Discussion on the Use of Therapeutic Cloning to Repair Human Organs

Discussion on the Use of Therapeutic Cloning to Repair Human Organs

Is it ethically right to use therapeutic cloning in repairing human organs?

Abstract

Therapeutic cloning is the creation of a cloned embryo to provide stem cells for research and saving human lives. It is different from reproductive cloning as it is the embryos are not allowed to implant into a uterus to ultimately grow into a baby. In this essay I am going to discuss why therapeutic cloning is ethical. The main point which supports the use of therapeutic cloning is that it can save people who are in need of organs transplants. It is believed that it is ethical to carry on researching and finding out ways to save lives.

Introduction

Therapeutic cloning refers to embryo cloning, and is different from reproductive cloning because no babies are formed. The embryonic stem cells will be used for research and treating human diseases. On the fifth day of the development of the embryo, which is called blastocyst, stem cells can be extracted. However, the extraction will kill the embryo. This area of stem cell research has raised concerns regarding whether it is ethical to continue. Many scientists are hoping that it can be used to replace damaged organs in humans and save people who are suffering from various diseases. In this essay, I am going to discuss whether it is ethical to use this advanced technique in repairing human organs.

Methodology

In this essay, I used materials from books, journals and information from the Internet.

Discussion

Stem cells refer to cells which are in an early developmental stage and have the ability to differentiate into different types of cells. There are two types of stem cells, the totipotent and multipotent stem cells. Totipotent cells are immature cells which can develop into any kinds of cells while multipotent cells are more specific, for example bone marrow cells. Multipotent cells can divide into red blood cells and white blood cells but not the other types of cells. Multipotent cells can be used in gene therapy and transplantation. Cloned multipotential cells from the patients can match with their bodies perfectly and prevent rejection. (Savulescu 1999)

Stem cells can be a source of new tissues but it remains questionable how we can control the clonal stability in cell amplification and ensure the differentiation of the cells. The way used to produce totipotent stem cells in order to let it develop to a particular type of cell is similar to reproductive cloning. The production of organs, that is, the production of totipotent cells which form blastomeres and then develop into tissue after some days, is the same as creating an early embryo. (Savulescu 1999)

Why it can be ethically right?

To begin with, there are four points which I would like to support the use of this technique and why it should be encouraged. Firstly, the created embryos are not going to be implanted into uterus so they have no chance to grow into babies. Secondly, there are great demands on organs for people who are suffering from difficult diseases or accidents. Thirdly, therapeutic cloning can create perfect matched tissues or organs which can prevent any rejection reactions. Last but not least, saving human lives is vitally important.

There are debates about whether it is ethically right to produce an embryo and then destroy it for saving the lives of others. There are two main principles of defining a human life; in terms of brain function and existence. Normally brain structures come into existence in the neural plate at around day 19. (Lockwood 1995) When the brain has enough ability to function and give self-consciousness of the embryo. (Savulescu 1999) I agree with the later one that it is morally a human when it has self-conscious. If the embryo has not yet grown brain cells nor has any self-conscious function then it will not morally be considered as a human,; they are merely cells. I do not think that using cells in research is considered to be anything unethical. As Francoise(2001) stated: “... the view that the embryo is a mere cluster of cells that has no more moral status than any other collection of human cells. From this perspective, one might conclude that there are few, if any, ethical limitations on the research uses of embryos.”

We should also consider how we can keep developing this technique but not violate the ethical boundary. One of the solutions is to focus on preimplantation embryos (up to fourteen days) research and how it can help people who need transplantation of organs or tissues. Some may refer to these preimplantation embryos as unimplanted embryos. They are not going to be implanted into uterus therefore the word preimplantation may not be the most accurate word for these embryos. (Pence 1998b)

The second point is the great demand of organs. Many people who are suffering from fatal condition need to have organs transplanted. As Dorling et al. (1997) wrote: “A study from Seattle, USA, in 1992 identified and annual maximum of only 7000 brain-dead donors in the USA. Assuming 100% consent and suitability, these 14000 potential kidney grafts would still not match the numbers of new patients commencing dialysis each year. The clear implication is that an alternative source of organs is needed.”

The demand for organs is so big that we cannot manage it only by means of donations. Therapeutic cloning can be a solution of this problem.

Furthermore, there is emphasis on the matching of organs with recipients. Not all the transplantation works perfectly with the patients due to rejection reactions towards the newly transplanted organs. The technique of therapeutic cloning can cease this problem. The organs formed from the cloned embryo of the patients will be fully compatible to their bodies. (Revel 2005)

The final point, also the most important point, is that saving lives is morally right and should be done. Therapeutic cloning is an area of new technology which can benefit the mankind directly by providing suitable organs for those who are in need. As Camporesi & Bortolotti (2008) stated:
“Research on therapeutic cloning should be prioritised with respect to research on reproductive cloning, as it is an obvious means to both saving lives and ameliorating the quality of life of many individuals affected by serious and disabling conditions, and this objective has an uncontroversial moral value.”

