Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Bearers of Human Clones

Human cloning has become a stark reality with few countries allowing doctors to race in producing human clones. In the most recent news, Stemagen claims that it has succeeded in creating the first cloned human embryo using the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technique. It's only a matter of time for a cloned human embryo to enter the realm of human society.

Although it's difficult to prevent any rogue doctors from pursuing 'their dream', with the current state of the art, they still need to rely on women to bear cloned fetuses and bring them to term. These 'mothers' must now ask themselves whether they want to reduce their roles to that of 'marsupial pouch carriers' for cloned human beings, perhaps leading to gene pool deterioration and eventual weakening of the human race. 

Women have always played a vital, irreplaceable role in human reproduction. But since the beginning of the new millennium, the sophisticated and modern technology of human cloning has begun to encroach on this natural monopoly. One might argue that the 'clone bearer' is nothing more exotic than a surrogate mother, which is a condition accepted in many modern situations. But there are fundamental differences between natural mothers, surrogate mothers, and clone bearers, and women should be aware of them.

A natural mother has maternal feelings and concerns for her baby's welfare after birth. A surrogate mother faces the moral issue of aiding an infertile couple to bear a child, and on a larger scale, to perpetuate the human race. In the case of human cloning, a clone bearer must also shoulder the burden of psychological and emotional effects of a new familial order, the social impact of introducing an exponent to the human race, and the various ethical stances on cloning.

Procreation should not be mistaken as replication, for natural reproduction creates originality, whereas reproductive cloning duplicates the original. Even in-vitro fertilization, the medically assisted method in bringing forth newborns is still in line with the former. The survival of a species by natural reproduction is an evolutionary process that has been tested over hundred millions of years while cloning has just been a recent scientific laboratory experiment that manipulates cellular genetic structures under a microscope.

Generally, parents want to raise a mentally and physically healthy child to immerse in our society. While having a cloned child might satisfy the infertile couple's immediate longing, it could impose enormous long-term psychological and emotional effects on both the clone and the parents, resulting in identity confusion and relationship problems.

Technically speaking, if the clone's progenitor is a male, he would be looked upon not as the clone's father but as an older brother, and his wife not as the clone's mother but as a sister-in-law. As for the other parent, could he or she not help fall in love with the clone, a younger version of the spouse? This perplexing familiarity in relationship binding could possibly foster an intimate environment for incestuous practice. Furthermore, watching one's own clone mature over the years could bring back unsettling memories or even evoke damaging rivalries. 

Moreover, parents might mistreat their cloned children for not meeting their expectations, instead of loving them unconditionally. They might raise a clone just to be used as a commodity, like an organ donor for an ill family member or a replacement for a lost loved one.

Besides being psychologically confused, the clone could suffer depression due to mental and emotional stress. Although environment is conducive to the development of a person's character and abilities, the clone would lose autonomy and individuality because his traits and abilities would be known, constraining him in personal growth and self-expression. Unfortunately, the clone would live out his life in his progenitor's shadow, like an heir of a famous personality, who tries to step out of his parent's shoes to stand on his own two feet.

As the newest minority member, a clone entering our imperfect world where people are still striving for universal human rights could easily become the victim of social injustice, medical experiments, or even human abuse. As man has supplanted the role of God in fabricating a clone, the clone could be perceived as sub-human and could be treated worse than a second-class citizen. To protect and ensure that clones will survive the potential barrage of discrimination, maltreatment, and injustice, legal rights for clones have to be well established throughout the world. Are we really ready for that?

As scientific facts on experimental reproductive cloning have started to accumulate around the globe, the foreseeable consequences of human cloning mirror the wild imagination of science fiction. From a medical point of view, the genetic defects are inevitable, as experimental cloned animals have shown subtle abnormalities in gene expression. Cloned mammals have shorter lifespans due to telomeres shortened with each cell division. Moreover, the surviving clones have developed severe abnormalities such as obesity, malfunctioning organs, deficient immune systems, diseases, and hidden genetic defects. Even in the research for therapeutic cloning to treat human diseases, basic cellular functions of an embryonic stem cell often failed, resulting in tumor growths or deformed tissue due to the unstable state of its genome.

Before perfecting a lab product, many human clones will be sacrificed just as numerous embryos were destroyed to achieve the ideal specimen. Furthermore, the popularity of human cloning would lead to eugenics, cloning for specific human attributes, which dangerously challenges nature in the evolution process. Worse still, human clones would undergo human abuse if eugenicists produced an army of superior warriors or perfect servants to serve the human race.

And yet our greatest fear lies in that clones breeding with humans would taint the human gene pool, reducing human diversity itself, which is against the very principle of evolution - the survival of the fittest. With a weakened human gene pool, the human species would suffer unknown ailments and deficiencies, threatening the very survival of the human race. 

Considering all the perils of human cloning that could affect individuals as well as society, women must reject any scientist's genetic tempering with natural reproduction. If not, the price we pay is irreparable, for Nature won't be so forgiving.

(First published on UniOrb.com, January 19, 2008)