Human Cloning and Stem Cell Research
People don't have a clue
Perhaps your eight-year-old daughter was killed by a car last year, so you're considering having her cloned so you can have her back. You're a naive idiot who is too ignorant to deserve a child. Perhaps you believe cloning is playing God. Well, you better define God before claiming to know how he plays. Then you will have to prove that you know how God plays. Finally, you will have to prove that he doesn't want us to replicate his playing. Perhaps you think we have enough people already. Such an assertion demonstrates that you possess practically zero knowledge of the human cloning debate, which includes replacement organ growing, the most interesting application of cloning in my opinion.
It is hard to imagine an issue more sci-fi sounding, more intriguing, and more terrifying than human cloning. We imagine large glass tubes with adult-size individuals gestating in placental goo as they grow into full-fledged clones in a matter of hours. Actually, we have matured slightly. Now that real clones of other species have actually been born, we as a society seem to realize that cloning, as least in its nascent form, consists of an ordinary full term pregnancy giving rise to an infant which must grow up into an adult just like any other organism. Despite this realization, the stigma is still in place. Say the word "clone" and we imagine legions of identical soldiers marching in sync in long rows and columns, devoid of compassion, set on a goal of pure destruction.
Then there is the similar but not identical objection that cloning is ungodly. It violates the most fundamental of God's laws, or so we are told by those who are apparently made aware of these things. Some people question whether a clone would have a soul, not that these same people have described what a soulless person would be like. Others, a tad more grounded in reality, realize clones would be people just like the rest of us, but still cling the notion that God has expressly forbidden it. God creates out of love, science creates out of a necessity to publish. What good could possibly come of it?
At the same time that some of us are so busy fearing cloning, there seem to be a large number of people who embrace it without a hint of intelligent forethought. They see cloning as a way to cheat death. When the end of a long battle with terminal disease is near, simply clone oneself. Most people aren't naive enough to believe that such a clone will carry on their memories, much less their sense of consciousness as an individual, but they do believe that they are some how propagating themselves into the future, that they are keeping some small part of themselves alive. This is an understandable view. We are driven by our very biology to propagate ourselves. The most natural way to do this is to produce offspring who consist of approximately half our genetic material. The idea that a clone would carry us on seems to make sense. Unfortunately, while children are viewed as exactly that, children, clones seem to take on a more personal connection. People seem to derive a direct sense of immortality from cloning, which in reality makes no sense at all.
While some people are considering cloning themselves, other people thinking cloning can be used to bring back the dead. When a person dies there seems to be this idea that the person can be reincarnated in a sense. There are parents who have had a child die in a traumatic accident and would like to clone the child to make a replacement.
There are major problems with all of these perspectives, regardless of whether they support or condemn cloning. I will answer the attacks on cloning first.
The apocalyptic view that armies of clones could be produced seems rather silly if you give it any thought. Why is this easier than creating armies from a nation's preexisting citizens? Indeed, there are nations that require all citizens to sign up for military service (Israel is a good example), while there are other nations that seem to recruit military service-people with such efficacy that it is questionable why any more people could possibly be needed (the United States springs to mind as such a nation).
Perhaps, in accord with the stereotype of almost monotonous, unfeeling zombie-like clones, we feel that clones would make more effective soldiers, that they would somehow lack the part of the brain that feels fear and questions authority. Where did this ridiculous stereotype ever come from? Make a million clones and all you have is a million people demanding their individuality (in a sea of identical siblings) and liberty from the state that is trying to program them. It's a psychiatrist's nightmare (or dream if you consider the demand for therapists this situation would create).
As to the argument that cloning is playing God I will make a point that I insist on any time someone starts rambling about playing God. For there to be God's play, there must be God, so first you must establish this starting point. Once that seemingly unknowable and yet essential fact has been proven, you must claim to have intimate personal knowledge of exactly how God plays. In other words, if you are going to make claims about playing God, you must know what this phrase is referring to. What exactly is it that God is doing when he is playing? Are you referring to spinning the Earth into existence from the primordial vacuum of nothingness (which any astrophysicist will discount)? In this particular case, you must be referring to the creation of life. So be it. Once God's style of play has been established, it still remains on your shoulders to prove that God doesn't wish for us to do the same. Perhaps God's hope is that his children will grow and evolve into advanced beings capable of taking over his work for him so that he may move on to his next project. Can you prove such an idea is wrong?
The bottom line is that arguments of this sort really don't make any sense if a person gives them any serious thought at all. The next time you hear the phrase "playing God" ask yourself how much time you believe the person saying it has really dedicated to contemplating the meaning of that phrase. You'll probably come to the same conclusion I do, that it is an easy phrase to toss about without really coming up with a good definition.
So what about all the advocates? What about fairly eccentric philanthropists whose personal goal is to clone themselves and thus grasp at immortality? I can't argue with their motivation. The desire to avoid death is programmed by evolution into each of us and I would love to forgo the experience myself, at least until I decide I'm bored of living instead of nature deciding for me. These people have only the best intentions for themselves and they believe, rightly I think, that they aren't trying to do anything that should harm anyone else. Many people will argue that pursuing immortality is not only selfish, but harmful to the world in general. They argue that if everyone becomes immortal or at least has an extremely long lifespan we will have horrible overpopulation problems and that it would tear apart our financial infrastructure, such as social security and medicare.
