Commentary on Morioka

- Dr Munawar A. Anees
Editor-in Chief, Periodica Islamica
31 Jalan Riong, Kuala Lumpur-59100, MALAYSIA
(Email: dranees@aol.com)

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 68.


In the first paragraph of Morioka's paperwe see the most common misconception about cloning. The media hype accentuates it more so. It remains to be seen what would be the effect of environmental variables on the growing clone. This brings into focus the age-old question of nature vs. nurture and gives it a new twist. People begin to think that the clone would be an exact replica, not taking note of how the developmental phase of the organism shapes the biological constitution. This myth of "we-are-what-our-genes-are" should be demolished and we should talk more of environmental influences on genetics.

I disagree that human cloning is not on the scientific agenda. I think given the technical feasibility, it would be attempted by someone in some lab. To say that scientists are so morally and ethically conscious is to understate the sociological crisis created by a conglomerate of science and industry each with its own political agenda. People are worried because they do not know the facts. Much of their information comes from the hyped media that plays on sensation. And don't forget there is somehow or the other the heroic image of science that pervades the common mind. So blame it partly on the fear syndrome of science and partly on the ignorance about the true dynamics of scientific activity.

I agree that Dr Nakamura is trying to portray a sacrosanct image of scientists that, in my view, was abandoned long time ago, even within the scientific establishment. At the same time, I do not believe that human cloning research has been shelved and no one will ever attempt anything like that. On the contrary, it is highly probable that someone is being funded exactly for the purpose; perhaps not for an exact replica but to try and understand what it takes to make one. Science is a quest; a drive. It is the engine that keeps knowledge running. I do not question the inherent attribute of knowledge. But after all it is all subject to human conditioning, and reasoning.

Some of the normal scientists, are now starting to consider what is really happening in human cells, although under a benign cover. This kind of empowering research has a scientific and, should I say, strategic, priority. Remember the same 'innocent' experiments that delivered the first test tube baby. Wasn't that a step towards combating infertility? Wasn't the same experiment a precursor to surrogacy? I would, therefore, not take the scientific agenda at its face value. I'd look for its social as well as futuristic implications.

Like surrogacy, that has turned out to be the privilege for the few, replacement of dead children by cloned ones too is a factor of power and money. Moreover, it stands to redefine the reproductive process and consequently the parental bond that grows out of natural process. In a manner we have to live with biological and social motherhood, sterility-focused cloning gives a new meaning to fertility regulation! Those of us averse to marriage and normal reproductive processes may seek a shortcut to their own replication. This may have some serious implications for the family as we have known it through the centuries.

In conclusion however, I am not for banning cloning. Let the technique be perfected. Let us gain a deeper knowledge of the process of human reproduction. To me it is a question of moral and ethical decision making. I think there exists a very huge gulf between what we have discovered and what our tradition and culture has brought upon us. Any new discovery, any innovation, directly impinges upon that historically shaped construct of our tradition and culture. I have also seen that time plays in favor of the technique, because of its empowering nature. This ultimately, in a time framework, becomes an interplay of faith. That is an adaptation to the technique ultimately re-demarcates the moral and the ethical boundaries. In other words, the march of technology is such that it creates new ethico-moral lacunae and then forces us to fill them up. With that I don't think banning technological evolution is the right approach.

In the final paragraph there is a reference to Christian ethics. However, I tend to believe that it is normally identified with the Western culture and the writer is, perhaps, trying to express the idea that in the absence of such an ethics they have no way of moral guidance. I would add that it is the same ethics that is under extreme pressure from these technological breakthroughs. Remember the recent Papal missive on the theory of Darwinian evolution? At last!


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