Comprehensive coverage

The moral dilemma: the distinction between healing and reproduction is artificial

The debate that has been going on for more than four years for and against the use of cloning technology raises more questions and moral dilemmas than it solves them

By Ruth Sinai
Optimists imagine a scenario where a couple of parents stand helpless in front of their son dying of cancer. All attempts to transplant him with bone marrow failed. His body rejected the implants. The last chance is to clone their sick son. The parents agree. At the end of the process, a healthy child was born. His bone marrow matches his brother's body, is transplanted into it, and the boy is cured of cancer. And so, instead of a dying son, the parents have two healthy sons.

Pessimists imagine a scenario where a terrorist like Osama bin Laden or a tyrant like Adolf Hitler decides to conquer the world. For the purpose of the mission, they duplicate millions of war-hungry, callous, unscrupulous soldiers who will torment themselves.

The debate that has been going on for more than four years for and against the use of cloning technology raises more questions and moral dilemmas than it solves them.

The current chapter in the debate stems from Advanced Cell Technologies' use of the technology used by Scottish scientists in 1997 to clone Dolly the sheep. Then it was a sheep, today it is six cells of a human being. The president of the company insists that this is not a human being, but rather a "cellular life" or a "cluster of cells", but he also admits that if he implanted the "cluster of cells" in a woman's womb, it might have developed into a human being.

Scientists, as well as certain ethicists, distinguish between two types of cloning: cloning for reproduction and cloning for healing.

The first type is designed to produce children, the second is designed to produce human cells from which stem cells can be harvested to cure diseases. In the concepts of the Western humanist society, the second type is easier to justify morally, the first less so. This is how the leaders of the American company justified the cloning operation - it was only intended to produce stem cells, and we took all measures to prevent the possibility of human production from them, they said.

But this diagnosis is artificial. "It's like saying you're developing atom technology only for the purpose of generating electricity. But the technology is the same technology for producing bombs, and then all that is left is to trust the honesty of the user," says lawyer Naama Wichner from the Center for Health, Law and Ethics at the University of Haifa.

The question is whether scientific progress should be given up in order to prevent misuse of technology. There is a school of thought that answers this question in the affirmative: since it will not be possible to control its use, its development should be prevented.

But at this point it is like closing the stable doors after the horses have already run away. From the moment botanists began the first experiments in genetic manipulation of plants and animals, to produce a cow that would produce low-fat milk or a variety of juicier beans, it was no longer possible to turn back the wheel.

The birth of the first test-tube baby in the late XNUMXs, Louise Brown, also provoked difficult ethical debates. They said at the time that this was the first step in creating babies to order, babies with certain features and without other features, they said that this would eliminate the structure of the family unit and that in general we should stop trying to decipher the secrets of life and interfere in the creation processes.

Meanwhile, as Wichner points out, all that has happened is that the technology is getting more and more sophisticated and is helping people with medical problems to have children.

But there is always the fear of the slippery slope. The next development in the field of human genetics, after test-tube babies, was genetic engineering - the ability to produce certain traits, as the opponents of in-vitro fertilization feared. Those involved in this field also talk about using this technology only for healing purposes.

But what would happen if a group of people with means tried to produce for themselves super children who would be several levels above their naturally created friends? Maybe then the talk about genetic differences, which today is considered just pointless racism, will become an indisputable reality.

This is the argument of those who believe in genetic determinism - that a person's traits are determined only by his DNA code, without any environmental or educational influence. The same genetic determinism also raises concerns about cloning.

Another argument heard against cloning concerns the issues of parentage, of the blurring of family identity, of interrupting the succession of generations.

The basic question in this area is whether cloning creates a parental relationship between the owner of the original cell and the cloned product, or whether it is a twin relationship, since it is a matter of replication. And does the new child have one biological parent or two - the same pair of parents who created the son or daughter from whom the egg or cell was taken for cloning.

It is possible to bypass the question to some extent and determine - as Israeli law does - that the mother is the woman who carried the pregnancy in her womb. But what will happen when the technology is developed that allows the production of the clone to develop in the laboratory, not in the womb? At the moment this also seems a fictional and scary scenario, but considering the pace of technological development it does not seem very far off.

Wichner believes that all these terrifying scenarios are nothing more than an attempt to arouse primal fears of the unknown and the preoccupation with the secrets of human existence.

"All technology carries a lot of risks. We must not give up ethical, religious, philosophical and scientific discussion, and we must go step by step in dealing with progress. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater."

* The knowledge website was until 2002 part of the IOL portal of the Haaretz group

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.