Archive for Friday, April 27, 2001

Creation controversy

Human cloning presents moral and ethical dilemmas

April 27, 2001

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Cloning's not very popular.

A recent poll of 1,000 adults by the American Museum of Natural History concluded 92 percent of Americans wouldn't approve of cloning to reproduce a favorite person, according to the Associated Press.

Eighty-six percent of those polled say they wouldn't even want to clone a pet.

But the possibility remains: Someday, scientists might attempt to clone a human being.

That raises a multitude of moral and ethical issues for people of faith, and even for non-believers. Cloning also raises questions that go to the heart of what it means to be a human being.

Even research experts like biomedical ethicists, academics and scientists in the region grapple with the implications of cloning people.

Mary Faith Marshall, a professor of medicine and a bioethics officer at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., says human cloning may be possible, but the reality is still a long way off.

"We are nowhere near being able to do it. We have not reached a certain level of efficacy in cloning animals yet," says Marshall, who has a doctorate in religious studies with an emphasis in applied ethics.

"They have successfully cloned lots of cows in the U.S., but they're not healthy," she says. "Most of them don't even make it to being born, and the ones that are born, most of them have serious problems."

Robert Palazzo, a professor of molecular biosciences at KU, agrees.

"The efficiency of the technique, even in animal systems (like sheep), is very, very poor. I would say many decades" will pass before a human can be cloned successfully, he says. "There's so much we don't know, and humans are more complicated (than other species)."

Morally troubling

But let's assume that someday human cloning will be possible. Then the question changes from "Can we do it?" to "Should we do it?"

For Palazzo, the answer is no.

"I don't see why we would want or need to do it, other than experimentation in animal systems to understand basic biological problems," he says. "That's where national (scientific) advisory boards stand: We should definitely not clone human beings."

Marshall says it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which cloning humans would be morally or scientifically responsible.

"There may be one legitimate reason, and that would be if both parents are carriers of a genetic disorder that they would pass on to a child," she says.

Cloning one of the parents would circumvent the inherited disease, Marshall explains.

What about the hypothetical case of parents who might want to "bring back" a deceased child from a bit of DNA?

That would be a morally and spiritually troubling situation, says Mark Discher, a professor of philosophy and religion at Ottawa University.

Discher says, "I would say indeed it is tragic that someone suffers the loss of a child. But every child is a gift from God, according to the Christian tradition.

"So why would I need to repeat that child the one who was killed rather than have another child by natural means?"

If having another child by natural means wouldn't be possible, that might open the door to cloning. But even then, it shouldn't be a first resort, according to Discher.

Attempts to bring back a duplicate of someone who is dead would be futile anyway, he says.

"I don't believe that persons are reducible to their DNA or their environment. As a Christian, I would say that God creates persons, and persons are unique," Discher says. "You can't re-create an individual person. At best, what we can do is create someone with the same genetic makeup of some particular person."

Choosing genes

Many people of faith oppose the possibility of human cloning on religious or spiritual grounds.

"Their religious position is that God has created humans through nature, and they think it's arrogant of man to try to improve on what God has done," Marshall says.

The study of that issue improving a species genetically is called eugenics (pronounced "you-gen-icks"). Ethicists are concerned that scientists might one day "breed" people for specific tasks or purposes, like going to war or being servants.

Marshall says the Roman Catholic Church and other religious communities have taken a stand against eugenics, for fear of "creating human beings for the wrong ends."

The capability of cloning humans would open up a range of new possibilities and pitfalls.

"The difficulty with cloning and other ways of influencing the genetic makeup of our children is that people will have more control over what their children will be like than ever before," says Don Marquis, a professor of philosophy at KU who teaches courses in medical ethics. "One worries that people can make bad decisions for themselves, their children or society."

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