While there is virtually universal support at the United Nations for a treaty banning human cloning, the international community is deeply divided over therapeutic cloning.
Scientists see it as a promising avenue in the battle against disease while anti-abortion activists and many Catholics see it as the taking of human lives
There is something almost classic about this debate where diplomats and the forces of international law are so assured they are tackling an important emerging issue while they ignore a real problem that has been developing for years. In particular, the UN is unified about the supposed threat of reproductive cloning while ignoring a change in reproduction practices that is a far greater threat to society in large part because it is already happening on a large scale. What change am I referring to? If you guessed sexual selection go to the front of the class. See, for instance: Girl Shortage Causes Wife Buying In India, Genetic Testing Changing South India Mating Practices, and Human Natural Selection In Taiwan to see just how rapidly this practice is spreading. There is an upside in that it will probably select for higher intelligence in offspring. But the downside will be societies with large numbers of sexually frustrated males and that could cause everything from internal unrest to wars. <
Aside: Europe has experienced quite the come down from their certainty that they were not torn by the sorts of divisions over abortion that characterise US politics. But along came more southern European members and suddenly they too face debates about abortion and therapeutic cloning that have people in Brussels unable to find a consensus on issues that provoke strong passions in opposing factions.
But what is even more interesting about all this? At the risk of seeming a bit esoteric: I the definition of "clone" is going to end up being very difficult to pin down in the long run. If cloning is defined by reference to the DNA sequence of a donor and if the prohibition is against a person having an exact duplicate made of himself or herself then what happens when someone decides to have an child who is made from a 2.0 improved version of their DNA sequence? After all, 20 years from now we will all know our personal DNA sequences and I can easily see someone deciding to make someone a whole lot like themself but without, say, the heartbreak of seborrhea, allergies, asthma, or a hairline that starts receding when they reach the age of 17. Many women will go for permanent blondness for their daughters. Just a couple of SNP changes and suddenly no need for peroxide. Allow your kid to look almost like you but be smarter, healthier, and better-looking. Make a child who will grow up to be an idealized image of what you always wanted to be.
You don't suppose those UN folks have considered this possibility do you? My guess is they haven't. Think about it. When it becomes possible to make small alterations in offspring DNA how many SNP alterations (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or single letter DNA changes) should be required to be made in order to make an offspring not be an exact clone of yourself? I figure I needed to satisfy some high SNP difference requirement I'd opt for a whole bunch of silent mutation changes (changes in ways and in places that do not cause any functional changes - and there are just tons of those that can be done btw) that would not appreciably alter the result.
Bottom line: if the UN bans reproductive cloning expect people to carefully read the treaty language and then to "program around it".
Update: One other point about reproductive cloning: If a government or a cult made hundreds or thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of copies of the same person that would be a problem. But would single copy cloning of a person for progeny really create a substantial problem? It'd be like having more twins. But my guess is that by the time reproductive cloning can be done safely and cheaply the technology will have advanced to the point where the "version 2.0" approach of making clones better will be available and most cloners will opt for it. So most clones will not be identical. Expect them to be healthier, smarter, and better looking. Individual level cloning will not cause much of a problem. But cult or government-level cloning could pose problems.
The more substantial conflict is going to come over the question of what future generations should be like. Once all the genetic variations that influence cognitive function are identified battles and perhaps literally wars will be fought over the moral and empathetic characteristics and sensibilities of future generations.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 November 07 04:18 PM Biotech Society|