The natural reproductive process involves the fusion of genetic materials from one female and one male parent through sexual contact. The offspring produced bears the combined genetic materials of his/her parents, which is unique on its own. Now, with the advent of technology, an individual may now be produced from a single parent without the need for sexual contact. Cloning is the process or technique used to create an organism that is 100% genetically identical to its parent. The pioneering era of cloning was started in 1952 by biologists Robert Briggs and Thomas King, wherein they attempted to “clone” a frog species through somatic cell nuclear transfer (UNESCO, 2005).
In somatic cell nuclear transfer, the egg nucleus is removed and replaced with the donor’s nucleus, containing the exact genetic material of that individual. The egg, which develops into an embryo, contains only the donor’s genetic material (UNESCO, 2005). There is another method of cloning called twinning which involves the fertilization of the egg cell by a sperm cell outside of the womb. Cell divisions are allowed until it reaches eight cells, and each of these eight cells is planted in different wombs. These cells have identical genetic make-up and are referred to as “clones”.
Cloning has many applications in the field of medicine especially in the field of therapeutic cloning, wherein it is used to develop tissues from stem cells that are genetically compatible with the person from whom the adult somatic cell nucleus is taken (Nippert, 2002). However, there are many ethical and medical issues which are particularly against cloning.
Technical and Medical Safety
High failure rates and high morbidity of animal cloning strongly suggests its inapplicability to humans (UNESCO, 2005). Further, cloned animals seemed to suffer high deformity and disability rates. In the same report, cloning experts hypothesize that cloned humans might need hip replacement surgery during the adolescent stage and might suffer from senility by the age of 20. While animals can be put down if abnormalities in them are found, this is certainly not the case for human beings,
Cloning Destroys the Concept of Family
With cloning, procreation can already be done without the pre-requisite existence of a mother, father or a family. Children can be born outside intimacy and impersonal relationships. Just about anyone can donate their DNA and have their own clones if they have the capacity to do so. Cloning also supports gay marriages because people of the same sex can now bear children without having to undergo the usual male-female copulation. If this is allowed, the concept of family may go down with history, for all we know.
Selective breeding of species which have more favorable characteristics is more likely to occur, causing an imbalance which may arouse negative environmental and societal implications. For example, proliferation of cloned species of animals may be harmful if they exceed the population size of their natural predators. Cloning extinct species to bring them back from the dead may also pose a serious environmental threat because the environment now is different from what it was before.
Confusing Personal Identity
A child who is a clone of another individual may suffer from identity crisis. It is possible that since the genetic make-up of the child and the parent are the same, the child could grow up thinking that he/she was programmed to be like his/her parent which may affect the child’s psycho-social development. It is highly likely that the appearance of the parent will be the same as that of the child reinforcing the notion that the child is only a “copy” of another person and may take away his/her individuality.
Loss of Genetic Diversity
Cloning maintains the same set of genes from the parent to the child. Genetic diversity results from the combination of genes from two different parents/individuals. Loss of genetic diversity will weaken humanity’s ability to adapt to diseases and mutations. Continual inbreeding can eventually lead to a species’ extinction.
Contrary to Human Dignity
Some religious groups believe that the human embryo from the very moment of its creation has the moral status of a human being that must be protected by virtue of the principle of dignity. To use embryos for research purposes and to destroy them for the benefit of others violates that right (Pontificial Academy of Life in Nippert, 2002). Thus, the use of embyos for stem cell research is viewed to defy human dignity.
The technology of cloning can also be misused and abused to support unlawful behavior. One argument says that cloning may be used to produce individuals with identical appearance and fingerprints and thus, it will be harder to investigate crime scenes and pin down the real killer among the suspects.
Lisker, Ruben. “Ethical and Legal Issues in Therapeutic Cloning and the Study of Stem Cells”. Archives of Medical Research 34 (2002): 607-611.
Nippert, Imgard. “The Pros and Cons of Human Therapeutic Cloning in the Public Debate”. Journal of Biotechnology 98 (2002): 53-60.
UNESCO. Human Cloning: Ethical Issues. Paris: UNESCO, 2005. Print.