11th AP Lang & Comp
December 12, 2008
Are DNA Testing, Human Cloning, and Pre-implantation Gender Diagnosis Ethical?
Since the beginning of man’s reign upon the earth, human beings have always been curious about their world, and wondered how the different aspects of their world functioned. This innate human curiosity fostered study, and subsequently, advancement, in the fields of science. From Galileo to Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, curiosity and scientific research have coupled to bring forth significant and superlative results in astronomy, physics, chemistry, and other scientific focuses. But has science been taken too far? In these days of pre-implantation gender diagnosis and DNA testing, arguments of the ethics and the morality of these practices are frequent. In some cases, DNA testing is ethical, as can be pre-implantation gender diagnosis, while the practice of human cloning is unethical and has no place in this society.
Humans are fascinated and at the same time frightened by the concept of human cloning, as evidenced by films such as The Boys from Brazil, in which a group of Nazi doctors attempt to clone Hitler to build up the Fourth Reich, and more recently, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, where a subservient clone army is created, as noted by Philip M. Boffey in his article “Fearing the Worst Should Anyone Produce a Cloned Baby”. This fear of human cloning is rooted in a fear of the unknown, and this fear of the unknown is prevalent because of the lack of answers to key questions concerning the practice. One such question is this: what would happen to a deformed human clone? Some may think that with the advanced scientific procedures of this day and age, this question would not be a concern. However, there are still glitches in animal cloning, which has been studied by research scientists for decades. Irving L. Weissman, professor of cancer biology and developmental biology at Stanford University, says, “Data on the reproductive cloning of animals demonstrate that only a small percentage of attempts are successful, many of the clones die during all stages of gestation, newborn clones often are abnormal or die, and the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother.” Because a mistake in human cloning would be of far greater consequence than the common errors in animal cloning, the process of animal cloning would have to be perfected before human cloning could even be considered a feasible possibility.
Advocates of human cloning often choose to avoid the queries as to what would become of a deformed human clone, or a human clone that dies because of cloning error, because one can presume the public response to the unnecessary and legalized death of an innocent human being. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Arthur Caplan, the director for the Center for Bioethics and Trustee Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Department of Health and Human Services, commented on some researcher’s evasion to this critical question. He said, “[this question is] a question that the people who say they want to clone keep ignoring. But it is unethical to ignore that question. The people who say they’re going to clone now know that if they were to make one sick, dying or defective baby, the world would completely reject cloning. So, they don’t talk about that prospect.” Because of the absence of an answer to this momentous question, human cloning simply does not have a place in our society at this time.
Not only must the physical well-being of a human clone be considered, but also the emotional well-being. Some advocates of cloning propose clones be created for blood and organ donor matches for the original. Imagine the feelings of a person whose primary purpose in life as perceived by many is to potentially give up his or her life to save the life of the original. Imagine how a human clone might perceive their self-worth if in such a situation. In addition, the emotional development of a human clone would be warped and damaged. Having no parents along with no semblance of a normal life would cause a human clone to feel deserted and alone. In his article “On Cloning a Human Being”, biologist Lewis Thomas explores what life would be like for a cloned human being. He says, “… [it is] harder still to think of one’s new, self-generated self as anything but an absolute, desolate orphan.” A human clone created for the health of a normal human would not only have an absence of parents, but also an absence of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, and friends. Thomas comments, “No matter what the genome says, these people [everyone who influences one’s life, and subsequently, development of oneself] have a lot to do with shaping a character.” These people with whom one associates form the many relationships that are central to one’s life. If a life is created that misses out on these essential social ties, it would not turn out as a perfect copy of the original, because the original lived a developmentally normal life. Boffey says, “In its report on human cloning last year, the President’s Council on Bioethics worried that cloning to produce children could disrupt the normal relationships between generations and within families…” If human cloning becomes a part of society, social and family dynamics will cease to be as they are today. It is wholly unethical to bring a human being into existence who would be vulnerable to such devastating consequences such as damaged self-image and poor and disrupted emotional development.
The opposition to human cloning is not just evident in distinguished professors in the intellectual community. According to a CNN poll, 89% of Americans believe it is ethically intolerable to clone humans. America was founded on democratic ideals, and accordingly, many things in this country such as the governor of a state and laws such as gay marriage are decided upon by a majority vote. Likewise should a decision over a controversial issue like human cloning be heavily influenced by the opinion of the American people, especially considering that 89% is an overwhelming majority. Weissman said, “[the projected outlaw of human cloning should be rethought] only if new scientific review indicates that the procedures are likely to be safe and effective, and if a broad national dialogue on societal, religious, and ethical issues suggests that reconsideration is warranted,” (emphasis added). Since the present public national opposition to human cloning is so strong, human cloning should not even be considered at this time in American culture.
While human cloning is unethical, there are areas of the genetic research field that are, for the most part, ethical, and beneficial for fixing pertinent world issues, like disease. Disease is the plague of the world. Because of it, innumerable innocent people have died, wars have been fought, millions of dollars have been spent for treatment, and lives have been pledged to developing medicines to heal. What if these people dedicated to curing disease knew that the cure lay in the genetic makeup of the human body? More and more advanced modern research is finding out that DNA plays a larger role than originally thought in determining the susceptibility of getting devastating diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s. Nowadays, a person can visit a biotechnology lab and be tested for the diseases for which they carry the DNA. Some may wonder, how is simply determining susceptibility of diseases any more effective than early detection? David Ewing Duncan answers this question in his article “DNA as Destiny”. He says, “Physicians will forecast illnesses and prescribe preventive drugs custom-fitted to a patient’s DNA, rather than the one-size-fits-all pharmaceuticals that people take today.” Just like a tailor made dress fits better than one off a store rack, and medicine that is “tailor made” for a single person will be more effective than a medicine that is mass-produced for all people. Although DNA testing appears to be the miraculous cure of the future, there is a potential dark side to it.
