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Week of 26 September 1997

Vol. I, No. 5

Feature Article

Workshop to ask

Will cloned humans be next?

by Jim Graves

While the idea of cloned cells and frogs was more of a curiosity than a concern to most people, the serene face of Dolly the sheep last March was reason for panic. Would cloned people be next?

SPH Prof. Michael Grodin has called these recent breakthroughs "monumental events" -- not just for science, but for society at large.

In response to the overwhelming questions cloning poses, Grodin will moderate a workshop on the Implications of Human Cloning at GSU's conference auditorium on September 29. Under the sponsorship of the Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science, the workshop, which will last from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., will feature panelists from five academic fields.

The panelists' initial comments promise a fascinating and spirited afternoon -- even if nothing can be resolved from their discussion. The main questions raised by developments in cloning mammals are, says Grodin, whether the cloning of mammals should be allowed to continue and whether research into the cloning of humans should be allowed to go forward. But the panelists -- Roger Shattuck, George Annas, David Roochnik, Charles DeLisi, and Allen Speight -- will attack the issues from different angles.

In his cautionary 1996 book Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography, UNI Prof. Emeritus Roger Shattuck reminds us that the theme of creating an artificial human being took a contemporary Promethean twist in Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. The 1818 thriller describes a miscarried project in which a young scientist's effort to produce an artificial man results in an artificial monster.

Shattuck says that he will develop observations made in Forbidden Knowledge where he describes at length, for example, Frankensteinian aspects of recombinant DNA research.

SPH ethicist George Annas says that 90 percent of the public favors banning human cloning, and the Clinton administration is backing a bill that would attempt in part at least to do that. But, he asks, can one legislatively ban a technique? The 10 percent of Americans who favor human cloning, he says, are mostly people who think that it should be permitted to replace a child who dies with a clone of that child, and lesbian couples, one partner of which would donate cells for cloning and the other would gestate a baby grown from them.

CAS Philosophy Prof. David Roochnik says that the idea of cloning a human "raises the question of what it means to be an individual." Would a human clone be human? "I've been asked to respond from the standpoint of Plato and Aristotle," he says. "The ancient view is that the soul, not the body, makes us human. To the ancients, a genetic twin would be a twin in body only. Having no soul, it would not be human."

ENG Dean Charles DeLisi says that the cloning of a sheep in Scotland last March required 277 attempts, and the cloning of a human would require far more knowledge than did Dolly's cloning. "As of now," he says, "the process isn't understood, and to attempt it would be a no-brainer. The question is, if the method can be perfected to reliable medical standards and can be done with minimal risk, should it be done?" In principle, he says, aspects of cloning may open opportunities far down the road to help burn victims, make sterile people fertile, and effect other medical advances.

Also on the panel will be CAS Philosophy and Core Curriculum Prof. Allen Speight. The workshop will be free and open to the public. See the Bridge Calendar for other events sponsored by the Boston Colloquium for the Philosophy of Science.