Is the Technology of Today Ready to Create Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”?
When the novel “Frankenstein”, by Mary Shelley came out in 1831 the general public was introduced to the idea of man creating another man, scientifically without the use of reproduction. The disasters that followed, in the novel, demonstrated the horrid fact that creating humans was not natural. That was in 1831, when the knowledge of science had not yet evolved enough to act on such an idea. Now as the start of a new millenium approaches, having the capability to scientifically produce one human who is genetically identical to another, or cloning a human, has a lot of people questioning weather or not it is our moral right to do such a thing. It is a classic debate between principles of science and principles of religion.
The more we know about genetics and the building blocks of life the closer we get to being capable of cloning a human. The study of chromosomes and DNA strains has been going on for years. In 1990, the Unites States Government founded the Human Genome Project (HGP). This program was to research and study the estimated 80,000 human genes and determine the sequences of 3 billion DNA molecules. Knowing and being able to examine each sequence could change how humans respond to diseases, viruses, and toxins common to everyday life. With the technology of today the HGP expects to have a blueprint of all human DNA sequences by the spring of 2000. This accomplishment, even though not cloning, presents other new issues for individuals and society. For this reason the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) was brought in to identify and address these issues. They operate to secure the individuals rights to those who contribute DNA samples for studies. The ELSI, being the biggest bioethics program, has to decide on important factors when an individual’s personal DNA is calculated. Such factors would include; who would have access to the information, who controls and protects the information and when to use it? Along with these concerns, the ESLI tries to prepare for the estimated impacts that genetic advances could be responsible for in the near future. The availability of such information is becoming to broad and one needs to be concerned where society is going with it.
The next step after scientists have identified and studied adult DNA would be to copy it. Even though the process of cloning seems unreal, scientists believe that they might be ready here in the near future to do such a thing. The real question that is on a lot of people’s minds is if we should even attempt it. The attempt has been made but not with humans, with a sheep. A cell was taken from mammary tissue of a mature six-year-old sheep while its DNA was in a dormant state. It was fused with a sheep ovum that has had its nucleus removed. The “fertilized” cell was then stimulated with an electric pulse. It later began to divide and was implanted in an ewe. The sheep, nicknamed Dolly, was born and became the first cloned sheep. Similar experiments to clone mice have been unsuccessful. One speculation is that DNA in sheep may not be used by the cells until after three or four cell divisions have completed. Both human and mouse cells use the DNA after the second cell division. So, some researchers have predicted that humans as well as mice may not be “clonable”. Later research has shown that this may not be a factor and humans along with mice are capable of being cloned.
Some scientists believe that human adult DNA and embryo cloning is moral and can have positive results. The point out that it might produce greater understanding of the causes of miscarriages; which could be an immense help for women who cannot bring a fetus to term. Cloning could lead to the understanding of the mechanics of morula, which is a group of cells that has developed from a blastula and whose growth similar to cancer. Cancer researchers believe that if a method is found to stop the division of human ovum then a technique for terminating the growth of a cancer might be found. Along with these advantages, parents who are known to be at risk of passing a genetic defect to a child could make use of cloning. But along with advantages the subject of cloning brings up resistance.
Some individuals and groups have expressed concerns about adverse effects of human adult DNA cloning, and the question of morality. Some of the examples that oppositionists use against cloning are that when the gene or genes that determine sexual orientation are located, cloning could also be used to eliminate zygotes of a particular sexual orientation. There is no guarantee that the first cloned humans will be normal. They might suffer from some disorder that is not detectable by ultrasound. They may be born disabled. Dolly, the cloned sheep, was conceived using an ewe’s egg and a cell from another ewe’s body. This technique, if were perfected in human cloning, would cause no genetic need for men. Some people have questioned whether a cloned embryo would have a soul. They speculate that the soul enters the body when a sperm fertilizes an ovum. Since there is no way to know whether a soul is present, speculation on this topic may never be resolved.
Human DNA cloning is still a debatable issue. Whenever the public says something negative about it, scientists and researchers retaliate with logical answers. When people said that a clone would not be a real human, scientists said a clone would have exactly the some status that an identical twin already does. Both are derived from a single fertilized ovum. When they said that cloning is “playing God”, scientists came back to say that the public has visions of Dr. Frankenstein creating life from inanimate matter. “Cloning creates life from life.” (10) It is just an extension of routine in vitro fertilization procedures. Even with the advantages of cloning the general public still with not bye into it. According to a 1997 CNN Poll 89% of Americans felt that cloning humans is morally unacceptable and 74% believe that human cloning is against God’s will. It would have to take something drastic to make these people change their minds, but no one knows what will happen in the future.
“The Science Behind the Human Genome Project, Understanding the Basics and How the
HGP is Implemented.” www.ornl.gov/hgmis. Monday, August 16, 1999.
“Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) of the Human Genome Project.”
“Ethical aspects of human cloning.” www.religioustolerance.com/cloning.htm.