The University Record, September 16, 1998

Caplan on human cloning: 'Proceed with caution and prudence'

By Jane R. Elgass

"This society wouldn't embrace killing for body parts," so the prospect of "headless clones" raised for tissue and organ harvest is unlikely. And creating clone armies "of babbling mimics" is beyond our capabilities right now, Arthur Caplan told a Medical Center audience last week.

Caplan noted that several of the immediate reactions to Dolly the sheep-prospects of immortality, clone armies and organ farms-"are indicative of how bereft we are in dealing with the concept of cloning." He holds the scientific community partially responsible for the public's notion of what cloning can and cannot do.

"The education has not kept pace with the scientific accomplishment," he said. "You won't be immortal by cloning yourself." Besides, he asked, why would you want to burden another human being with the knowledge of all of your imperfections?

Caplan, an internationally known ethicist and director of the Center for Bioethics and Trustee Professor of Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania Health System, delivered the Third Annual Raymond W. Waggoner Lectureship on Ethics and Values in Medicine Sept. 10, discussing "What Is Wrong with Human Cloning? The Ethics of Technological Reproduction."

Caplan hopes that the interest created by the potential cloning of "Missy" the dog will focus the human cloning discussion.

Scientists at Texas A & M University have received a $2.3 million contract from her owners to clone the 11-year-old dog.

But Caplan feels there is a basic flaw in our understanding of what cloning can bring about. While scientists may be able to replicate Missy's physical attributes, the resulting animal will not be a true duplicate because many of the attributes the family holds dear, the nuances of her personality, have been shaped by Missy's environment.

The public's fears about where cloning might lead us fall into three categories, Caplan said.

There is the "nut factor," characterized by Richard Seed who announced last summer at a speech being given by Caplan that "he'd make a human clone and no one would stop him." Seed resurfaced last week, announcing that he would clone himself, with his wife as a surrogate mother. "This is what we're worried about," Caplan said. "He's the paradigm of the nut factor," representing our fears about what might happen if the technology falls into the wrong hands."

There is the "Harken factor." Caplan said that Iowa Sen. Tom Harken expressed concern that once cloning starts, "there's nothing we can do to stop it," what Caplan calls the "genie out of the bottle" reaction. The federal government has imposed a moratorium on cloning, and some states and several foreign countries have banned it. Another effective means of preventing human cloning, Caplan noted, would be the refusal of journal editors to accept papers for publication.

The third factor reaches back to our experiences with nuclear physics and the Cold War, heightened by threats of biological warfare and recent acts of terrorism.

"Our culture is painting fears because of our history and the uncertainty of where this is taking us," Caplan said, "but they don't have relevance to what cloning is about."

What has been lost in the discussion so far, Caplan believes, is a central question: "Is it in anyone's interest to be made as a clone?"

"What does this do to the person who has been made this way?" Caplan asked. "The clone is the involuntary subject of a test, with no choice. Everything has been predetermined. It's well known what the future holds. Is it a good idea to look exactly like someone else? What psychological issues does this raise? What is the cost to the person's emotions?"

"There is nothing fundamentally, essentially wrong with human cloning," Caplan said, but he feels "it is prudent to argue a moratorium. It is not yet safe, not enough has been done to warrant clinical trials. We should wait and proceed with caution and prudence."

If human cloning eventually is allowed, Caplan said, society can and should set limits and ask for justification. "There are a set of steps that need to be overcome before it can be done."

 


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