Everyday people find themselves at a crossroads that requires a decision as to which path to follow. In the past few years, scientists have gained knowledge about cloning that could impact our lives for centuries to come. As a society we are at a crossroads and we will have to decide how to use this knowledge. Will we choose to increase our power over nature or will we develop a partnership? There are many benefits of cloning, but do they outweigh the possibility of losing genetic diversity, facing genetic discrimination, and the scary consequences portrayed in science fiction books like Brave New World and 1984, and movies like Gattaca and Planet of the Apes.
?Cloning is the production of a genetically identical duplicate of an organism? (Hawley 1). In a sense, many plants, algae, unicellular organisms, and even humans naturally produce identical offspring. For example, the dandelion reproduces asexually to create a copy of itself. As a species it has reached a plateau and can no longer progress. Within the human species, identical twins are essentially clones. The division of the embryo produces two embryos with the exact same genetic information. The consequence of a species only producing asexually is the loss of genetic diversity, which can have adverse effects on a species.
There is a gray area between the benefits and the problems of cloning. Some people may say that anything that improves the lives of humans is a benefit, but I disagree. Human cloning needs to be restricted. If taken to the extreme, human cloning could be disastrous to mankind. First of all, asexual reproduction creates a population with the same genetic information which eliminates genetic diversity. Without diversity, one disease could wipe out the whole population because no person would be able to fight a disease any better than anyone else. In Brave New World, the author writes about ?making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before.? Can you imagine that many people walking around that look exactly like you? It is true that people today have lost some sense of individuality because of peoples? desires to achieve society?s ideal image, but cloning would further discourage individualism. Both our biological and social structures could be in jeopardy if we allow cloning to get out of control.
On the other hand, cloning can be beneficial without having to intervene in the natural reproduction of humans. The possible benefits of cloning include improving livestock for consumption by humans, curing diseases, and producing cells and organs that are compatible with a transplant patient. Cloning could drastically improve the agricultural industry. Genetic information of livestock has already been altered so the livestock produce biological proteins that help people with diseases like diabetes and Parkinson?s. Also, it would be wonderful to cure common diseases, but do we understand the impact of curing diseases? Our population would skyrocket and new diseases would probably develop from mutations. Although, I know if I had cancer or Alzheimer?s disease I would want there to be a procedure to eliminate these diseases from my genes. Theoretically, using cloning or more specifically, genetic engineering, to eliminate diseases is similar to using vaccinations to prevent polio, chicken pox, and measles. This knowledge could also be used to develop ?nerve cells for spinal cord injuries, skin cells for burns, and bone cells for osteoporosis? (Meek). These cells are then used to replace the flawed cells. It is hard to say where to draw the line on researching these techniques. As a society, we can?t concentrate on saving the lives of a few people and forget to concern ourselves with the long term effects on the species as a whole. If we do, our hopes of improving the our lives today may end the lives of our descendants. There are many possibilities within the scope of cloning, will we ?play God? or be a partner of nature?
Now consider the possible problems and ethical issues that could arise from cloning. Scientists are working to discover new techniques to improve human life, but will these techniques be misused and who determines how they are used in the first place? A commonly discussed issue of cloning is if we are ?playing God.? The knowledge of cloning allows us to intervene with nature more than ever thought possible. Instead of allowing nature to work its cycle of survival of the fittest, humans have chosen once again to speed the process along in hopes of creating a better species of genetically enhanced humans. First of all, people should not be allowed to choose the sex of their baby. If we allow this to become a common procedure, then soon parents will be requesting a certain height, weight, hair, and eye color, and making sure the baby has no diseases. Journalist, Jennifer K. Nii, says, ?It may be through our best intentions that we create this brave new world, but it may also lead to a world where our children become the ultimate shopping experience.? It would be unfortunate to let humanity be lost to the processes associated with picking the right color paint or couch for a room or the perfect car to look cool in. These are material things, and nature and her processes are corrupted by the idea of ?manufactured goods.?
In Brave New World, cloning leads to a culture with no sense of nature; everything is developed on the production line. The culture lacked respect for humanity because it treated humans as machines whose parts could be put together in specified ways. It would be a grave mistake to allow society to use science to achieve its idealized image of perfection. Genetic makeup will shift from the ?uncontrollable hand of fate? to the decisions of parents dreaming of a perfect child (Teich 311).
