Human Clones May Be Among Us Now! Who Is Ready?
Written by Lewis D. Eigen
One massive conflict that we are going to face is in the area of reproductive cloning. Both scientists and politicians have their heads in the sand as the consequences are too awful and complex to think about for most people.
The following realities must be faced:
- The art and science of mammalian cloning techniques are not secrets. Almost all the information and know-how is readily available. Animal cloning has become much more reliable, Tens of thousands of scientists already have all the skill that they would need for managing the cloning process.
- Reproductive cloning is not a very expensive technology or science.
- All the equipment and tools for reproductive cloning are used for many other scientific processes. There is no way to control the acquisition of the tools for reproductive cloning.
- There is virtually no scientist familiar with principles and research on mammalian cloning who does not believe that human reproductive cloning is possible, and that it is just a matter of time and technique before a human clone can be developed. Cloning a human does not depend on any fundamental scientific breakthrough—though the public will see it as a breakthrough with most fearing the breakthrough is not a step forward for humanity.
The moral ethical problems are immense and most people who have worried about the ethics of human reproductive cloning have not even yet identified the many issues that will exist. The legal problems also. Perhaps they are even more complicated. Nonetheless from the practical point of view there are probably only four humans who would be necessary to attempt a human reproductive cloning. 1. A scientist who has studied the cloning process. 2. Someone who will come up with a location and pay the expenses of the project—perhaps less than $100,000. 3. A woman who would agree to be cloned. 4. A woman who would agree to carry and bear the clone through the 9 month gestation period. Several of these roles can be played by the same person. Perhaps the scientists will be a woman who is willing to be cloned. If the same scientist had the money, then two cooperating women could attempt the project. Once the pregnancy is underway, they could technically use the medical facilities almost anywhere to care for the fetus and facilitate the delivery and birth.
At first, we assume that no hospital would ever agree to participate in such a cloning experiment at this stage of development of the science and this stage of non-development of the ethics and legal aspects of human cloning. However, it is perhaps naive to assume that the cooperating hospital would have to make a carefully thought out and considered scientific and ethical decision. Most of us could not imagine a hospital Board of Directors who would agree to such a project in advance. However, the very ethics that would almost certainly inhibit them from participating in such a planned experiment, might cause them to facilitate a cloning experiment without any planning at all!
Here is a scenario: The two women walk into a Catholic Hospital and announce that one of them is 3 months pregnant as the result of a cloning experiment with the other woman, the donor. One is a physician and the other a microbiologist. They have financed and implemented the cloning process thus far without involving anyone else. The pregnant physician tells the Mother Superior of the Order that operates the hospital, “There are people out there who think that human cloning is so horrible that they want to abort the baby—even by force if necessary. We have a 3 month old innocent fetus who has a moral right to live. Please help us manage the pregnancy and protect an innocent life.” I would predict that there is no way where that hospital is not going to do everything in their power to bring the baby to term in the healthiest way possible.
[Editor's Note: At the time of the original publication of this article the notion that some strongly religious people would actually protect clones and assist in the birth of a clone. See Many Religious Fundamentalists Will Protect Human Clones in the Feb 2010 issue of Scriptamus.]
If this were to happen, there would not only be political, press, and scientific interest, but certainly until the birth or failure of the pregnancy, this might be the most widely publicized event in human scientific history. Our legislators will be inundated with demands for action. People will be suing pharmaceutical companies that clone critical medicines as they do now, and we are going to have people ferreting out cloned animal meats or other clones from the food supply. Many people will not realize that cloning is the way we obtain much of our current plant based food supply and call for a ban on those plants. But worst, for much of America, it’s going to be like the Salem witch trials. People will start accusing kids who look different or strange as being clones, and some nuts will see it as the work of the Devil. Some will refuse to send their children to school with the Devil’s clones. And how will an accused prove that she is not a clone? There will be calls for clones to be sterilized so that they cannot interbreed with normal humans and no one can prove that the offspring would not be deformed mutants.
Another scenario is that the two women might go to a small foreign country—one with a good enough medical system, but where they can manage the process in secret—assured with some appropriate payments to the right people. Costa Rica, Serbia, Singapore are just 3 possibilities.
