meaning of raising children. Our analysis will then move onto questions dealing with the effects of cloning on individuals, family life, and society more generally. Procreation and Child-Rearing Were it to take place, cloning-to-produce-children would represent a challenge to the nature of human procreation and child-rearing.

Cloning is, of course, not only a means of procreation. It is also a technology, a human experiment, and an exercise of freedom, among other things. But cloning would be most unusual, consequential, and most morally important as a new way of bringing children into the world and a new way of viewing their moral significance. In Chapter One we outlined some morally significant features of human procreation and raised questions about how these would be altered by human cloning.

We will now attempt to deepen that analysis, and begin with the salient fact that a child is not made, but begotten. Procreation is not making but the outgrowth of doing. A man and woman give themselves in love to each other, setting their projects aside in order to do just that.

Yet a child results, arriving on its own, mysterious, independent, yet the fruit of the embrace. Procreation can, of course, be assisted by human ingenuity as with IVF.

In such cases, it may become harder to see the child solely as a gift bestowed upon the parents' mutual self-giving and not to some degree as a product of their parental wills. They replicate neither their fathers nor their mothers, and this is a salutary reminder to parents of the independence they must one day grant their children and for which it is their duty to prepare them.

Gifts and blessings we learn to accept as gratefully as we can. Products of our wills we try to shape in accord with our desires.

  • Keeping in mind our general observations about procreation, we proceed to examine a series of specific ethical issues and objections to cloning human children;
  • As it seems to me, calmer voices eventually won the academic debate;
  • Our society's established codes and practices in regard to human experimentation by themselves offer compelling reasons to oppose indefinitely attempts to produce a human child by cloning.

Procreation as traditionally understood invites acceptance, rather than reshaping, engineering, or designing the next generation. It invites us to accept limits to our control over the next generation. Certainly, it invites us to remember that the child does not exist simply for the happiness or fulfillment of the parents.

To be sure, parents do and must try to form and mold their children in various ways as they inure them to the demands of family life, prepare them for adulthood, and initiate them into the human community.