Other disturbing procedures could arise from cloning. For example, people might have the ability to clone a dying family member or pet. This may lessen the remorse, but in actuality, the clone will not be exactly like the original. The clone has the same genes, but still may be a different height, weight, and have a different personality. Also, the clone would not be considered a different person because the clone would be filling the void of the original person. This is very immoral and disgraceful to the human race. Human life would lose its preciousness and become too manufactured and controllable. Additionally, the idea of producing a full human clone to provide organs and spare parts for the original person has been mentioned. These procedures change the meaning of humanity. It shows a lack of respect for human life.
Another consequence of the knowledge associated with the research of cloning is genetic discrimination. From birth to death personal genetic information could have profound effects on the lives of people. Would you like to know at birth that you have an eighty percent chance of dying at age thirty of heart disease? The ability to determine a person?s diseases would make it difficult for a person to receive health insurance. For this reason, people could be rejected from jobs because the employer doesn?t want someone with heart disease or doesn?t want to pay the high insurance costs of an unhealthy person. A new class structure would form; the diseased people and the healthy people. The idea of being predestined to a certain class is scary because it eliminates exploration, progress, and opportunity. In Brave New World, the people not only couldn?t decide their future, but they couldn?t choose what they wanted to wear or who to be friends with. Being predestined to a certain type of life is a reality today, but instead of being classified by the socioeconomic group one is born into, scientific methods would determine those who should succeed. Today, stereotyping can be overcome, whereas something as absolute as an genetic profile cannot.
The movie Gattaca, reveals the possibility of cloning causing a division in society based upon the method of birth; natural versus genetically cloned. The natural born, Ethan Hawke, is considered weak and unintelligent. The moment he was conceived he was demarcated to a life as a janitor. On the other hand, his brother, whose genes were specifically chosen by his parents is destined for success. It would be unrighteous to eliminate the possibility of climbing to the top of society?s ladder by shackling people to the lower class based on genes. Genes don?t tell the whole story because if they did then identical twins would have the same personality, intelligence, and, of course, the same chance for success. It is obvious that the environment one lives in, significantly affects the road they will travel through life. Do we want a society in which genes dictate all that one is allowed to achieve? This would mean a society in which people were ?shackled by their pedigree? (Teich 313). Also, how does responsibility relate to one?s actions. If genes are used to determine how successful one will be, then why can?t someone say that it wasn?t his fault that he murdered a person, it was his bad genes that caused him to do it? The complexities of human life would be lost if we allowed genes to determine one?s ability to succeed, instead of allowing personality traits like leadership, spunk, and passion to be the key to achieving success.
Another form of discrimination that research of cloning could ignite is racism. Imagine a group similar to the Nazi?s choosing to eliminate a race because of a minute inadequacy revealed by genetic information. If it were found that one race commonly had impaired motor skills, then the whole race would be branded as inept. Who knows what genocide could be started by this information.
It appears that we as a society need to be reminded that just because we have the ability to do something, doesn’t mean that we should or that the results will be positive. It is human nature to want to discover new things. Discoveries can lead to progress or regression, depending on who controls the information. Cloning, if used properly, can be effective in enhancing human life, but in the wrong hands cloning may lead to the destruction of humanity as we know it today. Cloning has the potential to be far more significant that the development of the atomic bomb ? a tool that we knew how to make, but many people expressed concern about its development. And now we must live everyday knowing we killed millions of innocent people. It will be important that we use this knowledge about cloning in a way that ?cherishes our human ability to transcend biology, that enshrines our spontaneity, unpredictability, and individual uniqueness? (Teich 313).
Science changes society. Society must learn to control science.
Hawley, Aaron. ?Cloning.? http://members.tripod.com/cloning/cloning.txt
Meek, James. ?Scientists Defend Clone Research.? World Reporter 13 April 2000.
Nii, Jennifer K. ?Biotechnology brings world to eve of new age.? Deseret News Publishing Company: 21 April 2000.
Teich, Albert H. Technology and the Future. New York: St Martin?s Press, 1997.