Aether Song

Our time is not in the grey falling rain nor in the boundless blue-green sea. Our time is in the river that lies between them, flowing smooth and quiet over the sand or angry and roiling over the unyielding stones. Joining and dividing. Choosing our own way for good or ill.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Mother’s Choice, Part I

On the two hour ride from the airport to home after our across-the-pond vacation we had a long and heated discussion on, of all things, cloning and genetic engineering (due no doubt to the fact that we are poor sports fans and I can’t discuss music in any depth since the musicians in the family have failed repeatedly to successfully explain the concept of a musical key to me).

For the last two million years or so the pressures of survival and evolution have been dictating the genetic make-up of our species. Those best adapted to pass on their genes did so and those least adapted did much less so. That was then, and this is now. Those primitive people’s had no idea why they looked the way that they did. Likely they thought it was just the way things were, but now we know. I am not saying that we now know all there is to know about the subject, but we do know enough to be dangerous and we become more dangerous by the day in this regard. Now we know about, DNA, about genes, about testing for genetic abnormalities, diseases and gender. Very soon I think we will know about human cloning and perhaps a little while after that about genetic engineering, not of crops and domestic animals mind you, but genetically engineering of people.

The first question off the block is what is wrong with human cloning and what uses might it be put to and are these bad? I have always thought that the major attraction of cloning would be the ability to have exactly what you wanted in a child. You see someone you like or go to the handy neighborhood Genebank and look through the catalog and pick out the set of features that you are looking for, get the DNA and presto (well nine months later presto), but there are other possibilities as well. Possibilities like banking the DNA of your children ‘just in case’. If there is an accident then you get a ‘do-over’. This becomes more problematic as the children age obviously. There are also those people who are egotistical enough to clone themselves and raise themselves as children (alternatively they could have others raise them as children). I came down on the side of choice personally. Although I am not a parent I find the idea of getting pretty much the child you want and eliminating chance appealing. The problem though is that unless you are cloning yourself you are not passing on your genes so it works poorly as a genetic survival scheme.

Songbird was against human cloning (with one unusual exception), the Princess was aghast at the thought of having herself as a child because it was so ‘unnatural’. Snowman kept bringing up cloning our dogs (very poor cloning candidates) and I am not sure where he stood on the whole human cloning question. I am pretty sure he wasn’t enthused by getting one of himself. So how about you?

14 Comments:

Blogger Kate said...

I am so uninterested in having a clone of myself. The idea of handpicking my child's features also makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Eliminating the element of surprise doesn't seem like a very fun/interesting way to go through life. So, here's my well-researched (;), succinctly-stated argument: Human cloning just seems like a bad idea.

12:38 PM  
Blogger will smama said...

10 minutes of a VERY bad Michael Keaton movie had me against cloning from the start. Not necessarily for ethical reasons - the script was just awful!

1:54 PM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

But the question then becomes - is your discomfort with cloning so strong that you would deny that choice to others (by making it illegal) who do not share your opinion? Can you say to them : "Even though this does not harm me, because it makes me uncomfortable you should not be able to do it"? This was (from my point of view) the essence of Songbird's position with which I disagree.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

well WS, being against bad movies is perfectly normal. Just a word to the wise, avoid Battlefield Earth.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I think it would be unconscionable for people to genetically alter their offspring for aesthetic reasons, but I think it's difficult (even foolhardy) to attempt to legislate matters of conscience.

As far as someone cloning him or herself so as to have a mini-me, could anything be more egotistical? How could a person appropriately raise him or herself? Would it be an attempt to correct mistakes parents made? What would be the reason, other than amusement, for cloning oneself?

2:19 PM  
Blogger Yankee, Transferred said...

Human cloning is just one avenue for creating "designer babies", and I object to it on a personal level. But legislation over anybody's womb, I have a problem with.

2:56 PM  
Blogger NotShyChiRev said...

From what I've read, the problem they have discovered with cloning animals is that the cloned animal's DNA doesn't act like baby goat DNA, for example, it acts like old goat DNA, just in a young goat...thus exposing young goat to the unpleasant issues associated with aged and far too frequently unruly DNA...Bring that problem into the human sphere and who knows what terrors we are unleashing on the poor cloned children. I say no, not on my behalf, but on their's...at least for now.

9:20 PM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

I have heard the same things notshychirev. I agree the technology is not quite ready for prime time, but I will say this about that -

65 years 6 months.

That is the period of time between when the wright brothers took off from kitty hawk and when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Not even an eyeblink in evolutionary time and the pace of advancement is accelerating. I think they will solve the 'old gene' problem if it can indeed be solved, paving the way for human clones. I think that I may even see a human clone born in my lifetime.

