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Human Cloning: Ethical Issues & Legality

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

This lesson is going to cover some of the legality and ethical concerns surrounding the reproductive cloning of humans. We will explore several arguments on both sides of these issues.

Human Cloning

How do you feel about cloning? Some people believe it to be dangerous; others think it's the same as any other type of reproduction. Hollywood has certainly given us some interesting perspectives.

There are many unknowns when it comes to human cloning, or the production of a genetic copy of a person. Keep in mind that human cloning can refer to human reproductive cloning, where the embryo is transferred to a human womb and brought to term, whereas human non-reproductive cloning is the creation of an embryo that is not allowed to develop beyond a cluster of cells and is not implanted into a womb.

Let's explore the ethical issues and legal status of human reproductive cloning.

Ethical Issues

Physical Implications

There are huge margins of error in human cloning that bring us to our first ethical issue. The chances of producing several nonviable or deformed embryos is highly likely. This could lead to a drastic increase in abortions and miscarriages, the first of which has much opposition and the second of which takes a great emotional toll.

Let's say that the embryo does implant properly and birth occurs. There is a high chance that the clone will be deformed or have abnormalities. What happens to the clone at this point? Remember the point of cloning is to produce a human identical to another one. If it is not identical, then does this give the right to kill the clone or does it have the right to live?

Is the person who wanted the clone responsible for it? What if they do not want it because it is not an exact replica? What if it takes some years to realize that the clone is not an exact copy? Who is responsible for what went wrong and what are the repercussions?

Social Implications

Clones are not produced through sexual reproduction, so does a clone have parents? Who is responsible for taking care of the clone?

Another ethical issue is whether or not a clone would ever be able to become self-sufficient. Is it okay to produce a person that will always be dependent on someone else? This leads back to the question of who is responsible for helping them all the way through life.

The idea behind wanting a clone is to produce a replica of someone. Most people think about every aspect of a person when they want to replicate, including personality. But personality is not determined solely by genetics.

Clone Rights

One of the last ethical issues has to do with the freedoms of the clone. If (and that's a big if) the clone is successful, and able to become dependent, what are it's rights?

What if the clone wants something different in life from the person who created him or her? The argument can be made that the clone was produced for a specific purpose and would not have life otherwise. The other side of the argument is that an independent adult can make their own decisions.

Legal Status

Debates surrounding the legality of human cloning have gone on for decades in almost every industrialized country. The debate includes how to govern clones should they be produced.

Several countries like France and Germany have laws that completely forbid human cloning, while other countries, like England, Israel, and China, allow human cloning for research, but not for reproduction. Others lack human cloning laws altogether.

Lack of laws against human reproductive cloning make it legal by default. The US has laws stating that government funding of human cloning research and production is prohibited. This leaves the door wide open for private money to fund human cloning.

If clones were to made, at what point are they considered to be living and have laws that protect it like humans do? Is it going to be legal to abort a clone? Give them up?

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