Whether the news stories on Panayiotis Zavos’ latest efforts to clone a human embryo are a hoax or not, there is no doubt that a tremendous amount of scientific progress has been made since the 1997 announcement that a sheep had been successfully cloned; cloned primates and pets and the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells and human-nonhuman chimeras are just a few of the scientific discoveries that get us closer everyday to the prospect of a cloned human being. The ability to radically alter human reproduction raises fundamental questions regarding the nature of our humanity and the character of our society.
Thousands of scientists, scholars, journalists, religious leaders, and policy makers have debated and discussed the ethical implications of a wide range of reproductive technologies, citing ethical concerns from safety, kinship disruption, and the commoditization of reproduction to concern for genetic diversity and the threat of eugenic application. While the benefits of many reproductive technologies – genetic testing, therapeutic cloning, genetic germline modification, and chimeric modeling, to name a few – are still being debated, reproductive cloning is nearly universally opposed. Most believe it currently poses unacceptable safety risks.
The opposition to reproductive cloning has led to a growing effort to ban the practice at a state, national, and international level. All this activity led us to consider the question: Is there a consistent theme in the ethical language used to justify banning reproductive cloning? Does the language reflect the moral values and common goals of the world community or does it unwittingly set the stage to undermine procreative liberty and scientific progress by appealing to vague ethical principles that serve a broader political agenda?
Before we support a worldwide ban on cloning, we need to carefully examine the ethical language used and be sure it reflects the common good. We must watch carefully as human dignity is employed to ban human reproductive cloning, for it can set the stage for banning other reproductive technologies such as IVF, genetic testing and genetic modification as well as therapeutic cloning.