Dr. Arthur Caplan: Ethics of human cloning
Dr. Arthur Caplan has been the director of the Center for Bioethics and Trustee Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania since 1994. He is currently chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration on Blood Safety and Availability. He joined the CNN.com chat room from Philadelphia, PA.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Caplan, and welcome.
DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN: Glad to be here.
CNN: What are the ethical pros and cons of cloning?
CAPLAN: The pros are that you might be able to help infertile individuals and couples have children, and by making cloned cells, you might find a way to make tissues and even organs to treat diseases. That's called therapeutic cloning. The cons are that human cloning is not safe. Animal cloning has produced many dead, deformed and diseased animals. However, I do favor making cloned cells for research.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do they mean by "cloning human beings"? Just parts, or whole people?
CAPLAN: What they're talking about in Washington, D.C. today is cloning people. That's what is of interest to this group that says they're going to set up in the Mediterranean and make babies. The debate about stem cells that's been going on for many weeks is about making parts for people.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why are we even considering human cloning when animal cloning is as yet unperfected?
CAPLAN: Good question. I don't think we should be. But, unfortunately, some scientists out on the fringe are threatening to ignore the miserable track record with animals, and start cloning people now. I don't think they can do it. But, that's why we're talking about it.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: In retrospect, wouldn't it have been better to approve cloning research with oversight and regulations instead of having to deal with "rogue" groups who have no oversight?
CAPLAN: I agree again. It's still not too late to do that. The House of Representatives here in the United States has banned all cloning. That's too strong in my view. I think we should allow some research with cloned cells, see if that works, keep it under government oversight, and that will be the best protection we can have against kooks and cults.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Airplanes weren't perfected when we attempted to launch humans in space. Can't the same be said here?
CAPLAN: No. Think about in vitro fertilization. That was started after ten years of work with animals. We knew it would work, or at least had a lot of reason to think it would be safe and work in people. Babies aren't astronauts. They can't consent. So, you really have to be sure from your animal work that it's safe before you try cloning in people.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What happens to messed up human clones? How do we deal with them?
CAPLAN: That's a question that the people who say they want to clone keep ignoring. But it is unethical to ignore that question. The people who say they're going to clone now know that if they were to make one sick, dying or defective baby, the world would completely reject cloning. So, they don't talk about that prospect.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Which country is currently leading the way in clone research?
CAPLAN: Undoubtedly, it would be the United Kingdom. Britain has passed a law allowing government money for cell cloning. Also, the country of Singapore has said that it will permit cloning research. Thirty countries, including England, have banned cloning for human reproduction.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are you worried that human cloning will create a commercial market for human fetuses?
CAPLAN: Not really. I think that if you make cells from adult DNA, as Dolly was made, then you don't really have a market in embryos. If you want to make a human clone baby, however, you'll need a lot of money, since it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to try that.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is there much resistance to organ-cloning?
CAPLAN: Not really. As long as you're not making people, if you're really just making cells, or even skin or liver in a dish - while that seems odd - there really isn't any serious objection to that kind of work.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think the ironically-timed release of the title for Star Wars, Episode 2, "Attack of the Clones", is a political jab by George Lucas?
CAPLAN: Yes. Hollywood loves cloning. There's a show coming on this fall called "After Amy," about the first attempt to make a human clone. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to play to this recent interest in cloning with his movie, and all the Jurassic Park movies are premised on cloning. It's something we love to get afraid of.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will cloning maintain the dynamics of genetics?
CAPLAN: Sometimes people worry that if you clone, you'll weaken the genetic makeup of our species. But that isn't really a big danger, since when you really understand that cloning is just copying DNA, and you can't bring back the dead, or live forever by cloning, very few people will want to do it.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: In a world that is over-populated anyway, why would we consider producing possibly thousands of babies and clones?
CAPLAN: I don't think we're going to have thousands of clones. We may get some, but not enough to tip the world's population balance. Even though there are too many people in some parts of the world, by some calculations, the drive to have one's own biological children is very strong, and that is something that medicine and science respond to.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of the idea of creating a perfect type of human (blue eyes, blonde hair etc..) and cloning him repeatedly?
CAPLAN: Well, the real future battle will not be about cloning, it will be about designing better babies. That's genetic engineering, not cloning. I think parents will want to make better and improved children. The key ethical question will be whether society will allow that, or whether it will be seen as too dangerous in terms of equity and fairness to create people who are simply too perfect, relative to others. But that is the debate down the road that will keep bioethicists busy for a long time.
CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
CAPLAN: I would not worry that we'll see a human clone any time soon. The science with animals shows that it's very hard to do. On the other hand, I think it would be a bad idea to panic and ban all research with cloning. We should prohibit cloning worldwide for making babies. I think we should keep the door open a little bit for basic research with cloning cells.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today
CAPLAN: Visit our web site at www.bioethics.net. Thank you!
Dr. Arthur Caplan joined the CNN.com chat room by telephone and CNN provided a typist. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Tuesday, August 7, 2001.
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