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Cloning Technologies Essay, Research Paper
Humans have within their grasp the ability and technology to
create life. Many believe that this knowledge will lead to
further degradation of the human spirit. But others, like
Prometheus and his gift of fire, believe that new technology is
the key to a new, and better, reality. Genetic engineering and,
specifically, cloning, of human life has become an issue of
extreme gravity in the age of technology where anything may be
dreamed and many things are possible. Cloning is a reality in
today’s world: “Three months ago, Gearhart and Thomson announced
that they had each isolated embryonic stem cells and induced them
to begin copying themselves without turning into anything else.
In so doing, they apparently discovered a way to make stem cells
by the billions, creating a biological feedstock that might, in
turn, be employed to produce brand-new, healthy human tissue.
That is, they discovered how to fabricate the stuff of which
humanity is made” (Easterbrook 20).
Leon R. Kass proposed three perspectives that serve to
classify the ways people think of cloning as beneficial:
The technological perspective “will be seen as an
extension of existing techniques for assisting
reproduction and determining the genetic makeup of
children. Like them, cloning is to be regarded as a
neutral technique, with no inherent meaning or
goodness, but subject to multiple uses, some good, some
bad. The morality of cloning thus depends absolutely
on the goodness or badness of the motives and
intentions of the cloners … by the way the parents
nurture and rear their resulting child and whether they
bestow the same love and affection on a child brought
into existence by a technique of assisted reproduction
as they would on a child born in the usual way. The
liberal (or libertarian or liberationist) perspective
sets cloning in the context of rights, freedoms and
personal empowerment. Cloning is just a new option for
exercising an individual’s right to reproduce or to
have the kind of child that he or she wants … For
those who hold this outlook, the only moral restraints
on cloning are adequately informed consent and the
avoidance of bodily harm. The meliorist … see in
cloning a new prospect for improving human
beings–minimally, by ensuring the perpetuation of
healthy individuals by avoiding the risks of genetic
disease inherent in the lottery of sex, and maximally,
by producing “optimum babies,” preserving outstanding
genetic material, and (with the help of soon-to-come
techniques for precise genetic engineering) enhancing
inborn human capacities on many fronts. Here the
morality of cloning as a means is justified solely by
the excellence of the end, that is, by the outstanding
traits or individuals cloned–beauty, or brawn, or
brains” (Kass PG).
The detractors of cloning cite the loss of human dignity as
the primary adverse effect. The process of cloning includes
extraction of human cells from early life – the use of aborted
fetuses. Many people find this repugnant and recoil from the
potential uses such knowledge could be put to – like Frankenstein
and his creation, is Man playing God? and what are the unforeseen
God created life from the firmament. Dr. Frankenstein
created life from what was once living matter. The scientists of
today propose to create life from life. Frankenstein harvested
his components from the charnel houses of Ingolstadt, whereas the
seeds of life are now reaped from the unborn dead. Perhaps the
hope of cloning is like the wish of Dr. Frankenstein that he
could return to life those nearest and dearest when they are
killed by his creation in revenge for mankind’s rejection of him
and Frankenstein’s destruction of the half-finished female.
Perhaps the proponents, like Frankenstein, will run in fear
from the room after they have found they are successful in
creating a new Being. The revulsion seen in the acts of the
Doctor are mirrored in the response of modern Man to the concept
of cloning. The Being, once brought to life, is grotesque,
unacceptable to others of humankind. Is this what we fear in the
future of genetic engineering? Has modern science, like
Prometheus and Pandora, unlocked a secret for which the control
does not yet exist? Frankenstein admits that “the different
accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human
nature. …now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream
vanished and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” and
is subsequently struck down with physical illness brought on by
the confusion of moral decision making. Once Frankenstein is
immobilized by his own moral dilemma, his creation escapes and in
the act of being unbound, brings about the destruction of
Frankenstein, all that he loves and the world as he knows it. Is
there a lesson in this for modern Man? If we, in our moral
confusion are immobilized and the creation takes on a life of
it’s own – will we inevitably be destroyed? Is this the inherent
repugnance that is felt but not able to be elucidated in the
matter of cloning? Is the fear of a loss of dignity the same as
the creature’s irresponsible rejection by society?
These questions serve as catalyst for comparison between the
creation of life that was Frankenstein’s fall and today’s
scenario of technological advancements that allow the creation of
life through cloning. In the book, the creation knows his
origins and places the blame for his differences and isolation on
the moral irresponsibility of Dr. Frankenstein. Like a child, he
wishes to have the Doctor’s life mirror his own and begins to
murder the people for whom the Doctor cares. The answer seems to
be to create a companion for the creature. A being that shares
his differences from the rest of society. In the process of
creating the companion the Doctor realizes that such a species
could evolve beyond the ability of the current society to control
it and decides to destroy the female. This action brings about
more destruction and pain by the creation and the Doctor has to
find a way to destroy the creature. The creation is also aware
that it is not time for him to be accepted, that he will not find
companionship among these people who are so different from him
and yet, made from the same material. The story ends with the
creation destroying the creator and then himself.
The subtitle to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is The Modern
Prometheus. In one version of the myth, Prometheus defends the
human race against Zeus and, as a consequence, suffers greatly
for a long period of time. Prometheus somehow feels responsible
for the beings for whom he has defied the Gods to bring new
knowledge and new tools. Looking at Frankenstein as Prometheus
the natural comparison is the knowledge of life from death and
the knowledge of Fire. Like Pandora’s box, once opened,
unleashed or unbound, the creator loses control of it’s creation.
Like Frankenstein, the scientists of today must confront the
reality of success in an endeavor that may well unleash knowledge
the consequences of which are unknown. The feeling of repugnance
that has been described as a result of contemplating the cloning
of humans may well be prescient information garnered from the
stories and beliefs of the past. There is generally some truth
to the myths and stories that are perpetuated through time.
The same arguments that are used by proponents of genetic
engineering and cloning techniques could have been raised in
defense of the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein. Learning the
secrets to creating life inevitably provides lessons to extending
and improving life. The problem becomes the ethical or moral
considerations of creation. There is a point where the creator
must take responsibility and where the created gains autonomy.
Like a parent with a problem child, the decisions are generally
made with the best intent but may not meet the needs or satisfy
the urges of the new individual.
The stories of the past, such as Frankenstein and
Prometheus, are the precursors to the future. The central theme
and incidence were plausible and are now on the verge of reality.
The question that society is left with is the moral dilemma that
incapacitated Frankenstein: To what degree do we, as a society,
trust in the moral consequences of past imaginings when
considering the present realities?
Easterbrook, Gregg. “Will Homo Sapiens Become Obsolete?: Medical
Evolution.” The New Republic, (1999): March, p20(1).
Kass, Leon R. “Why We Should Ban The Cloning Of Humans.” The New
Republic, (1997): June, pp. PG.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Hindle,
Maurice, Ed., (London, ENG: Penguin, 1992).
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