While most would think of DNA testing as good information, there exists a possibility that DNA information could be used in the wrong way, its entire purpose twisted and manipulated. Knowledge of a person’s defective genes could lead to the same kind of discrimination experienced in past American history by people of different races, ethnicities, or religions. Knowing the kind of cruelty Americans have been capable of bestowing upon people they perceive as “inferior”, giving them another chance for brutality is not in everyone’s best interest. Duncan continues, “Gene cards might also be used to find the best-suited career, or a DNA-compatible mate, or, more darkly, to deny someone jobs, dates, and meds because their nucleotides don’t measure up.” Not only would discrimination from the general public be a possibility, but knowledge of a person’s DNA could then hold them back from opportunities that would otherwise have been plausible goals. This possibility of discrimination would take Americans backward in time instead of forward into a more ethical future.
At this time in American society, it is legal to test the gender of an embryo. Since gender can determine susceptibility to genetic disorders, testing an embryo for gender may be an intelligent choice to choose not only for the life of the child after it is born, but also for the likelihood of the baby being carried to term and surviving the pregnancy. However, more and more couples are now taking part in pre-implantation gender diagnosis simply out of vain motivations, as noted by Marilynn Marchione and Lindsey Tanner in their article “More Couples Screening Embryos for Gender.” The article continues, “A whopping 42 percent of clinics that offer PGD [pre-implantation gender diagnosis] said they had done so for non-medically related sex selection.” Testing an embryo for gender simply for personal preference is unethical because of the things it could lead to. Once testing embryos for gender for non-medical reasons becomes accepted by the vast majority, ethics will slowly degenerate until it is morally acceptable to select individual genes to create the ideal baby.
Others theorize that DNA testing could be manipulated to create “super-babies”, infants who have had their genes individually selected to give them the most desirable traits. These parents of these babies would get to decide every tiny aspect of their child’s genetic makeup, from athletic ability to intelligence. Some may wonder, why all the opposition to this? Is there anyone who would not wish his or her parents had created him or her with the best genes? There is someone who would not wish that, and that person is me. Because of genes, I am short, overweight despite doing all the right things, and I have a genetic disorder that has no cure. Given the chance to change it all, I would most definitely not take the chance. I would not want to change my genes to make myself naturally tall and thin. If I were naturally thin, perhaps I would have not felt the need to eat right and exercise. Because I am biologically overweight, I am constantly reminded of my need for correct health habits. Ironically, I am healthier as an overweight person than I probably would have been as a thin person. If I looked different because of different genes, I just wouldn’t be me. I would not want to change my genetic disorder, because although it is not life-threatening, it has given me opportunity to learn and grow from the experience of living with it. My imperfect biological traits make me a truly genetically unique individual. But why is biodiversity so critical? In his article “The Future of Happiness”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that biodiversity is pertinent to the survival of the human race; if we were all genetically identical, a key single change of the chemical make-up of a disease could potentially wipe out the human race because every person would be affected by it in the same way. Biodiversity would be difficult to achieve in a world of DNA testing because every parent would desire the same traits for the child. Csikszentmihalyi continues, “The pressure for uniformity is going to be great: Everybody will want to have children who are intelligent, good-looking (by standard conceptions of beauty), ambitious, and successful.” If there is the opportunity to create a perfect child, what parent would not willingly select an ideal gene for the child? Because of this, biodiversity would be near non-existent, and as a result, the safety of the continuation of the human race could be threatened. Since pre-implantation gender diagnosis and DNA testing have good and bad points, they need to be strictly monitored to ensure that they are not abused and used for the unethical wrong reasons.
The debate continues over the ethics of human cloning, pre-implantation gender diagnosis, and DNA testing. Although there appear to be positive aspects of human cloning, they cannot, in reality, even be compared to the negative results human cloning would bring. Pre-implantation gender diagnosis and DNA testing are beneficial to society, but only if they are used in the right way for the right reasons. If used correctly, the advancements of biological science can continue to improve the lives of all people.
Boffey, Philip M. “Fearing the Worst Should Anyone Produce a Cloned Baby.” The Language of Composition : Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. By Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2007. 681-82.
Chat Participant, and CNN. “Dr. Arthur Caplan: Ethics of Human Cloning.” Interview. CNN.com/community. 7 Aug. 2001. CNN. 2 Dec. 2008 <http://archives.cnn.com/2001/community/08/07/caplan.cnna/>.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. “The Future of Happiness.” The Language of Composition : Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. By Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2007. 626.
Duncan, David E. “DNA as Destiny.” The Language of Composition : Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. By Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2007. 684.
Marchione, Marilynn, and Lindsey Tanner. “More Couples Screening Embryos for Gender.” The Language of Composition : Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. By Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2007. 694.
Thomas, Lewis. “On Cloning a Human Being.” The Language of Composition : Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. By Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon and Robin Dissin Aufses. Boston, MA: Bedford/Saint Martin’s, 2007. 678-79.
Vines, Vanee, and Irving L. Weissman. “NEWS- The National Academies.” Http://www8.nationalacademies.org. 18 Jan. 2002. National Academies. 2 Dec. 2008 <http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?recordid=10285>.