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Problems from cloning far exceed its benefits

Feb. 22, 2001

During the last few months, a controversy has developed over human cloning.

Many experts are predicting the birth of the first human clone within the next year. Others speculate that it has already happened behind closed doors.

Either way, people must prepare themselves for the fact that it very well may be possible, even likely, that scientists will soon be able to duplicate a person.

This whole cloning race started in 1996 when scientists cloned Dolly the sheep. The story made big headlines, but most of us were confident that scientists couldn't, or wouldn't, ever try to do that to a person. Since then, cloning has become so commonplace that it no longer even makes the front page when a new animal is cloned. As a matter of fact, I recently read about a high school girl in Wisconsin who was able, with some help from her employer, Infigen, to clone a cow.

For many, this is the end of life as we know it, a sign of the end times.

While I do not share this alarmist position, I still don't think this is something we should be toying with now or anytime in the future.

The most obvious question I have about the issue is: What do we need this technology for? I've read several arguments in support of human cloning; but for the life of me, I still don't understand why we need it.

Some support cloning because it means we could replace our deceased loved ones with a clone. We've all heard the stories of couples who lost children in accidents and then had a sample of their children's tissue frozen in the hopes of cloning them when the technology is ready.

This reminds me of the overused sitcom scenario in which a parent accidentally kills a pet and then tries to replace it with a similar-looking animal. As I recall, this plan was always foiled when the kid realized it was not the same animal.

This argument simply does not work because a person is not strictly defined by parenting or even by their genetic make-up. A great deal of who we are is based on our experiences, which simply cannot be duplicated. Just because we can precisely copy the genetic makeup of a person does not mean that we can re-create that person.

Another argument for cloning humans is that we can warehouse these people for spare parts. For example, a man could pay $20,000 to have himself cloned in case he ever needs an organ.

This argument is ridiculous. The two major concerns of the medical profession are to reduce suffering and save lives. Cloning for this purpose would go against both goals.

Just to let you know how simple some scientists consider the process to be: One expert recently claimed that two cell biologists in a small closet could clone a human for around $50,000. Outstanding! This is just the sort of top-shelf research that will surely benefit millions -- I just can't understand these scientists who are still squandering their expertise on cancer.

In a world troubled with overpopulation and starvation, why are we even interested in the prospect of cloning ourselves? Religious arguments aside, why do we want to do this? What do we expect to gain? Until we can come up with a genuinely good reason for cloning, we should not even be toying with the idea.