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28 February 2001 Issue
Clones R’ Us: The Age of Human Cloning Has Arrived

by Professor Steve Best - sbest1@elp.rr.com 

“Anyone who thinks that things will move slowly is being very naive."
Lee Silver, Molecular Biologist

“Human cloning could be done tomorrow.”
Alan Trounson, in vitro fertilization clinician, Monash University

With the birth of Dolly in March 1997, a new wave of animal exploitation arrived, and anxiety grew about a world of cloned humans that scientists said was technically feasible and perhaps inevitable. Ian Wilmut, head of the Roslin Institute team that cloned Dolly, however, is not an advocate of human cloning. Rather, he believes human cloning is unethical, dangerous, and unnecessary. With others, he fears that the drive toward human cloning will thwart the far more beneficial uses of cloning in animals and stem cell research. He designed his revolutionary technology with one main idea in mind: manufacturing herds of animals for human use. For Wilmut, the biotechnology industry exists to use genetic information to cure disease and improve agriculture. Whatever Wilmut’s intention, many scientists and entrepreneurs he inspired have aggressively pursued the goal of human cloning as the true telos of genomic science. Driven by market demands for clones of infertile people, of those who have lost loved ones, of gays and lesbians who want their own children, and of numerous other client
categories, doctors and firms are actively pursuing human cloning.

Pro-cloning forces include the Raelins, a wealthy Quebec-based religious cult which claims that their “Cloinaid” project will produce a human clone by the end of 2001; infertility specialist Panayiotis Zanos of the University of Kentucky who openly announces his desire to clone humans; and the Human Cloning Foundation (www.humancloning.org), an Internet umbrella group for diverse clonistas. One bioethicist estimates that there are currently at least a half dozen laboratories around the world doing human cloning experiments.

While cloning human beings is illegal in the U.S., Britain, and elsewhere, in many countries (e.g., Asia, India, Russia, and Brazil), it is perfectly legal and human cloning is being pursued both openly and clandestinely. In fact, there are at least two cases where human embryos have been cloned, but the experiment was terminated. According to the February 2001 issue of Wired. “In 1988, a scientist working at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts took a human somatic cell, inserted it into an enucleated cow egg, and started the cell dividing to prove that oocytes from other species could be used to create human stem cells. He voluntarily stopped the experiment after several cell divisions. A team at Kyung Hee University in South Korea said it created an embryonic adult human
clone in 1999 before halting the experiment, though some doubt that any of this really happened. Had either of these embryos been placed in a surrogate mother, we might have seen the first human clone.”

Although many scientists think human cloning is possible and inevitable, others think it is likely human clones already exist, perhaps in hideous forms where they are studied on a Dr. Moreau-type island. The breeding of monstrosities in animal cloning, the pain and suffering produced, and the possibility of assembly-production of animals and humans should give pause to those who want to plunge ahead with human cloning. Animal cloning experiments produced scores of abnormalities and it is highly likely that human cloning would do the same. The possibilities of producing human monstrosities raises serious ethical dilemmas as well as the question of the social responsibility involved in care of deformed beings produced by human cloning experiments. What sane person would want to produce a possibly freakish replication of him or herself? What are the potential health risks to women who would be called upon to give birth to human clones, at least before artificial wombs make women, like men, superfluous to the
reproductive process? Who will be responsible for caring for deformed human clones that parents and doctors renounce (it took 277 tries and numerous monstrosities to get Dolly)? Is this really an experiment that the human species wants to undertake so that, for example, infertile couples can have their own children, or misinformed narcissists can breed what they think will be their carbon-copy twins? What happens if human clones themselves breed? What mutations could follow? What might result from
long-range tampering with the human genome as a consequence from genetic engineering and cloning?

Furthermore, as the TV-series “Dark Angel” illustrates, there is also the possibility of a military appropriation of cloning to develop genetically engineered herds of Ubermenschen (although no two would be exactly alike). Indeed, will commodification of the humane genome, eugenics, designer babies, and genetic discrimination all follow as unavoidable consequences of helping infertile couples and other groups reproduce, or will human cloning become as safe and accepted as in vitro fertilization,
once also a risky and a demonized technology? Will developing countries be used as breeding farms for animals and people, constituting another form of global exploitation of the have-nots by the haves?

One thing is certain: the project of human cloning is being approached in a purely instrumental, economic, and mechanistic framework that doesn’t consider long-term consequences to the human genome, social relations, or ecology. Or, if social relations and consequences are considered, likely
this is from the perspective of improving the Nordic stock and creating an even deeper cleavage between rich and poor as, without question, only the rich will be able to afford genetically designed and/or cloned babies with superior characteristics. This situation could change if the state sponsors
cloning welfare programs or the prices of designer babies drop like computers, but the wealthy will already have gained a decisive advantage and “democratic cloning” agendas beg the question of the soundness of human cloning in the first place.

