From Thinking Outside The Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: For many years humans have been fascinated with the idea of creating new life. In fact Frankenstein (introduced by Mary Shelley in the eponymously titled book) was first published in 1818. This demonstrates just how old this fascination is. “Dolly” the sheep was the first mammal cloned from a single cell. She was cloned by Scottish scientists and lived from 1996 – 2003.
Her relatively early death created a lot of controversy and has contributed to doubts about how healthy clones would be. Since Dolly a number of other animals have been cloned. These include cattle, cats, dogs, rabbits, and a rhesus monkey. Putting aside the ethical concerns around the cloning of humans (a large debate in itself) we can then ask if cloning humans is a feasible idea, and if so, could it be justified? We will examine one such scenario in the following paragraph.
A recent report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Four Corners program revealed the high incidence of wealthy westerners traveling to poorer South East Asian or European countries in order to find willing organ donors. With a lack of suitable organs available in western countries, those wealthy and willing enough are traveling overseas to countries where legislation and oversight is far less strict. With the average Vietnamese wage at around $150/month (a level comparable to money other nations in the region) there is no lack of willing donors. A Guardian article written in May 2012 stated that 10,000 black market operations involving human organs now take place annually. The article also said that patients pay up to $200,000 for a kidney, with the organ donor being paid $5000. An example was also provided of a Chinese organ broker who advertized his services by saying “Donate a kidney, buy the new ipad!”. The major reason for the increase in this trade, as mentioned, is the lack of willing and available donors living in western countries.
It would be fair to suggest that the idea of individuals buying or selling organs is abhorrent to most people. It is surprising then to read an article in Britain’s Independent where leading British surgeons suggested there should be a serious debate on the issue. The article notes strong opposition to the proposal, and public comments on the article echoed that opinion. The article highlights as very interesting point by reporting a quote from Professor Sir Peter Bell who states, “If someone wants to alleviate a financial problem (by selling an organ) why shouldn’t he do that? It’s his choice”. The fact is this black market, like other medical interventions (such as medications and immunization), is a method to prolong life. If legal organ donation rates remain low then we have to either accept that the black market trade will continue or we will have to look at other ways of getting the organs patients need. The following paragraphs will argue that human cloning is an option we should strongly consider.
Clearly the moral and ethical arguments that opponents of the organ donation black market advance would be removed if people could harvest organs from their own clones. However, this does of course raise a whole new set of moral and ethical arguments, and an even stronger sense of outrage. But if someone is wealthy enough to have him/herself cloned for the purpose of organ donation surely this is preferable to the harm done to another person who is illegally donating an organ they would otherwise use. And given that the operation would be performed in the person’s home country it is much less likely that the operation would be botched.
As we have seen, cloning in order to get viable organs is a way of extending our lives. There are many ways in which medicine and science already help us achieve that aim. An article from Britain’s Daily Mail in 2011 discussed the claim of one scientist that the first person to live to 150 is already alive and that the first person to live to 1000 will be born in the next two decades. The former suggestion is very believable based on the fact that the record for the longest living person is 120. The second suggestion would seem a little less believable to most people. To return to cloning, it is worth mentioning the 2005 movie The Island where a community lives in a compound on an island. They all believe the rest of the world is contaminated. However, they are in fact clones, used for the purposes of human organ harvesting. As a movie it is obvious that the film makers would want to exploit the drama by evoking a sense of how terrible it is that there is a community of clones being kept for the sole purpose of organ harvesting. It is unlikely that that this scenario would seem as horrifying if there were far fewer clones (in reality few people could afford to be cloned), and if these clones were not completely isolated from society.
A number of examples since 2004 show how scientists around the world have attempted to clone humans. Although some have claimed to succeed no one has been able to prove it. One current problem with cloning which has been highlighted in other species is that often clones are not very healthy. Dolly the sheep was the only clone born alive out of a total of 277 embryos. There would be little point in humans being cloned for organs if there was no guarantee that the organs would be healthy.
Cloning humans for the purpose of harvesting organs is an idea fraught with ethical and moral questions. But the growing black market in organ donation is a problem that needs to be solved. Human cloning, if it were possible, would provide a viable solution. However, it is very important to address as many moral and ethical concerns as possible. The movie The Island, provides an example of what not to do. It would be very important for a proper discussion of the issue to take place so that moral and ethical concerns could be minimized. There certainly must be ways in which clones could exist that ensured they were not simply supplying organs to the wealthy. Human cloning has many vocal critics but will a time come when we can no longer afford to hold to such high moral standards?