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The Ethical Dilemma of Therapeutic Cloning

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If the ability to cure a deadly and deliberating disease like diabetes is within a scientist’s grasps, should it be taken? What if this involves offering or copying genetic DNA to accomplish this task? Individuals within the science community and the general public have been arguing at length about the ethical issues involved with therapeutic cloning for at least the last quarter of a century, and it appears that the world is no closer to a valuable solution. However, it is important to realize that each moment wasted on debating over the ethical issues surrounding therapeutic cloning, is a moment lost that could be used towards eradicating deadly genetic diseases once and for all. Dr. Robert Lanza, a chief scientific officer for Advanced Cell Technology was quoted in a 2014 article saying, “Therapeutic cloning has long been envisioned as a means for generating patient-specific stem cells that could be used to treat a range of age-related diseases” (Fox). While there exists a risk of losing genetic variation and there are also several ethical issues to consider in regards to therapeutic cloning–such as the end result of these procedures being used for reproductive purposes–cloning for therapeutic purposes should be legal in controlled situations because of the scientific and medical achievements that can be accomplished to aid in self-preservation. In particular, being able to renew damaged cells with healthier ones would aid in the quest for scientists to find proper treatments and cures for many deadly diseases such as diabetes (Ben-Yehudah 85).

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There is one major point that must be stressed when delving into a subject such as this one: therapeutic cloning is not a scientific process that is striving to make copies of whole humans. Scientists are not trying to create a newborn in this category of cloning, such as in reproductive cloning, and this is a common misconception than many people have. Instead, the idea is that scientists will use non-fertilized cloned embryos as a source of embryonic stem cells to use for a number of therapeutic purposes (Rugnetta). These embryos will not ever be implanted into another womb. The procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), revolves around locating nuclear material found in a somatic cell and placing it into an enucleated oocyte (Kfoury 110).

The end goal of this procedure would be deriving embryonic cell lines that have the same genome as the nuclear donor. Once this process is complete, these embryonic stem cells can be manipulated into over 200 different cell types within the human body. Thus, they could potentially be cultured into skin cells, nerve cells, and possibly even hair follicles. More than anything however, scientists would want to use therapeutic cloning in order to treat fatal diseases like Parkinson’s and diabetes. These are diseases where a specific type of cell has died, and the theory is that replacing those dead cells would help to restore health (Kfoury 112). Therapeutic cloning, with the use of nuclear-transfer embryonic stem cells (also known as ntESC), could offer exciting possibilities for reformative and generative treatments, and more importantly aid in gene therapy, in the role of a trajectory for gene-delivery. It is imperative to consider a major reason why it should be allowed, and this has to do with the survival of mankind.

There is a desire instilled in every human being to live and to survive. Lots of people go to many lengths to prolong the quality of their life. Many against therapeutic cloning confuse it with reproductive cloning. It is important that everyone becomes aware of the difference of the two so that they could understand just how vital therapeutic cloning can be towards their own survival. The aim, once again, is not to clone an entire human, but rather to produce stem cells that are identical to the patient. Therapeutic cloning can help save lives, not destroy lives, and it is important for humans to focus on a theological concept known as self-preservation. What exactly is this concept? Mary Mahowald, a professor at the University of Chicago, who sits on the Committee on Genetics, proposes self-preservation as a rationalization for therapeutic cloning, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “preservation of one’s existence; esp. applied to the natural law or instinct which impels living creatures to take measures to prolong life and avoid injury” (Mahowald 57). English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described the theological idea self-preservation as a “right of nature” in his famous book called Leviathan. Hobbes went on to say, “The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto” (Hobbes 103). This “right of nature” gives humans the freedom to do anything necessary if it is necessary to preserve oneself.

Mahowald discusses specifically whether humans should have the right to deliberately terminate embryonic life for the sake of treating life-threatening conditions. One argument of specific interest is the idea that a woman capable of reproduction who has a life-threatening condition has a “negative right” to obtain procedures that might help her survive. This would mean that others aren’t obligated to interfere with that woman’s right to survive, and they wouldn’t be obliged to assist her either. She also would not be morally authorized to harm anyone in order to obtain such assistance. This negative right does not give a woman the right to kill another person. The idea of self-preservation then only works if based upon the assumption that embryos are not viewed as actual “persons” (Mahowald 60).

The ethical dilemma between “killing/letting-die” and why using genetic information from one’s own body (which could include terminating embryos) may or may not be the same thing as killing a person, especially when so many argue on what exactly makes a person alive. The nature of what constitutes a living person is still a very heavy and popular debate, and everyone within the science world and beyond needs to come to some sort of agreement on this subject. Robert Sparrow, a researcher who is a proponent against therapeutic cloning made a valid point when he stated, “philosophical work remains to be done analyzing and clarifying our notion of genetic relatedness and also the relation between reproductive liberty and genetic parenthood” (Sparrow 103). Some may argue that therapeutic cloning should not be legal because “babies” must be killed in order to carry out the process. They find the “the deliberate termination of in vitro embryos morally troubling” (Mahowald 66). This is understandable because many people have different moral compasses, and while some might feel that scientists are simply allowing the embryo to die rather than killing them, others feel that is definitely murder. However, unless a concrete decision is made concerning reproductive rights, a method such as therapeutic cloning should be used to help possibly deliberating diseases.

An article written by Ahmi Ben-Yehudah and a few other researchers gives explanation of what diabetes actually is, and why many scientist need to be allowed to give therapeutic cloning a chance. Diabetes mellitus (DM) is defined as a disorder that affects over 150 million people. The article goes on to say, “It comprises a group of metabolic disorders unified by the common features of hyperglycemia and insulin deficiency. Type 1 DM is characterized by autoimmune destruction of tbe ß-cclls in the islets of Langerhans, and the pancreas, and a requirement for insulin-replacement therapy” (Ben-Yehudah 79). This disorder can also be transferred from a mother to an infant during infancy, and cause an increase in risk for birth defects, lung malfunctions, and many other serious damages towards the child. This is one disease that could potentially be combatted if therapeutic cloning was legalized. If one agrees with the second point, which is that humans must focus on self-preservation, then all possible methods must be taken into consideration to eradicate diabetes, which is a serious growing problem in the world. Right now, there is no known cure for diabetes mellitus, but there are several treatments that one can acquire. This includes the patient going on a specific diet and exercise program, undergoing insulin therapies, using drugs to control their blood glucose levels, and also monitoring their glucometer or “blood sugar” on a regular basis (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015). While all of these procedures at least helps prolongs life, none of them are an actual cure. It is imperative to develop better treatments for patients with DM and therapeutic cloning could provide doctors with a viable solution.

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If everyone, as a society, continues to have moral issues with the process of disposing of embryos after completing a process that could potentially cure diseases and save lives, then the same standard must be held for reproductive purposes. It cannot be held in different degrees of severity, especially when there are a huge number of disorders that could be potentially cured with this procedure, such as diabetes. Society must continue to analyze and debate all options to find a cure for deadly deliberating diseases because self-preservation should always be a number one priority. Scientists must continue to seek out ways to preserve and prolong life, and this justifies the use of embryos, which most scientists universally agree cannot medically be considered “alive.” If therapeutic cloning is allowed to run its course, the world might one day be able to say that it is diabetes-free. Certainly for such an outcome, the ends will justify the means.

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