Thus, I have worries about cloning not only due to the history of science and capitalism, the commodification of the life sciences, and how genetic technologies have already been used by corporations like Monsanto and Du Pont, but also because of the reductionistic paradigm informing molecular engineering. Ironically, while biology helped to shape a postmodern physics, the most sophisticated modes of biological science -- genetic engineering and cloning research -- have not advanced to the path of holism and complexity, but rather have regressed to the antiquated errors of atomism, mechanism, determinism, and reductionism. The new technosciences and the outmoded paradigms (Cartesian) and domineering mentalities (Baconian) that informs them generates a volatile mix, and the situation is gravely exacerbated by the commercial imperatives driving research and development, by the frenzied "gene rush" toward DNA patenting.

Yet if human cloning technologies follow the path of in vitro fertilization technologies, they will become widely accepted, even though a vast majority of U.S. citizens currently oppose it. Alarmingly, scientists and infertility clinics have embraced human cloning technologies all-too-quickly. After the announcement of the birth of Dolly, they were tripping all over themselves to see who could announce most emphatically that they would never pursue human cloning. Yet, only months later, these same voices began to embrace the project. The demand from people desperate to have babies or “resurrect” their loved ones in conjunction with the massive profits waiting to be made is too great an allure for biotechnology corporations to resist. The opportunistic attitude of cloning media star Panayiotis Zavos is all-too-typical: “Ethics is a wonderful word, but we need to look beyond the ethical issues here. It’s not an ethical issue [!]. It’s a medical issue. We have a duty here. Some people need this to complete the life cycle, to reproduce.”

There are indeed legitimate grounds for the fear and loathing of human cloning, but most anxieties are irrationally rooted in an intuitive repulsion toward something that is seemingly “unnatural.” Many such clonophobic arguments are weak. The standard psychological objections, in particular, are poorly grounded. We need not fear Hitler armies assembling because the presumption of this dystopia – genetic determinism -- is false (although certain desirable traits could be genetically engineered and cloned which might prove useful for military powers). Nor need we fear individuals unable to cope with lack of their own identity since identical twins are able to differentiate themselves from one another relatively well and they are even more genetically similar than clones would be. Nor would society always
see cloned humans as freaks, as people no longer consider test-tube babies alien oddities, and there are over 150,000 such humans existing today. The physiological dangers are real, but in time cloning techniques could be perfected so that cloning might be as safe if not safer than babies born through a genetic throw-of-the-dice. A valid objection against human cloning and genetic engineering technologies is that they could be combined to design and mass reproduce desirable traits, bringing about a Gattaca-like society organized around genetic/economic hierarchies and genetic discrimination.

While full-fledged human (“reproductive”) cloning may be problematic for numerous reasons, scientists are also developing a more benign and promising technology of stem-cell research, or “therapeutic cloning.” Using similar technological breakthroughs such as led to Dolly, stem cell research exploits the newly-found ability to isolate human embryo stem cells, the master cells of the body that later differentiate into functions like bone, nerve, and brain cells. The goal is to direct the development of stem cells, to manufacture or clone specific cells in order to make any kind of cell, tissue, or organ the human body might need. While the U.S. still holds back funding for stem cell research, Britain became the first country to legalize human embryo cloning in January 2001 (with the proviso – perhaps impossible to enforce -- that all clones would have to be destroyed after 14 days of development and the creation of babies is prohibited).

Therapeutic cloning has tremendous medical potential. Early in life, for example, each individual could freeze their stem cells to create their own “body repair kit” if they developed heart disease, Alzheimer’s, or lost a limb. There would be no organ shortages, no rejection problem, and no need for animal exploitation. There is an ethical issue of using aborted or live fetal tissue, and many religious groups and hard-core technology critics vituperate against stem cell research as “violating the inherent sanctity of life.” But therapeutic cloning involves competing values, a conflict between putting to good use the discarded by-products of in vitro fertilization research, and a potentially utilitarian view of human life, between potential life and full-fledged human beings in dire medical need. The moral quandary may already be moot, however, as scientists are not discovering ways to use stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, and to directly transform – in an amazing genetic alchemy – cells of one kind into another.

One problem with embracing therapeutic cloning and renouncing reproductive cloning, however, is that the lines between the two blur easily. Stem cell research that advances experimental knowledge with embryos also logically would hasten the development of reproductive cloning. There is, arguably, a real slippery slope from one to the other, making stem cell research itself problematic.

The development of new genetic sciences and technologies therefore is ambiguous, open-ended, and unpredictable. For now, the only certainty is that the juggernaut of the genetic revolution is rapidly advancing and that in the name of medical progress animals are being victimized and exploited in new ways as, like it or not, the replication of human beings looms on the horizon.

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