Is it Ethical to Clone a Human?

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Human cloning is a controversial topic and there are many ethical considerations surrounding it. In this lesson we'll discuss human cloning, as well as the pros and cons associated with it.

What is Cloning?

If you're like me, you sometimes wish you could be in several different places at once, or just have a little more of you to go around. Wouldn't it be nice to have someone else clean the house, walk the dog, make dinner, do the laundry, and do just about everything else for you? One way you might think to accomplish this would be to clone yourself. That way, you could literally do several things and be in several places at once! But before you get ahead of yourself (hopefully still just your one self!), we should talk about what cloning actually is. Yes, your DNA would be exactly the same, but identical twins have the exact same DNA, too, and I've yet to meet a pair that doesn't have distinctly different personalities.

Even identical twins, who have the exact same DNA, have different personalities.
identical twins

With cloning, there are two types to be familiar with. The first is reproductive cloning, which involves creating a genetic duplicate using somatic cells. Somatic cells are all the cells in your body except your sex cells, which I know is confusing, because I just told you that this type of cloning is called 'reproductive' cloning. The reproductive part comes in when that newly created embryo is placed back into a uterus to develop like it would if it had been formed through normal fertilization.

The second type of cloning is therapeutic cloning. Here, instead of letting the new embryo grow, stem cells are removed and the embryo is not given a chance to develop. These stem cells can then be used for a multitude of different medical therapies and treatments, hence the use of the word 'therapeutic' to describe this type of cloning.

Ethics of Reproductive Cloning

It's true that reproductive cloning can be used for good. Imagine a couple that has fertility problems and therefore has difficulty having their own children. Cloning could help this couple overcome this challenge. Likewise, couples that know they have a high risk of passing on a genetic disease could utilize cloning in order to produce healthy children. Or, say that a couple has lost a child due to accident or sudden illness. Cloning this child could replace that lost family member for them. But many view this as 'playing God' and therefore oppose it.

Additionally, as we see with identical twins, even when they have the same DNA, no two people are exactly alike. Cloning your lost child will not bring back that child. It will simply create a new child that looks like your previous child. And how would you feel if you were that cloned sibling? Would you feel as loved, knowing that you had been created to be someone else, instead of your unique self? How would others view you as a cloned individual, even if you weren't created to replace a lost sibling? Would they see you as less than human? And what if you don't live up to the standards of the individual they had hoped to create?

There are scientific concerns as well. Cloning is still a relatively new technology, especially for human purposes. We don't really know what will happen to these individuals later in life, and there are likely biological issues that occur in cloned individuals that we are not even aware of yet. Reproductive cloning is also not very efficient. Only a small percentage of cloned embryos actually develop properly, so it is unlikely that cloning will be an option for many people.

Ethics of Therapeutic Cloning

Reproductive cloning is definitely controversial, but because therapeutic cloning involves allowing the embryo to die, this type of cloning takes the cake in terms of ethical issues. First, let's look at the benefits of therapeutic cloning.

The possible beneficial uses of stem cells in medicine are numerous.
stem cell therapies

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