Cloning's Embryonic Ethics

From Dolly the sheep in 1996 to the creation this year of six human cells (unnamed) in a Massachusetts lab, the science of cloning is moving faster than the debate over how to govern it - or whether it should be done at all.

Nowhere is that debate more rigorous than among cloning scientists in private firms. They justify their "therapeutic cloning" in the name of medical progress aimed at reducing human suffering, even as they warn against "reproductive cloning," or the making of cloned babies.

Most of them do set limits on how far they will go, either out of conscience or out of concern for what shareholders or Congress might do. But a fear of the unknown consequences of cloned humans should not drive this debate, either for public policy or personal choice.

Rather, individuals and society at large can use the cloning question to broaden the concept of human life beyond that of a material body. Defining life only in terms of embryos and cells constricts thinking about life in its fullest expression, seen in such exalted qualites of human thought as compassion and wisdom. A wider view of life could take this debate into clearer channels.

In fact, Advanced Cell Technology, the lab that created the world's first cloned human embryos, keeps an advisory board of outside ethical experts to guide its work. While that may be a self-justifying defensive move, no doubt many researchers also want to find a higher authority that can pass judgment on such medical advances. That authority lies in trying to raise thinking to its highest level.

Framing the debate in the broadest ways can provide answers for dealing with this life-altering technology.

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