By Prof. Rohan W. Jayasekara

Published in REACH – The Journal of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka. Vol.2, No.2, Apr. – Jun. 1994

Never has “new genetic technology”, posed a greater threat to humanity in general and its traditional values and institutions in particular, as at present. Expanding into previously unchartered and morally sensitive regions at an accelerated pace, it has made us, the inhabitants of this little planet make crucial assessments of the social costs of each potential innovation. The need to enforce control on technologies before they are crystallized into definitive technical and institutional patterns has been well accepted by most of the scientific and lay communities. Despite these safeguards, technology is seen to be marching inexorably forwards to the delight of a few selfish scientists.

One such application in human genetic intervention, is human cloning. What is cloning ? The word ‘clone’ is derived from the Greek word klon, meaning a twig or a slip and is used to describe the creation of an identical replica of the original. In cloning, the original nucleus of an egg(ovum) with its genetic code, is removed and replaced with a nucleus from a body cell. In humans, the egg is retrieved from the ovary by a process called laparoscopy. The nucleus is then destroyed by chemicals or by the application of a laser and replaced by a preferentially selected body cell nucleus. This tinkered egg which resembles a fertilized egg, is then implanted in a womb of the scientist’s choice and allowed to develop like any other pregnancy. The resulting individual is an exact genetic duplicate of the individual from whom the body cell was taken. This process is based on the premise that the entire genetic code is present in the body cells and if such a cell is inserted successfully into an egg, it will produce an exact duplicate of the donor. The true assessment of the success of human cloning is yet a mystery. How many scientists are working under a strict code of silence, towards the successful outcome of such a project is anyone’s guess.

So, why clone humans ? Some of the unimaginable reasons offered by the scientists are many. Among the more attractive suggestions are : 1. The replication of individuals of great genius or beauty in order to improve the human stock. 2. The provision of children to infertile couples. 3. Acquiring children of the parents own choice. 4. Controlling the gender of future children. 5. Replicating with certainty, adults proved to be healthy, by avoiding the chance union of genes. 6. The production of genetically identical humans for scientific studies. 7. The production of embryonic replicas of volunteers, to be frozen and stored until required for organ transplantations, with no complications of rejection. 8. The mass production of highly efficient, dispensable beings, to be used in espionage, war or other dangerous missions.

Cloning, is an extension of “in vitro” fertilization, another process which depersonalizes the process of human procreation, by substituting “decantation” in a laboratory dish for the connubial couch. Cloning is a dehumanizing process which clearly violates the rights of the unborn, setting off a cascade of ethical and moral dilemmas. A clone lacks a mother or father in a biological sense, not being the product of a chance union between a sperm and an ovum. “It” is a biological extension of a donor and an exact copy of it. In this context does “it” have a self identity or self determination ? Would a clone be entitled to all the political and civil rights enjoyed by us ? What of individual dignity, self identification and actualization, which would obviously be denied to “it” by a lack of genetic distinctiveness.

As a “child clone”, imagine the extreme psychological pressures placed on “it”. The right to select ones own destiny would be denied, and other freedoms certainly in doubt. Performance comparisons with the donor would inevitably be forced upon “it”. The clone may be forced into a mould “it” may neither fit nor want. As Kieffer once said ” To aspire to genius is laudable, to be the child of a genius can be dreadfully difficult, but to be expected to be a genius because you are a genetic twin to one, is or could be crushing.” Here are “people” in a subhuman category, designed to imitate the best in society, in a way an asset to society. Are they not entitled to their rights or “super rights” ? But then they are the result of only one parent ; so what legal claims to inheritance do they have ? These are but a few questions yet to be answered and never will be.

As we meander through a few more complex and turbulent years left in the 20th century, it is indeed refreshing to note, that the role of the family unit has been given its rightful place in our decaying social framework. With the specter of such threatening biomedical technology such as human cloning looming ahead, it is our moral duty to be aware of these technological upheavals. They have created value conflicts over the meaning of human life and death, and are so inexplicably bound in a variety of religious, secular and ethical frameworks. They are certainly not in the traditional mould of political issues which are usually resolved through a process of bargaining and compromise.

Central to the concept of a true democracy is the principle that public interests must be reflected in public policy. Active public involvement consists of aggregated and articulated opinions of the entire citizenry. It would be prudent then, to design a variety of informal and formal mechanisms that link the public to government policy. This is the need of the hour, or do we as an easy alternative, mesmerised by the marvels of science, amble along the “primrose path”, perhaps hand in hand with a clone.