Wednesday, April 26, 2006


This article deals with Legal and ethical questions raised by cloning

‘Human Cloning had been achieved early in the twenty-first century. Even when the technology had been perfected, it had never become widespread, partly because of ethical objections and partly because there were few circumstances that could ever justify it.’
Arthur C. Clarke; Imperial Earth

It was a bright cold day in spring of 1814 when Shelley, the great romantic poet eloped for the second time1 With Mary Godwin first to France, then to Switzerland. There he was to meet Lord Byron his friend, another great poet of that era.

It was the time when the fundamentals of electricity were taking shape. Galvani had discovered that frog muscles could respond to two different metals. He thought, muscles had animal electricity. Volta soon disproved it by showing that two different metals could produce electricity. Volta had made the first electric battery. And then Humphrey Davy made a more powerful battery and carried other experiments. This happened in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Life and electricity were in every one’s mind.

One day, Shelly, Byron and Mary Selley together discussed, what was in everybody’s mind. They thought about writing a story. Mary encouraged by Shelly and Byron went on to write it. Frankestein is the name of that story. It is about Frankestein, a young scientist of Anatomy. He puts life into an eight foot tall creature through electricity. The creature, not accepted by the society, kills every one close to Frankestein including his bride and then Frankestein himself.

The story for the first time raised a fear of the unknown and of moral questions about scientific experiments. Creating life is God’s domain, who are we to tread there. The book is one of the most talked about and later inspired many movies. Frankestein’s monster has gone from realm of fiction to become a part of the English language. Shelly and Byron were not only great but rightly imagined themselves to be great. Imagine their plight; the dent to their ego, if they were to be transported in time. More people have read and debated Frankestein than all the works of Shelly and Byron put together. Frankestein was not the first time when moral and ethical questions about scientific experiments were asked. Rather, it was the first fiction to do so. It was not to end there. These questions arise: when principles conflict, facts are ambiguous and result uncertain. These questions are being raised at present more fiercely than at any other time. Cloning is the reason.

Clone, also spelled Clon, means producing genetically identical organisms derived from a single individual by asexual methods. Amphibians were cloned in 1950’s but died before reaching adulthood. No mammals had ever been cloned. It fell to the Roslyn Institute near Edinburg; Scotland to clone first mammal in 1997. The present euphoria is all about that. The scientists at the Rosalyn Institute took cells from the udder of a female sheep and placed it in a culture of low concentration of nutrients. We know, cells divide and multiply; by this process the cells stopped dividing. They switched off their active genes and stopped multiplying. An unfertilised egg was taken from another female sheep. Its DNA was sucked out so that the egg was empty, then the cell taken from the first female sheep was placed in it with gentle push of electric pulses. This was now placed in the uterus of a female sheep, which gave birth to a sheep identical to the first one. Simple isn’t it. But the questions it raises are not simple.

Cloning has again raised questions of surrogate motherhood. Is xeroxing oneself proper? Will it produce better individuals? Who can clone? Will prostitutes be allowed to clone? Should gays be allowed? And we have had same sex marriages. Should they be permitted?

The dilemma of Surrogacy is not new. It was raised in 1979, the year the first test tube baby was born. Soon a committee chaired by Mary Warnock was appointed to look into the issues involved. Many of its recommendations were implemented by The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Not every one is happy with it. It is yet to be answered satisfactorily. Many find the idea of surrogate motherhood to be settle. Houses, rooms are taken on rent; but then will we permit wombs to be taken on rent?

Notwithstanding Howard Hughes’ In his Image: The Cloning of a Man2 , no human has been cloned as yet. At least there is no authentic proof. It has not happened since God performed that delicate surgery on Adams to create Eve. Well, if God could why can’t we.? May be precisely for that reason only can do it, we can’t. In fact it is the fear of the unknown. We might do something that we may have to repent for later. When will it come about? It is banned in England. If other countries do not ban it then do not encourage it either. Yet the first human clone may come about by the end of this century. And perfected as Arthur C. Clark says, in his science fiction ‘Imperial Earth’, in the early twenty first century:’ A sexual reproduction is not unknown. It does happen in nature; but only in the lower species. It does not occur in higher species. We have evolved from a sexual reproduction to sexual reproduction. There is no point in turning the clock back. We mix, we evolve, and otherwise stagnation, malfunction are the result.

The most troubling of all issues is who should be entitled to clone? What would be the criteria? Human body does not accept transplant of human organs from every one. Will a person, who needs human organs for a transplant, be entitled to clone. Surely his own body, his own carbon copy will be able to supply acceptable human organ.

Infertile couples who cannot even have test tube baby may be permitted. But then what about: unmarried couples, or common law Husbands and wives, or a single person? There is no prohibition for a single person to adopt. Who better to adopt than oneself - whom one can understand well.

Will we permit a prostitute to clone? Then will gay or lesbian couple be left behind? It was with this in mind that Section 13 (5) of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in England provides, a woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father)

No two humans are the same. Clones will not be either. A carbon copy does not mean an exact replica, mentally or physically. Nurture does play an important role. Not only when child is in the womb but also when it is outside the womb. But the basic instinct will be the same. The world would be happy to have another Einstein But then what happens if he is Hitler or Jack the ripper!
'Cloning was neither good nor bad; only its purpose was important. And that purpose should not be one that was trivial or selfish’ (Imperial Earth; Arthur C. Clarke).
But there is no guarantee that cloning will not be trivial or selfish. One selfish clone may cost us heavily. The world that we know, as we understand, may have cloning for precisely those reasons - trivial or selfish.3

Should we ban human cloning? Fankestein was fiction. But the fears that it raised are real. Yet the world has progressed. Science has not stopped the world. It will not stop even if cloning is permitted. For if we do not permit it, surely it will flourish in ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau ’ (A book written by HG Wells).

1Shelly had earlier eloped in 1811 at the age of 19 with Harriet.

2In this book he has claimed to have made a human clone. This was latter found to be false.

3Sometimes I wish, I was wrong.

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