There is a huge, and in my personal view, much too high a risk to the clone child in terms of birth defects and/or other problems like size so that I would find either of these scenarios at this time very unethical. But if there are two skilled women who do not agree, they can pull this off. The odds of a successful birth are low if we extrapolate from mammal cloning, but the technique improves all the time. Sooner or later someone is going to get “lucky” or “unlucky” depending on your point of view. A human clone will be one of us.
The human race may see its first clone in the next year or two, or it might even take a decade or so, but it is not in the far distant future. And regardless of the consequences, some people are going to try it. The politicians will consider these scenarios and first ask, “what shall be done with the cloners?” “What are or should be the consequences?” The scientists will ask a different first question. “What shall be done with the child?” The public will be more creative than scientists or politicians. A family who loses a loved child in a tragic accident will take DNA from the dead girl and want her cloned. Parents who have only one child and cannot have another might want a clone—a younger identical twin if you will.
For my own personal research, that is an area in which I am currently working. What to do WHEN the first clone is born. I use the word “when” and not “if.” We will soon have a host of moral/legal problems not the least of which will be: “Are the donor and her clone legally sisters or is there a parental relationship?” There will be some people after the child clone as the “spawn of the Devil.” Others will view the clone child for the invaluable scientific research that might be gleaned and they will want science to monitor and document everything about the child. Who is going to get to decide about such research? Does the clone have privacy rights? Does the government have rights to monitor the clone’s health and personal medical records? Does the woman giving birth to the clone have the same parental rights as any other mother of a newborn?
At one level, the birth of the first planned clone will not be an unusual event. We have had human clones for years. That is the definition of identical twins. So time relativity is the key variable. Clones born about the same time are perfectly fine and in many people’s view, a great blessing. Clones born years apart are at best an ethical, legal and religious dilemma. At worst a cultural and legal nightmare. Our culture wars of the past decades will seem like skirmishes compared to the coltural war that will break out. The feminists and most modern women will find the position of women in society attacked as it has not been in a century or two. When the Christian, Jewish, and Moslem fundamentalists realize that with human reproductive cloning, the race (family) can be perpetuated by women alone. Men might be useful but are certainly not necessary for the species to reporduce itself and thrive. The “Head” of the houseold is not even needed anymore for his sperm.
As I have been working on this potential problem, I have come to the conclusion that it may not be a “potential” problem. What if a small group of people got together and decided to produce clone children in secret? They would go public only when the children had grown up, and force society to come to grips with a fete accompli. That might have happened a decade ago. The young clone child might be in school right now. Perhaps there are a number of them. There is only one thing about human cloning of which I at least am certain: We will be dealing with the problem in the next years or decades, and it really would be best for serious and ethical people to start thinking about the problem now. The problem will not get put on hold until the politicians and the scientists both get ready and feel prepared. Scientists have the luxury of generally setting their own agenda. The politician’s agenda is usually set by the world as few will ever deal with a problem before they have to. When the problem is as potentially ethically explosive as human reproductive cloning, politicians will avoid the issue at almost any cost. And yet, by waiting until the first clone is among us or about to be born, we complicate the problem immensely and guarantee that we will not be able to have the national and international conversation and debate to arrive at particularly good decisions.
Politicians also love to kick the can down the road, and in the few cases where that is not feasible, pass some superficial legislation that allows them to say that they dealt with the problem, when really they have kicked the can. The easiest thing for American politicians to do would be to outlaw human reproductive cloning—make it a felony punishable by imprisonment and fine. But that would be another can kicking. Given a scenario such as I have posed earlier, the two women would be prosecuted in a case that would make the OJ Simpson case seem a private matter. Appeals to the Supreme Court are certain. But meanwhile all the ethical problems (and hundreds of others) that I have posed earlier, would not have been solved. For the real ethical and legal problem is not what happens to the people who decided to cone a human and succeeded. The real problem is what happens to the clone child or children.
Hopefully, this article will stimulate a debate that will focus our attention on that real problem. We will probably have the time to make reasonable decisions if we start seriously thinking about, studying and debating the problem NOW! But there is no one who can assure society with any reasonable certainty that we will not have human clones among us in the next few years.
Entry filed under: Health & Medicine, Politics, Science. Tags: biology, childbirth, clones, cloning, discrimination, ethics, feminism, human cloning, human reproductive cloning, identical trins, mothers, prejudice, religion, reproductive cloning, Roman Catholic Church, Science, superstition, twins, women.