At the time of writing this essay, the concept of cloning was pushed into the limelight by the media with Dolly the sheep, and Dr. Seed stating he was ready to clone humans. If I remember correctly, the assignment was to relate such modern issues and moral concepts to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Not a formal essay, but a problem/solution essay.
The creation of life by unnatural method is a question that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein addresses. Through the events that result from Victor's attempt to bestow life to the inanimate, Shelley concludes that it is inappropriate for man to play god. With the advent of the science of creation, cloning, scientists now face the same problem that Shelley raised years ago. The applications of such research are numerous, all varying in severity. In what way the users for cloning are developed and performed is of much debate. Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer for the issue.
A popular suggestion is to develop cloning technology for medical use on humans. The creation of animals for use at man's discretion, such as livestock for food, is an ancient and generally accepted practice. However, when creating a human clone, for its organs, can it be said that such an act is murder? Aldous Huxley illustrates another vision of cloning in Brave New World. The novel depicts people created from basic templates to fit in a given level of society. Should people have the ability to design the type of child they get? The implications of creating custom humans raise many moral problems. In Shelley's Frankenstein, the act of creation resulted in an abhorred being. Using cloning, there is the potentiality for someone to develop a genetically enhanced being for malicious purposes. The question of how to regulate potential uses and misuses of the aforementioned ideals is of much debate. Several acceptable answers have been suggested, but each has its own weaknesses and group of detractors.
As an answer to the moral questions that the advent of cloning has raised, several countries have organized bioethics commissions. The committees are designed to research and make recommendations as to how certain issues are handled. The United States however has no national biomedical regulatory bodies. Therefore, the current system relies on independent groups such as hospital review boards to make policies regarding cloning. In order to make such policy making organizations effective, some guidelines and levels of authority must be developed. Current regulations make it illegal for government funding to be used for human cloning research. No limitations are made on privately funded studies, which is where the dilemma arises. There is no way to monitor private companies and therefore any limitations on human cloning would be useless. Thus, a national regulatory board will only be effective for public research projects. Despite possible ways around a regulatory commission, a live body would be able to adapt to new developments in technology and make concurrent adjustments to existing laws. A bioethics committee allows the most flexible way to regulate human cloning.
Another solution available is an outright ban on human cloning research. President Clinton and existing ethics groups have insisted in such a ban, but Congress has yet to seriously consider the issue. Richard Seed has announced that he and his team intend to clone a human before the procedure is banned. Those near Mr. Seed believe that he has the means to complete his project and the only question is when it happens. Seed's aim is to help couples who cannot have their own child by other means. Bioethics experts question the morality of creating live, regardless of motivation. In creating the wretch, Victor does not ask himself moral questions, but only focuses on whether he succeeds or not. This single-mindedness is dangerous, as there are numerous repercussions in creating life. Scientists must seriously consider possible effects of continued research on human cloning. A complete ban makes it impossible to pursue legitimate research on the subject. A compromise developed between a total ban and allowing such research is another path. Creating a type of licensing system, giving only certain institutions the ability to research human cloning under observation is one way to encourage positive uses of the technology while controlling the threats of uncontrolled experimentation.
There is little question that the subject of human cloning has huge potential. The enigma is in which direction the possibilities lead. Humans reason on immensely different levels, thus each individual treats problems uniquely. Just as problems are treated in varying ways, power is used differently and does corrupt susceptible individuals. The power to create life, to mold a human into a predestined image is a most treacherous one and is to be explored with extraordinary caution. The desire to better the lives of people is a strong one. In many parts of history, society has developed different ways to better itself. Most commonly these methods of creating a 'superior' human have failed and only succeeded in alienating portions of the human race. Looking back on this century, there were several movements that were misguided in their intention to better society by erroneous means. One such movement was the eugenics from the first half of this century. The idea was that selective breeding would produce superior humans, just as the same idea applied to animals. The idea made sense to people, however soon certain segments of society were singled out as being inferior. The Nazi era in Hitler's Germany is one example of the deep effects eugenics had. Now, with the advent of cloning, there is again the possibility of making 'better' humans. Have we learned from the past? Is the human race ready to handle the ultimate power, that to create life?
The two current approaches to the question of how human cloning needs to be regulated have some strength and many weaknesses. A complete ban on human cloning such as those imposed in Japan and parts of Europe leave little protocol for enforcement. In these countries, scientists planning to initiate such research will either seek refuge in another country or simply continue exploration of the science in secrecy. There is not a way to prevent the application of this technology, but only a way to slow its development. Therefore, there is a third possible solution: no regulation. Commonly the least agreeable solution, it is also described as the simplest or most dangerous for humanity. Leaving moral judgement only up to the people leading the studies leaves room for all sorts of positive and horrifying developments to occur. In Frankenstein, young Victor was so caught up in the glory of creating live he never considered the dangers that came with his creation. A disregard for possible repercussions leads to risky situations that will in turn harm the efforts of scientists who are responsible with the experimentation taking place. As governments slowly move toward strong regulation, a close view will be kept on nations who do not impose such regulations. From this external viewpoint, observers will see the results of the lack of regulation and from there, a better solution will be formulated.
With the exploration of various solutions and issues that arise when dealing with these approaches to the moral dilemma faced, one can only conclude that the best solution is already being developed. The human race is not ready to control the formation of life, for there are too many potential abuses and no way to control them. A peremptory ban on human cloning research should not be necessary with the current level of cloning technology possessed. However, the strict limiting of which areas of this research are pursued, and who pursues the research is most critical. As new ideas appear confusion arises, and understanding of all aspects of the new ideas cause rise to necessary changes in society. The popular approval of the idea of human cloning is indispensable to the efforts of those who wish to advance the science of human cloning.
Copyright, © Greg Wittel 1996-2000. All Rights Reserved.
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