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Human Cloning Raises Too Many Questions

Human Cloning Raises Too Many Questions

I am writing in response to some remarks made by A. Arif Husain '97 in his column "Critics of Cloning Can't Accept Change" [March 21].

I'm pretty sure that Husain was being facetious when he spoke of "teenage cloning," "statutory cloning," "cloning of a minor," and a "parade of Newt Gingriches popping out by the dozen." These may make good jokes, but in an issue as complicated as cloning, the humor is misplaced. Why not go one step further? For example, why not suggest the use of clones as "personalized organ donors"? Suddenly, the issue isn't funny anymore, because this is a real (though admittedly distant) moral dilemma.

In defense of cloning, Husain said, "Cloning may allow us to weed out genetic disease, enhance desirable traits, and deliver made-to-order progeny." This is "good" science; our new technology could answer many prayers. But is it moral science? Abused, the power to manipulate life can have devastating consequences. I'm reminded of a certain German leader who believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race.

Husain's main argument seems to be that modern DNA techniques have been used elsewhere without uproar for a long time. "In modern times," he said, "everything from long-stem roses to dairy cattle benefit from this knowledge." This is fine. But I'm sure Husain did not mean to suggest that humans are no different from plants, vegetables, and livestock. At the human level, most things are different. President Clinton has recognized this, and has called for a moratorium on human cloning so that we may proceed slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully with the manipulation of life.

I rarely agree with President Clinton. However, I can hardly classify his action as "mental inertia," as Husain would say. I prefer to see it as a protective measure on human individuality. For as long as I can remember, I have been taught that I am special. No one else in the world has exactly the same hair, the same eyes, the same voice, the same DNA sequences. This fact has often made it a little easier for me to get out of bed on mornings when I've been feeling particularly un-extraordinary, particularly here at MIT, where there are so many brilliant students.

I also see the president's call for a moratorium as a cautionary measure; after all, we are venturing into largely unexplored territory. Husain himself says that "the prospect of focally and specifically manipulating the forces of life is profound if not breathtaking. We, as the self-proclaimed molders and shapers of this planet, now face the opportunity to apply these skills at our own discretion" This is precisely why we must be cautious. We are the molders and shapers of the planet, but we also have discretion, and we should not rush ahead with cloning just because we can. We should not try to overcome "mental inertia" without first giving the issue a great deal of thought.

Christine C. Chen '98