4:57 AM  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

Here's the thing: let's say you have a checklist and you can pick your child's features, eye color, intelligence, etc. Great. But there is NO GUARANTEE that the child's behavior and choices will turn out in any way that you expect. So you might end up with a child who looks just like you want, but acts like a hyena. So, what's the point?

So, I think it's a bad and stupid idea. Ethically speaking, as NotShy pointed out, there is way too much we don't know about how it would turn out, what it might mean for the future health of the clone. Smacks of the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study. "Well, let's just try it and see what happens. If they get horribly sick and die because our experiment didn't work out, too bad."

And, um...I don't know you, Pure Luck, but I have been reading about you for a long time ;) and reading YOU for a short time. And I must respectfully disagree: you ARE a parent. Maybe not a biological parent, but you are most certainly parenting. Quite well, from what I hear.

Admittedly, this touched a wee nerve, as I am also step-parent but not a biological parent. Which is more unusual for women. People are always saying to me, "Don't you want to have your OWN children!?" Um, I DO have my OWN child, thanks. I don't need to make another person to feel fulfilled...there are plenty of people in the world as it is.

Sorry for that digression. I don't think we should be able to legislate what people do with their own bodies (per Yankee) but I do think we need to think long and hard about what we might be doing with someone else's body.

5:09 AM  
Blogger jo(e) said...

Bill McKibben's book _Enough_ does a wonderful job discussing some of the big issues with germline genetic engineering.

I think that as a culture we *do* have the responsibility to evaluate new technologies as they get invented and not just embrace every technology that comes along, leaving all choices up to the individual. (So you want to keep a nuclear warhead in your backyard? Go ahead!)

I think germline genetic engineering is a technology we should say no to.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

So you want to keep a nuclear warhead in your backyard? Go ahead!

This is not a fair analogy jo(e). By its very existence a nuclear warhead has the potential to instantly kill millions of people. A clone doesn't. A clone would just be a child who happens to be a genetic duplicate of an already living (or deceased) person.

8:41 AM  
Blogger jo(e) said...

Well, it's hard to discuss such a big issue in such tiny comment boxes. I think there are big implications to germline genetic engineering.

Rich people could pay to choose children who are "smarter" or "taller" or whatever is the current trend. The divide between classes will be even bigger. Families could choose to have a boy instead of a girl, if their values tell them that men are more valuable than women. Some individuals may choose to have children who have traits or genes from other species -- why not have the first flying child?

I could keep a bunch of clones of myself in a prison somewhere, using them when I need to salvage body parts for myself. How nice to have extra kidneys, eyes, etc.

I worry that as our culture we do not stop and think through emerging technologies. I think there are all sorts of consequences we need to look at before even thinking about germline genetic engineering. And yet, we have no real means of evaluating new technologies. If consumers will pay for them, they happen. That can't be the best way of figuring this all out.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

Well jo(e) the disproportionate distribution of our planet's resources is certainly a topic worthy of discussion and I actually favor kind of a luke-warm socialism personally, but I will say this about the rich. They already enjoy the best benefits that medical science can supply. Cloning will not change that basic unfairness of the system. That game is over and the poor lost. Also with any new technology the rich are the first to have it. Crikey there was a time when a PC cost $5000 or more. Who but the rich could afford that? They always get first crack at the emerging technologies. For good or ill that is the way Capitalism works. Sometimes the technologies flow down to the poor like ambrosia from the springs of Mt Olympus and sometimes they don't.
You might not actually need a whole clone in a prison somewhere for possible organ replacement. I remember reading something about them cloning individual organs. Wouldn't that be weird to open your fridge and see a cloned liver in there?
As far as the trend argument goes I don't think that holds up. You can change clothes in a matter of seconds (a bit longer if you are a woman :) ). Children on the other hand are a minimum of an 18 year commitment and you can't suddenly change or return them. Not really good trend fodder IMO.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

Oh and for the record I think being able to fly would be way cool, but that would require a LOT of re-engineering (if it is even physically possible for anything like us to fly). Being able to run like an ostrich (fastest two legged animal), leap like a kangaroo or brachiate like a gibbon could be handy, but it isn't really anything you'd need at an office job. Having a cat's night vision or the glowing eyes of some deep sea fish (whose name I don't remember right now) could also be handy if you are into spelunking or often find yourself in the dark. A long prehensile tail like some new world monkeys have could also be useful, but you'd need special clothes and chairs to accomodate it.

12:50 PM  

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