February 22, 1997 scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland shocked the scientific community. (Federspell, Jeff , 256) The world stood in awe as Dr. Ian Wilmut explained the cloning of a sheep named Dolly. The fact that a mammal had been successfully cloned raised heated discussion on whether human cloning was possible and if it should be explored. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists debated whether human cloning is moral or ethical. Soon after the discovery, President Clinton enacted legislation to prevent federal aid to any project committed to human cloning and further asked that no such attempts should be made by any organization. Based on the knowledge held currently, cloning is an unethical action because it violates the inherent rights of humans, threatens the general welfare of society, and disrespects the autonomy and dignity of a human being.
In order for an action to be considered ethical it must not violate any inherent rights of human beings. Amnesty International is a worldwide campaigning movement who’s purpose is to determine what rights human beings should be granted. Amnesty works to promote the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their adopted declaration contains the following: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person, no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms, and everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (Amnesty International) If an action violates any of these stated rights, it is unethical. For example, murder is deemed unethical by our society. When a person willingly takes the life of another human, he directly violates that person’s right to life and liberty. Rape is unethical because it violates a man or woman’s liberty and security of person. Nobody should be forced into an illegitimate situation such as rape where they have to endure such harsh treatment. Additionally, the immoral act of stealing violates someone’s right to own property. All of these unethical actions in some way or another violate one of the victims inherent rights.
An action is considered to be unethical when it threatens the general well being or peace of the human race. It is perfectly logical that society label certain actions which inhibit a positive, cohesive society as unethical. For example, if people murdered one another frequently, our peaceful society would gravitate towards violence and revenge. Terror and fear would influence people’s lives. It is essential that murder be kept to a minimum in order for society to continue peacefully. If burglary were widespread, only people with the power to protect their items could hold property. For the most part, actions which are deemed unethical are regarded as such because it would be disastrous if the majority of society took part in these actions.
An action can also be considered unethical when it disrespects the autonomy and dignity of a human being. Immanuel Kant, a highly recognized philosopher of the 1700’s, stated, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.” (Bonevac, 38) Kant continues to explain that people should be treated as autonomous beings and respected for their human dignity. (Bonevac, 38) Accordingly, people should not be looked upon as objects but rather as “ends” which deserve our respect. For example, rape blatantly uses a man or woman as a sexual tool, disregarding that person’s individual will. Murder and slavery blatantly disrespect a person’s autonomy and dignity. In short, according to Kant, and action is unethical if it “uses” someone as a means instead of treating them as an independent entity.
Rape, murder, and stealing are a few of the actions society has labeled unethical throughout history. By observation, it appears that each of these unethical actions share the common criteria of violating rights, threatening society, and disrespecting a human’s dignity. Nonetheless, their are abnormal cases in which arguments can be made condoning the various unethical actions. Assisted suicide is highly controversial, but legal in some states. Many people make the valid argument that a doctor should have the right to take the life of a patient under extreme circumstances. The case in which a doctor assists a terminally ill patient in committing suicide may not be considered unethical. However, this is a case in which the affected party is willingly giving up his right to life and liberty. It is not as if dying is against the sick person’s will. In this respect, murder could be considered a morally acceptable alternative. There are other extreme cases which can be constructed to advocate the morality of certain unethical actions, but in common practice actions which meet unethical criteria will continue to cause harm and create problems.
Cloning can certainly violate the rights of human beings. Humans have the right to life, liberty, and not to be subjected to cruel treatment. Cloning mammals is a new procedure and is not void of error. It took 277 tries to finally clone one healthy sheep named Dolly. (Federspell, Jeff , 256) Numerous other sheep were born with abnormalities and many died soon after birth. (Federspell, Jeff , 256) If this were attempted on humans, it would result in multiple miscarriages by the mother and possibly severe developmental abnormalities of any resulting child. These children would suffer countless deaths until the science was perfected. The National Bioethics Advisory Committee, which advises the president, stated, “At this time, the significant risks to the fetus and physical well being of a child created by somatic cell nuclear transplantation cloning outweigh arguably beneficial uses of the technique.” (Shapiro, Harold T. )
The psychological harms to the child could be drastic. It is impossible to foresee the emotional and physiological repercussions that a clone would face entering a society in which many people find cloning to be amoral. A clone may feel as if as if he/she has lost their sense of identity or uniqueness in the world, because a genetic duplicate of them has already lived a number of years. (Shapiro, Harold T.) It seems as if bringing a clone into our society would be more of a burden to the cloned child than a benefit. Science would be creating a life not worth living. The innocent child that is cloned should not be subject to the cruel treatment imposed on it.
Additionally, cloning is a threat to the general welfare of the human race. If cloning became widespread, the genetic makeup of the world would become more similar. An epidemic or disease such as the Bubonic Plague could hold catastrophic consequences. Less people would survive the epidemic because there would be less genetic diversity from person to person. (Federspell, Jeff , 256) If cloning were not introduced, some people would be better apt at fighting off a disease than others, and they would be able to hold the human race together. Furthermore, a race which was composed of like genes would run into problems when breeding. Birth defects associated with incest would become commonplace if cloning became a widely used method of reproduction. If cloning is not controlled, it could cause terrible population problems.
Cloning is unethical because it disrespects the dignity of a human being. One of the proposed benefits to cloning is that people in need of organ or tissue transplants could have a clone made of themselves. They could then use the clone to provide needed transplants. This would be unethical because it uses another human to help oneself. Scientists in favor of cloning argue that measures would be taken to make sure that the clone was not human, or was otherwise brain dead. The argument arises around when a human is actually considered a human. If it is at conception, using a cloned embryo for transplants or tissues is the same as murder. If being considered human means being able to take part in rational thought, then using a clone for organs would be permissible. The ethical question here is: Is it morally acceptable to end the future of an embryo in order to save the future of an aged human? According to Kant, using the embryo or brain dead human body would be unethical. Using a clone for tissue would be ending the life of a human and would be using that child as a means to facilitate one’s own life. Another person should not have their right to life violated to save someone else’s. Creating a human life to be butchered for spare parts, is blatantly using a human to achieve one’s own goals.
Cloning is a controversial topic which deserves serious attention. It meets the criteria of an unethical action and is similar to other unethical actions such as rape, murder, and stealing. The human race does not have the ethical right to put other humans at risk. Cloning is a harmful practice which is a legitimate threat to society and should be dealt with the utmost caution.