About the stam cell proposal and cloning

This discussion which kinda’ reach a peak last week in Norwegian media, and of course, thanks to the proposal from the government, does nothing else than demonstrates our irrational fear of the unknown, not the vagaries of science.

To my big surprise, Høyre, as the leading opposition party are very reluctant in this matter and I feel their argumentation is very thin, and again, based on the fear of the unknown.
Inge Lønning, representing Høyre, said the the new proposal is crossing the borders – the “violation of life” and rights for the unborn babies.

Almost everyone who can would still choose to have children the old-fashioned way. At the moment, sperm banks offer far more in the way of eugenic possibilities — and, interestingly enough, few people with other options seek out the sperm of Nobel Prize winners or other supposedly genetically superior donors, available though it is. It seems that most of us would like to perpetuate in our children the characteristics of our families and the partners we love, not the absolute best genes we can find. Eugenics looks a lot more like an uphill battle than a slippery slope.

Banning a practice is a last resort, not the first. Some people might feel abhorrence at the prospect of being cloned, but why does this give them the right to prevent those who seek the procedure? You or I might find plastic surgery unpalatable, but does that mean we should ban it? The human right to reproduce and form families transcends the right of society to regulate science. This is, of course, an opinion, but it is in the spirit of the conservatism that many cloning opponents purport to represent.

History has shown that scientific advances often have unanticipated positive, as well as negative, outcomes. It is tough to predict just how a technology will eventually be used. No one expected the Internet, for instance, to become accessible to most households. No one expected laser eye surgery to become a mass-market outpatient procedure. Animal cloning is already being investigated for a fascinating new use: bringing endangered species back from the edge of extinction.

Cloning would likely be the choice of just a tiny minority of individuals seeking to reproduce, but as long as it is a possibility, it is unlikely that a ban will keep some researchers from attempting it. To paraphrase the gun lobby bumper sticker, if cloning is outlawed, only outlaws will have clones. Currently, human reproduction cloning is prohibited only in Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan. But if the move to ban cloning worldwide gains momentum, as suggested by the United Nations’ 2001 non binding resolution, the research will move to less regulated, typically less advanced settings where the likelihood of medical misadventure is much greater. Only fringe groups with little to lose would pursue cloning, since no responsible scientist would risk his or her career to defy the ban. So we can assume that the work will be done by unqualified scientific dabblers, which is not what we want.

Instead of banning cloning, we should be gathering the best scientific minds to decide how to properly regulate it. This would probably involve an emphasis on research to improve the survival rate of implanted cloned embryos in animals before attempting human pregnancies. We should also take a clearer look at the philosophical place clones would occupy in our society.

Throughout the history of Western philosophy, human identity has been located in the possession of a unique consciousness and memory, not in unique physiognomy. Your clone would not have the same experiences as you, and so neither the same memories nor the same identity. This is not a question of nature versus nurture, but of epistemology. This is why we view identical twins as separate individuals. This is why doing plastic surgery on someone to make him identical to another person would still result in two different people. (Films have often been the place where these issues have been most imaginatively explored — think about “Blade Runner” and “Face Off.”)

Somehow we have allowed our panic over cloning — or is it our fear of unconventional families and relationships created by “will”? — to obscure the fact that human cloning would also represent one of the most important moments in human history. The moment when the first human clone is born would be historically, and somewhat ominously for our clones, on a plane with the first encounters of Europeans with native Americans. And the judgment of history will be upon us for the way we treat them. If we are destined, as scientists say, to find clones in our midst, will the same fears and prejudices that cause us to reject the technology move us to reject the children who come of it? The real challenge posed by cloning may be to our most basic ability of all, the ability to accept and love others — and their otherness.