Is Human Cloning Inevitable?

Kazuo Ishiguro’s alternate universe in Never Let me Go leaves us with an alarmingly depressing view of the future of human cloning. But is this an alternate reality or simply a forward looking prediction of disturbing medical practices to come? Recent scientific breakthroughs, like those made at the Oregon Health and Science University (More on this here), seem to point to the latter outcome. Advancing the techniques use to create Dolly the sheep in 1996, Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team were able to create an actual human embryo from the skin cell of an individual. While Mitalipov reports that it is unlikely that this particular embryo might result in a developed human being, scientists are startlingly close to such results.

So what’s stopping full-blown human cloning trials? Well in light of recent breakthroughs it seems that the barrier is no longer scientific, only moral. But is a strictly moral barrier enough to hold off scientific curiosity? If you begin with the simple question of why we would want to clone in the first place, the answer becomes more clear and more terrifying. The major issue with organ donation and blood transfusion is that the immune system has a tendency to reject any organic material that it considers alien. If the donor has the same genetic makeup however (AKA a clone), the donation is likely to be accepted.

In a society where money wields so much power, and mortality is fleeting, it seems inevitable that if creating human clones could save lives, then that’s exactly what’s going to start happening, regardless of the plethora of ethical issues that may arise. So how do we stop this looming dystopian threat of Ishiguro’s world? Well, while it is extremely difficult to halt scientific progress, it is sometimes possible to direct it. In 2013 Shinya Yamanaka won the nobel prize for his method of turning adult cells back into pluripotent ones (Allowing the flexibility to conform to different types of tissue), providing hope for avoiding the necessity of developed human clones in order to create genetically identical material. Furthermore, 3-D printing provides new hope for avoiding this outcome, and has been shown to be capable of eventually printing human organs out of organic matter. By funneling resources into these new discoveries and techniques, hopefully we can heed Ishiguro’s warning and prevent such a depressing distortion of the human condition.

– Zach S.

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~ by zshrmn on February 2, 2014.

3 Responses to “Is Human Cloning Inevitable?”

  1. This was something I thought about as I read the novel, how new technology sort of renders the need for entire humans to provide donations obsolete. Of course I suppose this was not an option in 2005 when Ishiguro published his novel. I think this does raise the question of whether the cure for potentially dangerous scientific discovery is to avoid it or to simply seek out better informed science that fixes the problem. Maybe the solution requires a bit of each.

  2. I really enjoyed the TED talk you included with the post! While I do think that Ishiguro’s hypothetical world provides a great platform for exploring the moral pitfalls that might accompany future scientific breakthroughs, I think much of Ishiguro’s discussion about the specifics of human cloning for the purpose of organ donation obsolete in light of scientific breakthroughs like 3D organ printing. The value of Ishiguro’s work, and others like it, is not in whether or not the specific predicted issue ever comes into existence; the world Ishiguro creates makes us think about what it means to be human and about how to protect our humanity both through, and sometimes from, science.

  3. I’d like to offer an even more disturbing counterpoint. Given a society as presented in Ishiguro’s novel, are there reasons for them to actually keep full-functioning clones around? After all, their goals essentially boil down to rendering these clones for their organs, right? Other than cardio and nutritional needs, is there any reason for them to not brain-kill the clones and just nurse them that way? Would it really be any more morally wrong than allowing them to develop personalities, hopes, dreams, and lives before killing them? This doesn’t delve as deeply into the scientific aspects you propose, but I think it proposes another interpretation of their moral and ethical viewpoints as a society.

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