Me, Myself, and I
Lara C. Wright
There is a line between what we can and can not do. Recent scientific breakthroughs have warped, broken, and all but destroyed that line. One of the most disturbing break through has been cloning. Why is this topic so spine tingling? Many good things can come from cloning; especially the cloning of foods and antibodies. People tend to focus on their fears, however. They see cloning as a plague upon humanity which will leave many of us feeling as though we are all powerful and nothing can stop us. Immense arguments have broken out across the globe over the morality of this issue. Now it is time for you to choose your side.
Me, Myself, and I
Cloning may sound like something straight out of a science fiction novel, but it
has actually been around longer than you might have thought. Asexual reproduction is
cloning in its simplest form. The big hype, though, is when scientists create clones in the
laboratory. This subject draws a lot of attention, both good and bad, from across the
globe. Most people focus on the moral issues: Is it o.k. to create life to study? Is it fair to
the ‘defective’ clones? Is it right to play God? Some people think of the ways cloning
can improve our lives through cancer research and food processing. What you think
depends greatly on how you were raised and what you already know. The information
following is designed to help you choose your own path, decide what is moral or
immoral, and shape the future with your opinion.
We’ve all heard the term clone before. Clones are in Star Wars books and comics. They live down the street. They’re on your grocery shelves. What? Didn’t know about those last two? Tammy and Tanya two doors down are twins. They formed two embryos from a single fertilized egg that divided during its early development (Hyde, 1984). This qualifies them as clones of each other, at least some people believe so. The strawberries you ate for lunch were clones, too. The original plant sent out runners which sprouted new plants without the intervention of another strawberry plant in the reproduction process. These are all examples of the definition of a clone: a group of identical cells descended from a common ancestor through asexual reproduction.
Science has learned to mimic the cloning process through a number of procedures (McCuen, 1998). Blastomere separation is a technique in which the outer coating is removed from an embryo that is made up of anywhere from two to eight cells. Then, the cells are put into a solution that causes them to part from each other. Each cell is cultured individually to form an embryo that is smaller than usual and placed into the uterus. Blastocyst division is used when the embryo is at a later developmental stage to split it in two. Both halves are placed in a uterus and grow as identical twins. Finally, in nuclear transplantation the nucleus of a multicelled embryo is extracted and transferred to the cytoplasm of an egg whose genetic material has been removed. The new nucleus takes over development of the egg forming an embryo.
Does this mean anyone can have their own clone? Someone who acts like them, talks like them, and looks exactly like them? No. Just as with twins, clones would grow up to develop their own individuality and tastes. Nothing even says for sure that clones would look alike. When the embryo, a mix of the DNA to be cloned and the surrogate mother’s egg’s cell wall, is placed into the surrogate mother the chemical equation is altered (Hyde, 1984). New variables come into play. For example: proteins in the egg wall that were not present in the original’s egg wall, the environment provided by the uterus, and the diet of the surrogate mother. These aspects are all different and all alter the clone from the original. Once the clone is born influences of new parents, peers, environment, even music and clothing styles, change how it acts compared to the original.
So, why bother with cloning if it doesn’t create an exact double? In most practical uses of cloning a double is easier to create as no personality is involved. Cloning is intended to be used more along the lines of cloning enzymes and proteins to cure diseases and end world hunger. It has been proposed that, by genetically engineering intestinal E. coli, we could clone and inject them into humans. These E. coli would be able to break down cellulose, an indigestible part of much vegetation, so that humans could eat most available plant matter, including grass (Hyde, 1984). Along the same line, food itself could be cloned or even manipulated to be larger and served to starving families.
Another case which does not require an exact clone is the use of cloning as a means of reproduction. This would take the place of in vitro fertilization which exposes women to superovulation drugs that can cause cancer later in life (McGee, 2000). Cloning would also allow people who lack some part of the reproductive equation to have children. People, for example, who suffer from recessive genetic diseases that may be passed on to their children. Through cloning many families who wish to have biological children, but can not, will be able to.
