Philosophy 2800
Week 9

Cloning and Other New Reproductive Technologies

An Extreme Case: "A furious debate about the morality of artificial insemination has erupted over the case of a 62-year-old Frenchwoman, who revealed yesterday her brother was the biological father of her baby." (The National Post, June 21, 2001, A13)

As always, new technologies raise new ethical problems (or new variations on old ones).  Tonight, we're going to consider the moral status of a number of New Reproductive Technologies. We'll focus primarily on cloning and genetic engineering.

A New Legal Framework:  The Assisted Human Reproduction Act

Draft legislation presented to the Standing Committee on Health, May 3, 2001

It prohibits or controls a broad range of forms of assisted reproduction

assisted reproduction procedure = "any controlled activity undertaken for the purpose of facilitating human reproduction"
Basic Prohibitions
"3. (1) No person shall knowingly
(a) create or participate in the creation of a human clone ...
(b) alter the genome of a cell of a human being or in vitro embryo such that the alteration is capable of being transmitted to its descendants;
(c) maintain an embryo outside the body of a woman after the fourteenth day of its development ...
(f) transplant a sperm, ovum, embryo or foetus of an animal into a human being;...
(h) perform any procedure ... for the purpose of ensuring ... that an embryo will be of a particular sex..."
Paid Surrogacy
" 'surrogate mother' means a female person who carries an embryo or foetus derived from the genes of a donor with the intention of surrendering the child at birth to the donor or another person."

"4. (1)  No person shall pay any consideration to a female person to become a surrogate mother..."

Sale of Reproductive Materials
"5. (1) No person shall purchase or offer to purchase sperm or ova from a donor...
(2) No person shall (a) purchase ... or advertise for purchase, an in vitro  embryo or any part of one ..."
In-Vitro Fertilization
- 'in glass' fertilization
- ova and sperm are collected (from the would-be parents or donors) and combined in a laboratory
- if fertilization occurs, the fertilized eggs are allowed to briefly develop and then either implanted in the would-be mother (or a surrogate) or stored for later attempts
Under the AHR Act, IVF would become a controlled activity, i.e., it may only be done if you have a licence

Licences are to be granted by the Minister of Health

"9. (1) No person shall, except under the authority of a licence ... create a chimera for any purpose including research."
chimera = animal/human hybrid embryo or foetus
Remibursement for Expenses
E.g., for sperm donation, surrogate motherhood

Only permissible under a licence

For engaging in a prohibited activity:  fines up to $500,000 and sentences up to 10 years

For improperly engaging in a controlled activity: fines up to $250,000 and sentences up to five years


Why pass all these regulations?

A Practical Reason:  Part of the justification given for this law is the need to protect people's health and safety.  Many of these technologies are still developing and so some techniques are not well tested.  Furthermore, even when these techniques are tried and tested, they are generally only safely applied by someone who has been adequately trained in the use of these techniques.

A Moral Reason:  Many of these technologies are viewed as being immoral on the grounds that they threaten human dignity.

"Every one of the prohibitions we propose, such as human cloning, is on that list of prohibitions because it's inconsistent with human dignity." (Alan Rock, Minister of Health, Comments before the Standing Committee on Health, May 3, 2001)

The intent of the legislation is "to draw a line in the sand with respect to some practices that are simply unacceptable, because they're not consistent with human dignity, such as cloning a person and creating animal-human hybrids, beings that reflect both animal and human elements. Those are unacceptable, because they're just not consistent with human dignity." (Alan Rock, Minister of Health, Comments before the Standing Committee on Health, May 3, 2001)

From the Preamble to the AHR Act:  "Whereas the parliament of Canada ... recognizes the importance or preserving and protecting ... the integrity of the human genome."

From the AHR Act: "16. (1) The Minister may take, or order any person to take, all reasonable measures  that the minister, on reasonable grounds, considers necessary to prevent, reduce or mitigate ... any harm to human dignity..."

What we're going to look at this evening is the moral reason just mentioned.  Some strong claims are made above about what is and isn't consistent with human dignity.  We need to consider whether these claims are correct.

Human Cloning

Human cloning is usually presented as being clearly morally wrong.  But is this so?
Gregory Pence argues it isn't.

Who's right?


Genetic Engineering

Our improved understanding of genetics promises to make 'designer children' possible, either through selective breeding or actual modification of genes.
Pence thinks this is a good idea:  "we are obliged to improve the genetic health of future generations and ... [genetic engineering] is one tool that humanity has to do so." (140)

The AHR Act effectively bans this practice.

Does it do so for a good moral reason?

Two Common Mistakes to Avoid:
1. Thinking of genes as guaranteeing particular traits.
Don't forget the role of environment.
2. Thinking of genes as operating in isolation, e.g., a gene for mathematical ability, a gene for athletic ability and so on.
Genes typically work in combination.
Positiive vs. Negative Genetic Engineering
It may help to differentiate between negative genetic engineering (which involves correcting or avoiding 'defects') and positive genetic engineering (which involves making 'improvements').

'Negative' Genetic Engineering

1. Terminating 'Problem' Fetuses
Problem:  Familiar worries about abortion
2. Avoiding Dangerous Genetic Combinations

3. Correcting Defects

Problem:  (i) Defining Defects - blindness, nearsightedeness, less than 20/20 vision, merely normal

(ii) Predicting far-reaching effects - e.g., some 'defects' confer advantages in certain combinations

E.g., sickle cell anemia is a disease with a genetic cause, but the same 'faulty' gene can also confer a resistance to malaria
'Positive' Genetic Engineering
This is an old idea coupled with a new way of pursuing it
"[I]f we are to keep our flock at the highest pitch of excellence, there should be as many unions of the best of both sexes, and as few of the inferior as possible, and ... only the offspring of the better unions should be kept ..." (from Plato's Republic)
Some Possible Objedtions to PGE
(1) 'it's unnatural'

(2) Who will it be available to?

i.e., will it only be available to the rich?
(3) Will it create hierarchies amongst kinds of people?
e.g., Gattaca
(4) It 'commodifies' people.
i.e., it requires us to think of humans as collections of good or bad properties, not as intrinsically valuable individuals
Are these objections compelling reasons for banning PGE?

How about for banning GE in general?


A Side Issue:  Genetic Information

Another way in which the science of genetics raises ethical issues concerns not genetic engineering, but the use we might make of the information genetics reveals about us. As we acquire better and better knowledge of the significiance of our genetic makeup, it becomes possible to detect predispositions to particular conditions.

Some Issues:

(1) Genetic Privacy - How much do others have a right to know about you?
Does your employer have a right to know if you have a strong tendency to develop some debilitating condition?

What about your health insurance provider?

(2) How much do we want to know about ourselves?
Suppose tests reveal you have a high probability of developing an incurable, fatal disease.  Would you want to know?
(3) Genetic Fatalism -  Even though our genetic makeup often only indicates a tendency to develop certain conditions, is there a danger that the information they reveal will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Consider the search for the so-called 'criminal gene'.  Is there a danger that those who possess the gene will be marginalized and so made more likely to become criminals?

Groupwork Question:  Should human cloning be banned, as the AHR Act suggests?

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