Human cloning and Immanuel Kant

Essay by fireboyUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2002

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Ruben Guizar


Over the last decade, the advent of cloning and

advancements in human genetic research have presented

society with a complicated moral quandary. Debate rages as

to what constitutes legitimate paths of inquiry and where

to draw the line as to research that strikes many people as

morally wrong. The basic question is: "how does society

determine what's right?" While, of course, questions

regarding human genetic research are new, this basic

question is as hold as civilization and has been addressed

over and over again by history's great philosophers. One of

the most notable philosophers of the modern era is Immanuel

Kant, who was born in Prussia in 1724. Kant paid a great

deal of attention to formulating a complex system of

morality. The following examines Kantian morals and

how they might be applied to questions of human genetic


Kant's moral theory is predicated on the idea of the

"categorical imperative," which Kant described in the

following manner, "Act only on that maxim which you can at

the same time will to be a universal law"(Honderich, 1995,

p. 436). By the term "maxim," Kant meant general rules or

principles upon which rational individuals act, and that

these principles reflect the end that an individual has in

mind in choosing actions of a certain type in given

circumstances (Honderich, 1995). Therefore, maxims are

principles in the following form: "When in an S-type

situation, act in an A-type manner in order to attain end-

E" (Honderich, 1995, p. 436). For example, a person might

resolve to pay a bill as soon as it is received in order to

not incur any debt. Kant tested a maxim by performing a

thought experiment in which the individual asks oneself

whether or not one would will a certain maxim to become

universal law. As this suggests, moral law, in the

philosophy of Kant, is inherent in reason itself. It is a

priori, before experience (Frost, 1962). In every

circumstance, Kant believed that "categorical imperative"

provides a sure criterion for how to evaluate right and

wrong (Frost, 1962). Kant maintained that an action that

the individual can easily will that everyone should follow

and perform would necessarily have to be a good act

(Frost, 1962).

Morality for Kant not only involved law (categorical

imperative) but also the ultimate end to which action is

directed. As the formulation of the concept of categorical

imperative suggests, the basic problem for Kant was to

discern the meaning of "right and wrong, good and bad"

(Frost, 1962, p. 94). Fundamental to Kant's thinking was

the principle formulated by Rousseau that the only

fundamentally good thing in the universe is the "human will

governed by respect for the moral law or the

consciousness of duty" (Frost, 1962, p. 94). He considered

a moral act to be one that is performed out of respect for

moral law, rather than for selfish gain or sympathy for

others (Frost, 1962).

Therefore, unlike other moral systems, Kant did not

see consequences as the criteria for determining the moral

value of a specific action. Rather, Kant looked toward the

intentions of the individual. If an individual acts from

good intentions, out of respect for moral law, his

actions, are by definition, "good." Kant argued that

individuals instinctively avoid behavior, which, if

performed by everyone, would create anarchy. "We know, not

by reasoning, but by vivid and immediate feelings, that

we must avoid behavior which, if adopted by all men, would

render social life impossible" (Durant, 1961, p. 209).

As this brief summary of Kantian ethics suggests, if

Kant were presented with the problem of the morality of

genetic research, he would, first of all, be concerned

about the motivations of the researchers, their intentions

in conducting such research (Frost, 1962).

In the furor that was quickly generated over the

successfully cloning of a sheep, "Dolly," the usefulness of

cloning technology to current medical practice was pushed

aside. Nevertheless, the applications are considerable. A

great deal of technical information has been left out in

the sensationalism that abounded in the media. For one

thing, the media did not make it clear that "Dolly" was not

an identical clone (Wilson,1997). Part of everyone's

genetic material comes from the mitochondria in the

cytoplasm of the egg. In the case of Dolly, only the

nuclear DNA was transferred (Wilson, 1997). This may have

significant information to import to scientists concerning

the aging process since aging is related to acquired

mutations in mitochondrial DNA (Wilson, 1997, p. 913).

Furthermore, as Dolly ages, it has been noted that she is

aging prematurely, which provides another source of

information for scientists, but also signals that this

technology is far from perfected.

Research conducted on nuclear transfer into human

eggs has the possibility of providing an immense amount of

information that may have clinical value, by providing a

model for learning more about somatic cell differentiation

(Wilson, 1997, p. 913). Eventually, in due course,

scientists may learn how to influence cell differentiation

and this could give rise to targeted cell types (Wilson,

1997). The ability to generate tissues from different cell

types could have enormous implications for transplantation.

Wilson (1997) anticipates this technology utilizing skin

and blood cells, and possibly even neuronal tissue that

could then be used in the treatment of "injury, transplants

for leukemia, and for degenerative disease such as

Parkinson's disease" (p. 913).

In another area of research, the successful cloning

of human growth hormone (HGH) is important for several

reasons. First of all, a child that has pituitary dwarfism

requires twice-weekly injections until reaching age of 20.

In the past, HGH was could only be obtained by removal of

human pituitary tissue at autopsy. To treat one child with

pituitary dwarfism using previous methods required

obtaining over a thousand pituitaries (Emery and Malcolm,

1995, p. 165). Not only has it been difficult

in the past to produce enough HGH to successfully provide

treatment to all the children who needed it, but small

amounts of contaminating virus caused some of the children

treated to develop Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (Emery and

Malcolm, 1995, p. 165). Cloning technology, which permits

HGH to be produced artificially, has provided a readily

available supply of HGH, which-in turn-has

allowed the application of HGH in other treatments. For

example, it has been discovered that HGH can be used to

speed up the healing process for bone fractures (Emery

and Malcolm, 1995). This is been particularly beneficial in

treating the elderly (Emery and Malcolm, 1995).

As this brief summary of scientific research being

conducted into cloning and genetic research indicates,

there are enormous benefits to be reaped from this new and

controversial technology. Kant would undoubtedly

approve of research that so obvious benefits humanity and

society. What people seem to fear, and what would

undoubtedly be wrong by any moral system, are nightmare

scenarios propagated by the media and Hollywood.

Images of clones being used simply as "spare parts" to

extend the life of the rich, for example, has been

dramatized in film. This sort of misuse of technology would

constitute a threat to the social system and, therefore,

would not pass Kant's categorical imperative test. In other

words, if everyone were cloned, it would significantly

lower the way that human life is valued in our society.

Also, the idea of human embryos being created and destroyed

simply to further genetic research objectives is simply

abhorrent on an instinctive level. Therefore, while it!

can be seen that this technology needs to be carefully

controlled and supervised in regards to moral issues, it

should not be totally banned either, as it also has the

power to benefit society to a great degree.