Originally published on the Odyssey Online June 28th, 2016

Many people believe that cloning is a recent problem, but they are wrong. The ethical and moral questions of cloning people had not changed since the Renaissance when many scholars studied alchemy and tried to create the homunculus. Mary Shelley’s book about the driven psychopath Dr. Frankenstein explored the topic of creating life and the ramifications of playing “God”. This question inevitably arises with each significant life-saving advance in technology. As men and medical science continue to advance, this clichéd question will continue to arise, and force society to examine whether its science has crossed a line that will unleash a horde of horrors. If medical science is to continue to advance, then the question should be an unequivocal no.

Technological advances cannot just be summed up as a “man playing God.” Each innovation from antibiotics, organ transplants, and cloning should no more be considered playing God, than setting a broken leg. In order for a man to play God, something else must occur, which involves taking upon oneself the right to decide what is moral and what is not. As human beings, we do this every day, so with thorough and careful consideration, cloning can be done without crossing certain lines. Therefore, just cloning in and of itself does not require a man to play God any more than surgery will.

The first issue is the idea of creating a life where none existed before. While most would agree, cloning an individual would not be natural, and given certain circumstances it probably is not acceptable to the vast majority of humans. The question is what will be the result of the cloning process? Will the end product be a whole living creature or just an organ? All of these considerations should be taken into account to decide the morality of the issue. Most people would agree that cloning plants for the purpose of research would be acceptable, but many would shun cloned vegetables as a food source.

According to a Kansas State study conducted by Professor Sean Fox, an agricultural research indicates that a significant percentage of people have a problem with the consumption of cloned food products, including meat and milk from cloned livestock. According to Professor Fox, “That will be very relevant if these products come to market and are labeled as such because we would expect to see a significant number of people avoiding them” (KSU, par. 14). Also according to Fox, opposition to cloning on moral grounds seemed to coincide effectively with opposition to consumption of it as food. It would appear that in this regard, many people would view cloning animals for food as playing God.

Human cloning for reproduction also raises some interesting questions, such as, what kind of rights should a clone have? Should a couple be allowed to clone a dead child? Should a person be allowed to clone themselves, and if so would this constitute creating a sibling and essentially forcing one’s parents to have another child without their permission? According to debate.org, 53 percent of those questioned felt that reproductive cloning should be banned and criminalized (Debate.org). There is a strong indication that a majority of the people believe that reproductive cloning is playing God.

There are just too many questions surrounding the idea of reproductive cloning, and who should be allowed to do it. It is very likely that this type of cloning will always be considered taboo. It is entirely possible that one form of reproductive cloning that would be acceptable would involve cloning a recently extinct animal species. While this type of activity would not use creatures long extinct like in “Jurassic Park” the movie, certain species that have been extinct for a relatively short time frame…. Say 100 years or fewer may be good candidates. This topic is wide open for a deeper exploration.

The cloning debate frequently centers around medical uses, and while the potential that therapeutic cloning may provide is unsurpassed, this type also raises the most objections. To many the idea of cloning a single organ or body part does not seem to be morally repugnant. Most people all over the world have long accepted organ transplants as an entirely proper medical procedure.

The single biggest problem for those receiving these transplants is the body’s immune system rejecting foreign organs. With massive doses of medicine, the individual organ may often overcome the body’s immune system and live for many years. To accomplish this powerful immune suppression drugs are required to overcome the bodies’ rejection. Ironically, these same drugs often bring about the death of the patient in just a few years.

Cloning could provide a person who desperately requires a transplant, an organ that would be accepted as readily as the original because it would for all intents be the original; essentially the immune system would not be able to tell the difference between the two. The moral quandary for many people starts when the idea of cloning individuals to create a fully-formed human copy to extract organs or other tissues for treatments is considered (Think Quest). We begin to ask questions about human rights, life, death, cruelty, and self-determination. Questions very similar to those asked about slavery come to mind. It is here “playing God” starts to become an issue, and Kant’s ethical rule known as the Categorical Imperative puts forward that a human being must always be an end to itself, and never a means to another’s end should be a solid starting point. It is on this subject that one can find the primary consideration and the ethical line for most people (Scruton). If cloning creates a situation where a human being becomes a means to another’s end, then that act of cloning, in particular, is immoral.

There are many considerations when deciding if cloning is “playing God” or not. You must examine each incidence of cloning to determine its morality. Simply put, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, is a solid ethical rule and is very likely the perfect moral litmus test (Scruton). When this litmus test is applied, we find that just cloning animals or plants for food should not be considered immoral, and really, neither should the cloning of an individual organ from one’s stem cells.

However, cloning for reproductive purposes, or cloning to create a harvestable human for a readily available transplant is easily immoral. The question is, however, is cloning playing God? The answer in most cases must be no. This question is another way of asking if cloning is moral? Cloning as a whole is no more immoral than a heart transplant or resuscitating a patient whose heart has stopped. In the end, it is how cloning is used that determines its morality. Kant’s Categorical Imperative should be the litmus test for that determination.