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In November 2018, the scientific universe was shaken to its core when a Chinese scientist announced the birth of the first genetically modified twins. This discovery not only led to the scientist getting jailed in 2019 but also reignited the debate around genome editing and cloning. In this piece, we will briefly examine what is cloning, and some moral and ethical contentions against the prospective cloning of human beings. We will also examine our(India’s) legal position and steps we can take to ensure healthy research in the field.
Cloning apropos of biotech denotes the creation of entities that are genetically near-identical with their progenitors. Thus, human cloning can be characterised as “the biotechnological replication of human organism”, keeping in mind that the progeny does show some minor genetical differences from the source, albeit relatively lesser than those created through sexual intercourse. Cloning is carried out through a process called somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT ), which requires replacing the nucleus of the ovum with a nucleus of a somatic cell from an organism which is then stimulated under control conditions through chemicals, this causes the egg to engage in cellular division eventually leading to the creation of a foetus. However, this asexual method of reproduction regarded by bioethicist such Norman Daniel, Allan Buchanan etc. as a path of ultimate evolution of homo sapiens has been characterised as unreligious and immoral by theologians and secular thinkers alike.
ETHICAL AND MORAL CONTENTIONS
Human cloning has been attacked by theologians and conservatives from all the major religions in the world as unnatural interference of humans in the domain of God. While in Islam the foetus created outside the natural process of reproduction is seen as soulless. Christianity on the other hand views God’s will as the source of natural law, consequently, human interference in the act of creation is regarded with abhorrence. Protestant Paul Ramsey argued that procreation was a heterosexual process and cloning will only cause radical depersonalisation. Similar revulsion is also visible in Hinduism and Judaism. As these apprehensions are rooted in the deep-seated beliefs of the masses finding a logical answer to them remains an uphill task.
A threat to human society
Proponents of this view argue that asexual reproduction will break the emotional bond between the parents and the offspring, impairing familial ties and human dignity. Foremost amongst this class of thinkers has been Leon Krass, who in his book, The ethics of human cloning argues that asexual procreation leads to selfishness amongst organisms and that the survival of human society depends upon heterosexual procreation. While his co-author, Wilson supports limited cloning based on ethnicity, race etc., Krass and like-minded thinkers feel that the offspring produced via such methods losses its uniqueness. They also fear that it would confuse with regards to ties of kinship. These assertions by Krass and others depends greatly over heterosexual families, leading to accusation of narrow-mindedness and homophobia. However, another view regards the embryo itself as a living being with a near equal status as that of a human, thus, tampering with it is labeled as a violation of human dignity.
Moreover, ethicists contend that due to the unusual degree of control the parents may exercise over the attributes of the artificially created children, the cloned offspring will never be able to attain equal status with their creators. They point towards the fact that due to the near similar genetic makeup between the child and parent, the child would only be seen as a replica of the parent with no individual identity of his own. Some like Fukuyama go even further to state that biotech has the power to temper with the innate human nature based on morality and therefore, may pose a grave threat to liberal democracy. Then there is a concern that these artificial humans may themselves become a threat to the existing population due to their flawlessness.
The supporters of cloning give utilitarian arguments in their favour, according to them it can become a solution to STD, genetic defects and many other diseases such as leukemia. The utilitarians emphasis upon these benefits to assert that the benefits are so substantial that certain risk is worth the price we can pay. They also lay stress over the fact that cloning will lead to increase in individual freedom to decide ones own future by not being bogged down by biological complications, furthermore, it will liberate women who will no longer be seen as child breeders. Therefore, humans must not shy away from delving in this realm of the unknown.
Some of the worlds most developed countries have banned any form of reproductive cloning, some of them are UK, Nordic states, France etc. In toto about 70 states have imposed prohibitions on cloning. Unfortunately, developing nations such as India have no legislation or regulation governing the same. This is a very dangerous situation, as our archaic laws are not sufficient to confront this complex situation. It can be said that the same level of emergency has not been shown in India and other developing countries due to lack of research in the field concerned.
However, we must remember that prevention is better than cure, and showing promptness in will only benefit us in long run. As, highlighted through this article, cloning has grave pros and cons associated with it. Thus, instead of waiting for the bus to leave us behind, the mistake we committed by not accepting computers in timely manner, the government aid and intervention in the field of biotechnology is warranted via methods such as public- private partnership, funding research and formulating laws and regulations for setting up a supervisory body which can ensure healthy innovation and development.
Human kind has always shown reluctance in accepting change which shakes their sense of morality and status quo. However, history has shown us that Victor Hugho was in fact laying down truth when he said, “no one can stop an idea whose time has come.” Is this the time of cloning and biotech? Will human push the final frontier and attain the power to change his own essence ? Will it lead to a new birth of a new specie? Only future can answer these questions, future if we can make it.
Regardless, of our personal views, the experiment by the Chinese scientist have shown us that science waits for none. Thus, it’s recommended that such technologies must be closely regulated and researched upon by experts. Lest they cause some unforeseen and irreparable damage to humanity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aditya Kaushik is a first law year student at National Law University, Jodhpur.
Content Picture Credit: Commons.wikimedia.org
Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author and not of the Indian Journal of Law and Public Policy.