Genetic engineering is currently gaining unprecedented popularity owing to its usefulness in solving numerous biological problems. It has become a powerful tool in virtually all biological aspects of life. In medicine, genetic engineering has proven to be reliable in treating and managing biological disorders (Judson, 2001). It has also gained popularity in addressing the challenges posed by chronic diseases such as diabetes. The discovery of the so-called Induced Adult Stem-Cell Therapy and the industrial production of Insulin for treatment of diabetes seem to have shaped the social perspective of genetic engineering. On the other hand, genetic engineering technology has become one of the most reliable biological tools for increasing food production for rapidly growing global population. However, despite the numerous benefits of genetic engineering, immense criticism has emerged, especially with regard to the ethical perspective of the technology. Scientists are in unprecedented dilemma of whether the reproduction of cloned organisms will cause undesirable physical and behavioral traits, leading to the alteration of ‘normal’ organisms. Currently, there has emerged immense debate on human cloning leading to the shift of ethical perception on genetic engineering. Human cloning is believed to be one of the most popular biotechnological approaches with widespread adoption in the medical field. This is probably so because; it has enabled medical professionals to address some of the most challenging health issues by providing them with extensive medical approach into an array of diseases and health conditions. Some of the medical applications, which have created unprecedented ethical debates among the global population, are the Somatic-cell Nuclear Transfer and test tube baby technology (American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2012). Therefore, this essay will give an overview on the ethics of human cloning. It will provide a concise summary on the development of cloning and, then discuss the scientific, societal and religious ethical perspectives to the issue.
Concisely, cloning is a biological tool used for medical, industrial production, environmental system control and research. In regard to human cloning, the term Cloning refers to the process of transferring embryonic or adult nuclei from the donor’s cell and implanting the genomic code in another cell for the purpose of producing an organism with identical genetic components similar to the donor (McGee, 2001). The new organism with identical genes to the donor is usually referred as the clone. In other words, the clone is a twin organism to the donor since they are identical in virtually all aspects ranging from the genetic composition to behavior and character. Research on cloning is estimated to have begun in early 1950’s when some scientists in Pennsylvania achieved a breakthrough in cloning an adult frog from embryonic cell (Logston, n.d). This form of cloning is also known as embryonic twinning and is currently applied in the animal husbandry in the agricultural sector.
Further research studies followed shortly after, but none of them recorded success. In 1980, a group of researchers at the Allegheny University of Health made attempts in cloning a frog from adult red blood cells successfully to produce healthy tadpoles: although the new off-springs died during the metamorphic stages before adult stage. Success in cloning of adult mammals was achieved recently when Scottish scientists cloned the sheep named Dolly. Since then, cloning advanced substantially as a useful tool in medicine and biomedical research (Wilnut et. al 74).
Human cloning has emerged as a controversial ethical issue because of several aspects. One of the most significant aspects, which might have influenced the understanding of scientists over the issue of human cloning, could be its uncertain definition. Currently, cloning in human beings has never been defined precisely. There is no clear distinction between the use of cloning in humans to produce a new off-spring for purposes of procreation or use as a biomedical tool in medicine. In addition, it has been evidenced in the initial research studies that cloning carries fatal implications especially with regard to health risks. McGee (2001) remarks, “Human cloning [is] the most controversial debate of the decade” (1).
In regard to the scientific ethical perspective, cloning has been evidenced to be accompanied with fatal outcomes. The process of genome transfer from the donor individual to the new cell is usually very complex. Therefore, it requires great precautions to avoid inefficient genetic transformation errors. Given the fact that the new off-spring relies solely on the donor as the major source of all genetic components, any inefficiency in the cloning procedure will mean the off-spring is genetically deformed; thus, exposing it to a reduced life expectancy. In case a gene in the donor fails to be efficiently transferred to the new cell; the off-spring will have a deficiency of the missing particular gene. This may be very fatal if the deficient gene plays a major role in the vital body organs such as the brain, liver, heart or the central nervous system.