It is obvious that the development of this technique should be encouraged in order to benefit society as a whole.

Why it may be ethically wrong?

Beside the above points of supporting how ethical therapeutic cloning is, there are still areas where it is debateable and it may be considered unethical to carry on in this aspect of science.

There are four main ideas which are against the use of this technique. Firstly, if an embryo is artificially created in the purpose of destroying it for another life then it is morally unacceptable. Secondly, the development of therapeutic cloning may create a demand of human eggs. Women may in this regard trade their eggs for money. Thirdly, who are the parents of the created embryo? Should the scientists get consent from the parents before destroying the cloned embryo? The final discussion is that allowing therapeutic cloning may be a sign to allow reproductive cloning in the future.

An Embryo is something with great value and we should treasure it. Under this concept, is it right to create an embryo for the purpose of destroying them? In this case, embryos are created for the purpose of producing the necessary tissues or organs for transplant, then they are terminated. This concept is different from abortion because in abortion, the embryo is not created with the intention of killing it but an unfavourable pregnancy condition. (Savulescu 1999) Many think abortion itself is wrong and should not be encouraged. If this is true, the deliberately created, it is surely unethical to create cloned embryos which will be killed after providing tissues or organs.

The low efficiency of the derivation of stem cells has posed as obstacles to practise therapeutic cloning, hence, the supply of human eggs has become a vital factor in therapeutic cloning. To carry on developing this technology, it is very certain that there will be a demand on human eggs. (Camporesi & Bortolotti 2008) It is unpreventable that human eggs will then be labelled as something valuable. Women may sell their eggs in order to gain money. This brings up another ethical issue; whether selling body parts is ethical. Further, egg donation is an invasive and demanding process; it may have harmful effects on the donors. As Kastenberg & Odorico (2008) stated: “Many consider the process of collecting a large number of oocytes simultaneously from multiple normal female volunteers, which involves non-beneficial, painful, and potentially risky surgical and hormonal manipulation, ethically unacceptable.”

This is unacceptable if people harm themselves by selling part of their body as a means of trading for money. (Camporesi & Bortolotti 2008) Some may argue that if this can save other people lives, it is moral to do so. However, the selling activity on its own still remains unethical.

The cloned embryo has no parents, or is the person who provides the genetic material the parent of the cloned embryo? If yes, should scientists obtain the consent of the parent before destroying the embryo? In terms of genetics, the original DNA donor is no doubt the parent of the cloned embryo. In the case of In Vitro fertilisation, before killing the embryo, scientists should consult the genetic parents. Therefore, to make it fair, the DNA donor of the cloned embryo should also be informed when the embryo is being destroyed. However, does a parent have the right to control the death of their offspring? It is unethical to say the parents have this right. Therapeutic cloning also brings in this complication of parenthood and the known moral meaning of ‘parents’. (Sparrow 2009).

The last and the most debated area is, would allowing therapeutic cloning encourage reproductive cloning in the future? Therapeutic cloning creates embryos which will not be implanted into uterus. But if one day, implantation is allowed, reproductive cloning will become possible and this will bring up even more ethical issues about cloning. As Gregory (1998) stated: “I have serious reservations about creating human embryos for the sole purpose of experimentation. There is something deeply repugnant and fundamentally transgressive about such a utilitarian treatment of prospective human life. This total, shameless exploitation is worse, in my opinion, than the “mere” destruction of nascent life.”

Some may think that therapeutic cloning is unnecessary and its low success rate also places concern on whether it will create another reason for carrying out reproductive cloning. (Corrigan et al., 2006) I think it is quite clear that reproductive cloning is against moral boundaries but does the development of therapeutic cloning give a way to push this boundary further? Are we building up support for reproductive cloning in the future?

Conclusion

Therapeutic cloning surely raised a lot of ethical concerns and discussions. I believe that it is ethical to carry on developing this technique for medical use. Human lives are very valuable and should be saved by all means. I understand there are issues about how unethical killing an embryo is. However, if weighing the importance of letting a suffering human being die or an unconsciousness embryo die, I think it is moral to say that the suffering human being should be saved. Further, the research on this area may also help understand more about other diseases. This may, in a long term, help even more people who are suffering. I think ethics can be constructive and permissive. The use of therapeutic cloning should be seen as ethical in terms of helping people who have no chance of survival under the current medical technology.

Reference

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