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Cloning: Why it means so much and why it should

In 1981 a human mitochondrial genome was completely sequenced. In the mid 1980s PCR was invented, allowing the replication of short fragments of DNA. By the early nineties cloning of 'lesser' animals was occuring frequently. By the mid nineties Jurassic Park had capativated millions of people and cloning stepped fully out of scientific shadows and into the living rooms of the world.

The idea of cloning is nothing new but the ability to clone is a recent development. Cloning was a 'hot button' topic among intellectuals and science fiction writers since the seventies, until scientists poo-paahed the possibility of success. Now however the science has caught up to the philosophy, and researchers are left waiting for the debate to catch up with their work.

In 1998 a portion of neanderthal mitochondria was sequenced. A sheep was cloned from an adult animal, a feat previously considered impossible by some and a long way off by others. Since then the cloning of livestock has become increasingly common. One physicist has even dedicated himself to producing the world's first human clone.

The sudden rash of success has created problems for researchers. No longer stuck in the realm of science fiction, cloning has become a reality. Whether this is for better or worse is open for debate, and whether we should continue is also hotly contested. One certainty, however, is that someone somewhere will continue, and the science community had better be ready with answers when they do.

It is for this reason that the ethics and implications of cloning will be discussed on these pages. The discussion will begin immediately below. Always feel free to respond and revisit the site as it evolves to better serve the viewer. Thank you for your time and your thoughts.

Morality and Ethics

Cloning is a topic of much discussion, and it should be. There are moral and ethical questions that must be actively confronted before further research is done. Without this discussion there is no way to generate the data necessary for determining the appropriate ethical standards with which to proceed.

There are no good definitions for 'morals.' The working definition used here is meant only to provide a general sense (and therefore the best sense, as shall be discussed shortly) of what morals are. Morals are the individual beliefs around which an individual structures his or her life. Many times 'morals' is used to mean 'Christian morals' or 'family values.' In many cases this could not be farther from the truth. By looking at the thousands of various cultures around the world it becomes apparent that there are NO universal morals, only commonalities and shared discreetionary actions.

A working definition of ethics is also needed. Ethics can be thought of as a more practical and direction version of morals operating on a group rather than on an individual. Ethical standards are generally derived by considering the aggregate morals of the individuals within a community. Generally, if a particular practice is not morally acceptable to a majority of the individuals within a group it would not be ethical to continue the particular practice.

A sumnation of this, then, can be issued as follows: morals are beliefs and ideas upon which individuals base their actions. Ethics are standards which define the boundaries of possible actions based on the morals of many individuals. When stated in this manner it becomes clear that 1) morals and ethics are two very different things, and 2) no practice, no matter how 'ethical' it may appear, is above reproach.

The first statement is somewhat obvious after reading the definition. The second is not. What this means is that, if ethical standards are based on what is morally acceptable to the majority of individuals, what becomes of the morals of the outlying people? They are ignored. Because of this any action taken by any scientist, politician, journalist, or any individual of any profession is constantly open to question.

It makes sense then to take a cautious tact when considering the options open to cloning, particularly among humans. For a variety of reasons cloning strikes terror into some people, and whether or not these individuals lie within the majority or without their voices can, will, and are heard above the general din. As scientists it should be our goal to make our work not only acceptable to the majority but also to the minority, to be as nearly all-inclusive in our ethics as we possibly can be.

It is a difficult task, to say the least. I invite you to continue reading for more information on this topic as it pertains specifically to genetics and cloning.

Forrest O. Gulden

State College