Moreover, deficiency of genes involved in enzyme biosynthesis, which are involved in metabolic regulatory processes may cause a permanent breakdown of the concerned metabolic process. It has also been noted that contamination of the donor genomic material during the cloning process lead to errors. For instance, the cloning procedures require that the donor DNA material get isolated in the laboratory through an aseptic procedure. If proper procedures are not adopted, this genomic material can be degraded by DNases which are scattered everywhere even on the fingers. As a result, incomplete genomic material can be transferred to the new cell which translates to a great deficiency of the off-springs genetic composition.
Currently, medical professionals are experiencing an unprecedented challenge in correcting the existing genetic disorders. In fact, biomedical research has failed to come up with an effective solution to the majority of genetic disorders such as hemophilia and sickle-cell. Therefore, introduction of some many more genetic related disorders will lead to enormous challenges to our efforts of finding solutions to genetic disorders. Moreover, it might be very dangerous if the off-springs with genetic disorders produced through inefficient cloning procedures are allowed to reproduce freely in nature. This means that artificially generated genetic disorder will circulate in the population and become permanent: usually occurring in individuals along that family tree. A clear example of fatal outcomes of cloning in various organisms can be given by the research done in 1980’s by biologists using adult red blood cells of a frog (Logston, n.d). In this experiment, healthy tadpoles were produced but they all died during the subsequent metamorphic processes before reaching the adult stage. This means fatal errors occurred during cloning. It might also mean that, this process is not usually successful in most circumstances. If it were reliable, at least some few tadpoles of the entire population of two hundred and twenty five transformed embryos should have survived to maturity. Unfortunately, they all died, which means; this process is unreliable in human beings at all circumstances.
The second example to prove cloning in mammals inefficient is the Dolly sheep produced in Scotland. Scottish scientists transferred adult udder genomic material from the donor sheep into two hundred and seventy five new cells then incubated to develop into adults. Surprisingly, out of the two hundred and seventy five transformed new cells, dolly sheep was the only survivor. All the other two hundred and seventy four cells failed to develop into adult sheep off-springs (Logston, n.d). More surprisingly, even the survivor; the dolly sheep died some time later, although these scientists claimed that she died of cancer complications. Imagine these were human off-springs! The loss would have been great. Therefore, cloning appears to be accompanied with fatal results, which may put human health at a great risk than the one posed by the current genetic disorders. Despite the critic by some scientists, a large number of biomedical scientists look at it as a useful tool in medicine which holds great promise to saving lives, especially for individuals who are terminally ill. They view this biomedical approach as the only possible way that artificial synthesis of organs, which does not undergo repair after an injury such as the spinal cord can be produced in the laboratory or else in a surrogate individual then transplanted to the donor so as to replace the damaged tissue or organ.
Another significant ethical aspect of human cloning is the unprecedented resistance by the society. From a societal ethical perspective, human cloning is regarded to as a violation of the societal norms and values. Ordinarily, off-springs acquire all their genetic characteristics from their parents. Their sex and other genetic composition are determined by genes in both the father and mother. Therefore, the off-spring is a product of the two individuals. As such, the off-spring is expected to express behavioral characteristics related to those of its father and mother (Dickenson, 2002). Therefore, the identity of the off-spring can be ascertained by analysis of the mother and the father’s genome through DNA sequencing. More precisely through the finger-printing genetic procedures, which are based on closeness of the parents’ DNA fragments with those of the off-spring (Harris & Holm, 2006). In contrast, in cloning the nuclear donor is usually one, therefore: genetic recombination does not take place in producing the twin off-spring. Another ethical issue related to cloning of human beings lies in the aspect of maintaining the element of sameness in the off-spring (McGee, 2001). Ordinarily, individual are unique in different biological ways. Behavioral characteristics displayed by different individuals vary significantly. The application of human cloning to produce an identical replica brings great uncertainty if all the behavioral characteristics will be displayed in the twin off-spring. Some people would prefer retention of all the outstanding good characteristics such as intelligence, as well as, the good morals that characterize an individual as good. It might be that variations in behavioral characteristics between the donor and the off-spring occur. That will mean, the off-spring is not similar to the donor especially with regard to overall human behavior which encompasses social values and societal norms (Fox, 2001).