As to the selfishness argument, what is so selfish about wanting to not die, especially if doing so doesn't have to occur at someone else's expense? As to the attempts at practical arguments against allowing prolonged lifespans, I say what right does one person have to tell another person that they must die? This is akin to murder in my opinion. If you think that you ought to die, then go ahead, get out of my way, but to insist that I die against my will is murder. Whether you shoot me with a gun or refuse to allow the scientific research that could prolong my life makes no difference as to the end result.
However, this particular method of attaining immortality doesn't really work. Most people who want to clone themselves do realize that they won't actually prolong their own sense of existence (what I call conciousness). Instead, an identical looking person will carry on in their place. This person may have similar personality characteristics and will benefit from the same financial situation (since the original person will presumably set the clone up to take over their life when they die). Despite the realization that cloning does not provide any notion of immortality for the original person, people still cling to this idea. They figure that it's better that their clone inherit their life than that their life simply drift away.
Presumably, the source of this attitude resides in the belief that propagating one's genetic makeup into the future constitutes some degree of immortality. Let's consider this for a moment. Every human has a large chunk of DNA which is essentially identical to all other humans, a little more than 99%. In other words, more than 99% of our DNA isn't available for variation between individuals, it is identical in all of us. The remaining less than 1% varies across populations. This less than 1% encodes all the variety we see in people's bodies, and also also appears to encode some broad mental constructs. Musical aptitude and mathematical ability are two examples that may have some genetic component for example. In other words, the part of a person that might be preserved by cloning is superficial body shape and relatively unspecific mental generalities. In order to witness proof of this fact, one only has to look at identical twins, who in fact have 100% identical DNA and yet often have extremely disparate personalities.
The hope that a clone would be even vaguely similar to oneself is essentially unfounded. While there may be extremely vague similarities, the differences would essentially outway such similarities enough that the clone would not carry on any semblance of immortality. Instead the clone will simply be a new person. The bottom line is that these kinds of people need to wake up. Their argument is dramatically flawed and should be dispensed with immediately.
Bringing back loved ones
The final group that I will comment on is parents who want to clone their dead children. These are the real nutcases, the people who have lost all touch with reality. Some of them genuinely seem to behave as if they expect to get their children back. Can they be so naive? Has science education failed them so miserably that they have simply missed the point? I will forget about these people. What about the others though? Many of them realize the individual that was their child won't be the clone and vs/va. Nevertheless, they insist that the child will share enough personality characteristics to be a suitable replacement. This disturbs me greatly. The expectations that will be placed on such a child are unreasonable. Every child should be allowed to live up to his or her own personal potential, not the legacy of a dead ancestor from whom they were cloned.
Some of these parents are aware of this concern and insist they won't impose such guidelines on their children, but their desire to clone their children in the first place suggests otherwise. If they just wanted a child who could grow up within his or her own domain, these parents would simply have another child by ordinary means. These parents are certain that a piece of their dead child is returning to them, and as such, I am sure they will put the cloned child in a stressful situation, whether or not on purpose. A counterargument is that parents place expectations on their children all the time. Frankly, I have never heard a good argument in favor of this style of parenting. If the argument is that the clone will survive such an experience, well, that hardly justifies it, and besides, I believe this situation offers a more alluring opportunity for parents to "mold" their children to a preexisting shell. This is simply not responsible parenting.
I believe I have answered most of the major issues surrounding cloning, for and against. I would like to make a slightly different point now. Cloning isn't just about making duplicates of people. The technology of cloning involves many different fields of biology, the most fascinating of which is replacement-organ-growing. We have working theories (and theories put into practice) that replacement organs can be grown for organ transplants. Why? We already have a system for transplanting organs from recently dead people to people in need of organs. There are two good reasons.
The first reason is that there is a higher demand than supply. While every heart, liver, and kidney that becomes available goes immediately into a patient needing the organ, the list of people waiting of such organs to become available is very long indeed.
The other reason is that transplanting one person's organ into another person is a really bad idea. The recipient's body will try to reject the organ. It is keyed to the supplier and doesn't really fit into the recipient. As a result, every person in the world who receives an organ transplant must spend the rest of their life taking drugs that suppress their immune system so that their body won't reject the organ. Of course, by doing so, their immune system's ability to reject other infections is reduced as well. In short, these people are subject to disease, infection, and cancer. Growing organs wouldn't consist of having warehouses of organs sitting around waiting for people to need them like some sort of department store. When a person needs an organ, their own body's cells would be used to grow a replacement organ over a matter of weeks or months. After transplant, the person would be literally as good as new, unrecognizable from an ordinary healthy person.
Here's the thing though. Growing an organ requires coming up with a way to develop any kind of organ that may be needed from a cell culture taken from the patient's body. The only kinds of cells in the body that are capable of performing this trick are called stem cells. The research involving the growing of organs from stem cells is closely tied to cloning research, and if a broad ban is placed on cloning research without consideration of its related topics such as organ-growing, this field and others like it, which there can be no logical argument against, will suffer anyway simply as a byproduct of a broad research ban.
Incidentally, just in case you believe that the idea of organs growing jars in a laboratory somewhere seems like the most absurd thing you've ever heard of, you should to be aware of the fact that it has already happened. There are a variety of organs sitting in jars that have never been inside a person's body. They have been grown by entirely artificial means. This form of medical aid is poised to explode. In the next century I am certain it will quickly take over as the primary means of handling all cases of organ failure.
I would really like to hear what people think of this. If you prefer private feedback, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, the following form and comment section is available.