Even with its possible uses for the betterment of man kind, cloning has its opponents. One of the most common arguments against cloning, of humans especially, is that the world is overpopulated enough. More humans would just increase our food shortages and waste our resources. Also, cloning is far from a precise science, the most famous cloned sheep, Dolly, was the product of 276 failures (Discover August 1999). How many disfigured humans would we create before success? How many could we bare?
It is also hypothesized that clones may suffer psychological problems from the realization that they are not unique, not original. Compounding these psychological problems would be social stigmas and fears. Some people may not consider a clone to be a human being (McCuen, 1998). This could cause debilitating depression and other problems The new adaptations created by sexual reproduction are another point against cloning. By combining the DNA of two parents the child may be rendered immune to some diseases. Which would not be the case with clones who would be fallible to the same diseases as their ‘parent.’ One of the biggest fears of cloning is the idea that entire armies of clones will be created to fight our battles under the assumption that since they were created they are expendable. One must realize, however, that clones mature at the same rate as you or me. In order to create an army the clones must be prepared about twenty years before war is declared (Hyde, 1984).
Cloning has even caused great debate in the world of fiction and fantasy. A number of years ago, Marvel Comics (1995) released a story line known as the Clone Saga in which our favorite wall-crawler was cloned by an insane professor named Miles Warren. These clones all had the same memories as the original Spider-Man, which led each of them to believe he was in fact the true Spider-Man. Only one of the first clones was distinguishable from the others due to horrible disfiguration of his face. This clone went on to reek havoc on Spider-Man’s reputation by committing crimes and leaving a DNA trail pointing squarely at Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s true identity.) These events lead to many protests against Marvel Comics. Some readers even unsubscribed from the comic book mailing lists. Although it is not certain precisely why so many were outraged it is plainly obvious that cloning is a touchy subject.
Recently, an organization known as the National Bioethics Advisory Commission has been formed to weigh the arguments for and against cloning (McGee, 2000). So far it has proceeded in banning federal funding of human cloning research, requested a ban on private research, and ended somatic cell nuclear transfer with the intent of creating a child for 5 years. Some of these bans may be lifted after the commission has issued a detailed report. However, this is not soon enough for supporters of cloning. They believe that these actions will only make cloning unsafe in the future, since years of valuable research will be lost. Some also consider the bans to be an infringement upon their constitutional rights. The most potent point against these bans, though, is the fact that even if cloning is banned in the United States, research will continue in other countries. Many great scientists of America who may define the line between success and failure could be lost in this way.
Will we ever go through with the cloning of a human? Who knows? Personally, I hope we do, if only to prove that we can. Cloning is definitely a dangerous science that should be regulated, but not banned. This new technology is far too useful in research for fighting diseases and expanding our knowledge of how our bodies work. The biggest road block at present is pure, simple human fear; fear of the unknown. This block will never be over come if research is not allowed to continue, thus leaving the mysteries locked within our genes sealed off. The arguments all must be thoughtfully weighed. Then, we must decide the correct path to venture.
Benedetto. "Human cloning creates a centrifuge of debate." USA Today 27 Nov. 2001:
CNN. "Bush: Human cloning ‘morally wrong'." CNN 26 Nov. 2001. 4 Dec. 2001
Discover. "How to Build a Better Bladder." Discover May 1999: 22.
Discover. "Good-Bye, Dolly?" Discover. August 1999: 10.
Glausiesz, Josie. "Spare Parts." Discover Aug. 1999: 21-23.
Hyde, Margaret. Cloning and the New Genetics. Hillside, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, INC., 1984.
McCuen, Gary. Cloning Science & Society. Hudson, Wisconsin: Gary E McCuen Publications Inc., 1998.
McGee, Glenn. The Human Cloning Debate. Berkeley, California: Berkeley Hills Books, 2000.
Torr, James. Genetic Engineering Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, California: Green Press, Inc., 2001.