Human Cloning and Ethical Considerations

The point raised by many scientists, feminists, and researchers about the exact stage when an embryo should be granted the rights as an individual is very tricky, and as such different workers and thinkers project different views. Some say that the point of morality enters only after the full growth of central nervous system, and destruction of such a life should be considered immoral. Still others say that the child acquires the qualification to be labeled as a human being only after the birth, and as such abortion and medical termination of pregnancy should not constitute moral or ethical breach. The orthodox religious leaders, in particular the Christians, advance studied arguments against such opinions on the basis of their religious/theological concept of life and insist that life should be considered sacred from as early as the time of conception, and due dignity and rights be granted to every fertilized ovum; natural or artificial.

Many a book and article have appeared which deal with moral and theological problems involved in the destruction of human embryo for bio-scientific experimentation. Usually no objection is raised up to the level where experiments deal with the creation of human embryo for implantation in the uterus. The ethical problem arises when such embryos are destroyed in the process, although the aim of such experiments may be to improve or benefit the individual and social health. Such noble aims may be to rectify chromosomal abnormalities, prepare various tissues and organ cultures for transplantation in the needy, or give chance of parenthood to the couple incapable of natural conception. Of course, cloning would have its advantages, but it will bring grave problems with it. The genetic mapping and chromosomal dissection and creating life there from is an attempt to speed up the natural process, but while nature takes millions of years to effect even a minor change, the human being is trying to evolve these evolutionary changes in decades. Naturally, one should be ready for the ill effects of haste.

In such a scenario it is extremely difficult to arrive at a consensus. Biomedical scientists, as scientists in any other field, would not take serious notice of the objections raised by the theologians; for scientists believe that their research is for the benefit of whole humanity, and in such universal consideration the question of rights of an embryo really should not matter. Lay people do not go into details of such question of morality and immorality, for their attitude is predetermined on the basis of cultural-religious milieu they inherit. Thus, question of fetal destruction in various scientific experiments or the morality of in-vitro fertilization and cloning of humans is seen in different lights by Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, or the Jews. Once Lord Buddha remarked to his disciple, Ananda, to this effect, "Ananda, never be surprised about anything in this world; this world is constantly changing, and ethics and morality also change accordingly." An Advaitin would say: "The world is but relatively real (Maya); its basis is changeful perpetuation. Cloning adds one more attempt to search our forgotten identity; it's but an illusive attempt to seek the Truth outside. It is human endeavor to tear the veil of ignorance, but as every person would realize one day, this can be done by controlling the senses and looking within. This state is what is called renunciation, vairagya. Then the potential Divinity would become manifest and our identity with Supreme Being could be established."

Since at this time of history, such experiments are carried out in the societies chiefly dominated by Christian Theology, to wit USA and Western Europe, we try to look at the issue of destruction of human life at the embryonic level from the Christian point of view. Thinkers in other religious faiths have not as yet, it seems, given serious thought to this problem. In India the issue has not yet come to the level of national debate. However, it would be very interesting to listen to the protagonists of three schools of Indian philosophy and religion in this matter; for, dualists, qualified monists, and Adventists are sure to differ as regards ethics and morality involved in human cloning. Another point of interest is the dominance of 'science' over 'religion' in the modern world, and of course the emerging trends of global cultural influence over the eastern hemisphere as well. From the middle of the seventeenth century the Church is seen as an obstacle in acquisition of scientific knowledge and its influence, therefore, is declining as far as the issues of ethics and morality are concerned. This is true not only in the experiments in laboratories, but also applies to economy, military strategies, politics, in short all social activities concerned with moral and ethical determinants. [Thus, from Victorian Puritanism the society has drifted to permissiveness, single parenthood, and right to abortion etc.]

Science and applied technology has its own dynamism; science loses its hold on its 'application side', even though its initial intentions are above reproach. Weapons of mass destruction can be conceived as undesirable outcome of scientific inventions and discoveries. The human mind, however, in its quest to reach the highest peak, and still unexplored vistas, fails to discriminate between right and wrong, and secondly, the mind loses its capacity to foresee the implications of its acts of today. In the light of declining hold of the religious creed over scientific institutions such appeals of morality and theological considerations, even though supported by quasi-scientific arguments, may not find enough support in the scientific research workers. Moreover, any attempt to involve the state in enacting laws for and against human cloning so as to regularize research in this field may not be enough. The main value of the debate lies in clearly projecting one's religious view on such experimentation. Such debates would be of immense help to thinkers and scientists of every religion in their attempts to formulate their point of view on this critical question of morality related to chromosomal manipulations, tissue culture, and in-vitro fertilization to clone human life.


More by :  Dr. C.S. Shah

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