Cosmology and our View of the World
Genes and Genetic Engineering: Cloning & Future
Lead: Bethany Hughes & Chris Bancroft
Summary by Kate Dusinberre:
"God for the 21st Century" Part 5, by Russell Stannard ed.
Movie: Brave New World: Cloning Humans & Ethical Challenges
The movie Brave New World: Cloning Humans & Ethical Challenges addressed several issues about cloning. Cloning is not, in fact, like it is depicted in the movies. Cloning will not beget exact duplicates. They may look similar, but they are very similar to twins; they may be very similar (like the twin women separated at birth who met later in life) or very dissimilar (like Siamese twins Cheng and Eng).
Embryonic cells have the ability to turn into any cell in your body. The process of turning into specialized cells (such as liver cells, bone cells, skin cells, etc.) is called “differentiation”. The DNA in differentiated cells has been covered up except for the part that controls its special function. Scientists have been able to uncover the DNA in adult, or differentiated, cells in order to create clones. It is this process that was used to clone Dolly the sheep, which is why that was such a breakthrough event.
Cloning raises a few ethical issues. Some say that cloning removes the mystery from babies, for many genetic abnormalities can be corrected. The sex of the baby can even be pre-determined. “Fixing” babies genetically brings up more issues: will this increase the divide between the upper and lower classes? Will the genetic diversity of the species be lessened if things like dwarfism are systematically removed from the gene pool? Another question that is raised about cloning is: will people clone Hitlers? If people can be cloned, what is to stop people from cloning the most evil men in history in an attempt to take over the world? The answer to this question hinges on both genetics and environment. If six Hitler clones were raised by six different families, none of them may grow up to be evil dictators. Cloning is not an efficient way to do evil. Yet another question is: will clones be considered second-class citizens?
While cloning might seem attractive to those looking to create evil, it would be easier to use cloning for good. For example, cloning can be used to obtain matches for blood, bone, or organs. Furthermore, cloning an exact genetic match eliminates the guesswork of hoping another family member will be a match.
Cloning is defined as asexual reproduction. There are two types: The first is embryo splitting, the type that occurs with twins. The other is cell nuclear replacement, which is the type used to make Dolly the sheep. In this type, the clone is the identical twin of the genetic daughter, and the mother does not add any DNA. In cell nuclear replacement, a nucleus is removed from an egg, and the nucleus of the donor is put into it. This egg is then put into the carrier to develop. Nuclear cloning requires a complete nucleus, so dinosaurs cannot (yet) be cloned.
In the 1970s cloning was used on frogs. In 1996 Dolly the sheep was cloned, which was the first time a creature was cloned using a cell that had already differentiated. This began a fear of cloning, for now any living thing, like you or me, could potentially be cloned.
Stem cells come in two varieties: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells can grow; if they are placed near a liver they will differentiate into a liver, for example. The big (ethical) question is: where do we get these cells?
Up until an egg splits into more than eight cells, those cells can be split into eight separate zygotes. After this stage the cells become a hollow circle of cells. To take a part from this stage would be to destroy it.
Why do we NEED to clone a person? Some reasons for cloning
people include cloning children without genetic disorders, and making children
“better” by using different genes from different people. This brings
up another issue: should people be able to control evolution? Another reason
to clone people is for stem cell research. Livers, organs, and other things
could be cloned as exact genetic matches for their receivers. This would benefit
the many people on the long waiting lists for organs. Could cloning become an
everyday thing like in vitro fertilization has become?
Why do we NEED to clone a person? Some reasons for cloning people include cloning children without genetic disorders, and making children “better” by using different genes from different people. This brings up another issue: should people be able to control evolution? Another reason to clone people is for stem cell research. Livers, organs, and other things could be cloned as exact genetic matches for their receivers. This would benefit the many people on the long waiting lists for organs. Could cloning become an everyday thing like in vitro fertilization has become?
Another topic that came up in discussion was the premature aging of Dolly the cloned sheep. Because old DNA (from the adult cells) was put into the new cells, the clone aged prematurely. However, Dolly’s offspring appeared to have a normal lifespan. Is it fair, though, to do this to humans? Because of premature aging, if a cloned being had a child would it be at a higher risk for genetic defects in the same way that older people are at higher risk?
The topic of embryonic migration of stem cells came up as well. Stem cells that are injected where they are supposed to be sometimes do not become what they are supposed to become and migrate to other places. This is still an issue in stem cell research: turning the cells into exactly what they are supposed to be.
One use of cloning would be to provide genetic matches for someone who requires an organ transplant. Is it ethically ok to produce children to be used for the sake of other children? One suggested that this is just another bad reason to have children to add to a growing list.
Another point that was brought up is that regarding medical research, around 25% of Americans already fall through the cracks. Cloning is expensive, and would possibly cause more people to be ignored medically. A defense of cloning was that if we engineer diseases out of children, this would ultimately bring healthcare costs down.
Someone raised the question: what will this do to our population? Only the wealthy will be able to afford processes that make use of cloning, and the percentage of the population that is not receiving medical attention will continue not to receive medical attention. Cloning could lead to a greater separation between the classes, much like in the novel A Brave New World.
A final ethical issue that was raised related to the harvesting of stem cells. The first question was: when does life begin? Most opponents to stem cell research are religious ones that believe life begins upon conception. There is also the question of the soul – if this person was never meant to be there, when does the soul enter? Consciousness starts to develop in the 24th week of pregnancy, or the beginning of the 3rd trimester. Could this be the onset of the soul? Is this when someone officially becomes a person? Or does life begin when something can function on its own? If this is true, how do you define it? Is something alive when it can breathe on its own? Or when it can feed itself? Or when it is completely independent of others, living on its own, supporting itself? If we know that something is going to become a person, can we ethically deny it the same rights as real people? Many zygotes never make it to birth. If many zygotes are fated to die anyway, some might think that aborting them would not make any real difference. Does this make it ok that we abort fetuses?