The issues concerning human reproductive cloning are shrouded in controversy, perhaps overshadowing the true advantages of cloning technology. Therapeutic cloning, which is often misunderstood as reproductive cloning, is less controversial than the latter as it does not involve the creating of an individual being. Instead, vital stem cells are extracted from human embryos, in order to generate tissues and organs for transplant. The goal of this process is strictly to harvest stem cells, resulting in the creation of “cloned organs”, which can be used to treat heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. However, because reproductive cloning involves the creation of a specific being with specific characteristics it is much more controversial, and has much more at stake than therapeutic cloning. There are definitely advantages of reproductive cloning: individuals with fertility problems would be able to produce biologically related children, and couples who risk passing genetic disease to offspring would be able to have healthy children. However, cloning technology is still primitive, and although several attempts have yielded successful clones, human reproductive cloning should be temporarily banned because it is highly inefficient, extremely dangerous, and ethically irresponsible.
Although many mammalian species have been successfully cloned, cloning procedures are still primitive, and thus, are prone to failure. Certain species, including humans, are more resistant to somatic cell nuclear transfer than others are, and therefore have a lower success rate. Scottish scientists at the Roslin Institute went through 276 nuclear transfer procedures in order to produce Dolly the Sheep in 1997. Dr. Michael Soules, director of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Washington, claims, “It’s the height of medical stupidity and arrogance to think you could successfully clone a human being today. . . concerns can be addressed when reproductive cloning has been shown to be safe in animals, which it has not yet.” (Paulson) The success rate by means of reproductive cloning remains pale in comparison to natural procreation, and thus does not justify cloning as a form of procreation for the time being. The current success rate for reproductive cloning stands at one or two viable offspring per 100 experiments, and until the success rate drastically increases, cloning humans would be potentially dangerous and unethical.
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The dangers that arise from reproductive cloning are numerous, and are enough to validate the banning of human reproductive cloning altogether. During mammalian reproductive cloning, a large proportion of clones suffered from weakened immune systems, which greatly compromised the animal’s ability to fight off infection, disease, and other disorders. “Animal experiments in cloning all indicate that a cloned twin is at high risk of congenital defects, multiple health problems and perhaps a greatly shortened life span.” (Paulson) In addition, many of the offspring produced through cloning suffer massive abnormalities, such as missing or deformed organs. Approximately 30% of offspring are diagnosed with “large offspring syndrome” and other debilitating conditions. In fact, studies on reproductive cloning have shown that more than 90% of cloning attempts fail to produce one viable offspring. A research conducted at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts discovered that 4% of genes found in laboratory mice functioned abnormally. Scientists point out that early human cloning experiments will likely result in the same abnormalities found in other species, which will possibly result in numerous medical failures, miscarriages, abortions, or births of massively deformed offspring.
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Due to the lack of knowledge surrounding the mental aspects of reproductive cloning, many scientists believe that an attempt to clone humans would be unethical. The major uncertainty correlated to reproductive cloning is its impact on the clone’s mental development. While mental factors in cloned animals may not be significant, they are vital to the development of a healthy child. Couples who wish to “replace” a child via reproductive cloning could possibly place heavy psychological burdens on the clone. If a clone fails to live up to expectations, the likely result would be psychological trauma for the entire family, including the disappointed parents. Since reproductive cloning only replicates the genetic material of the progenitor, the possibility of producing an exact “replica” will be nothing more than an illusion because both children will be raised in under different environments, and therefore will have different personalities. Therefore, cloning will merely attempt to fill a void, but will never reach a pinnacle in which it can exactly duplicate a person. Due to the numerous uncertainties linked to mental development, combined with extreme dangers and inefficiency, attempting to clone humans for the time being is ethically irresponsible.
Human reproductive cloning would be morally wrong because it would transform human procreation into human manufacturing. In natural procreation, an individual, whose characteristics are not deliberately shaped by human will, is born when a union between sperm and egg is formed.
“Children born of this process [natural procreation] stand equally beside their progenitors as fellow human beings, not beneath them as made objects. In this way, the uncontrolled beginnings of human procreation endow each new generation and each new individual with the dignity and freedom enjoyed by all who came before.”
However, cloned human beings would have specific characteristics selected in advance; giving parents the power over what type of child to have. Many clones would be designed to exact specifications, and thus, be seen more as a “final product”, than as a gift of god. Thus, it would be unethical to create a child to meet the needs of a demanding parent.
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The dangers, inefficiency, and ethical issues surrounding cloning are numerous and lack proper understanding. Therefore, at the present time, human cloning practices should be banned until sufficient information and technology can safely harness a human clone. Studies have found the health of clones to be widely inconsistent, and until the number of viable offspring produced can match that of natural procreation, cloning should not be considered an alternative. When juxtaposed with natural procreation, cloning does not seem a healthy nor sensible choice. Furthermore, insufficient information on a clone’s mental development, which is crucial to a healthy human, suggests that it would be potentially dangerous and ethically irresponsible to clone humans. Cloning has demonstrated the power of human creation, and has pushed human restraint, intellect, and religion to vast new potentials. However, cloning is still a primitive technology that must first be developed before and research on human reproductive cloning should be done.