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Books and articles about human cloning are rapidly filling bookstore shelves. There are a number of very good edited essay collections such as Martha C. Nussbaum and Cass R. Sunstein's Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies About Human Cloning (W.W. Norton and Company, 1998), Gregory E. Pence's Flesh of My Flesh: The Ethics of Cloning Humans: A Reader (Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), reviewed on this web site on April 21, 2000, Glenn C. McGee's The Human Cloning Debate (Berkeley Hills Books, 2000), and Barbara MacKinnon's Human Cloning: Science, Ethics, and Public Policy. (University of Illinois Press, 2000) to name but a few. Michael C. Brannigan's Ethical Issues in Human Cloning is the latest edition to this burgeoning genre. There are so many interesting articles exploring various ethical aspects of human cloning being published these days that there is clearly room for Brannigan's collection, even though a number of the essays contained in these collections is anthologized in more than one of the above volumes.
This collection includes some of the biggest names writing in science, bioethics and law today, Stephen Jay Gould, Leon Kass, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Callahan, and George Annas, among others. It is aimed at a wide educated audience and would be a good choice in an undergraduate course that explored the ethical issues involved with cloning and or genetics. It is divided into four parts, organized much like many of the volumes named above. Each part consists of a brief editorial introduction followed by a series of essays from a different general perspective; part one from the perspective of science, part two from religion, part three from philosophy, and part four from policy and law. The editor frames the entire collection with a helpful introduction and an epilogue consisting of a list of recent developments.
The essays veer from those representing irrational fears to those of more reasoned reflection. The very readable essays offered by scientists in part one lay the foundation for what is to come. Gould's much anthologized essay is a good example of those that anticipate and deflate a number of the more irrational criticism of human cloning by clearly demarcating between scientific reality and myth.
The essays in part two are brief, from one to five pages. Christian, Greek Orthodox, Judaic, Islamic, Native American, Buddhist, and Hindu perspectives on human cloning are offered here, something most other anthologies of a similar ilk do not provide. Lee Silver's excellent "Cloning, Ethics, and Religion" and Richard Dawkins' "What's Wrong with Cloning?" contextualise these various religious concerns with sensitivity and intelligence.
It is really only in parts three and four of the collection that we get a sense of where human cloning might be headed, at least in the United States. These parts raise and address philosophical, legal, and policy implications of this developing technology. Patrick D. Hopkins' "Bad Copies: How Popular Media Represent Cloning as an Ethical Problem" helps us understand where many of the myths and fears about human cloning originated, providing us with an opportunity for intelligent, rather than reactionary policy making.
What this volume lacks is any sustained discussion of what I take to be the most troubling ethical problems associated with cloning, the inevitable widening social divide between those who would be able to afford the high cost of human cloning techniques as they become more widely available and those who would not. Any sort of assisted reproductive technology is expensive and generally available only to a relatively few privileged families. Cloning humans could be used as a way to enhance the genotype and increase the opportunities of those children lucky enough to have strategically thinking and wealthy parents. Like computer technology, human cloning can be seen as a benign blessing when viewed from the perspective of the individual or family whose life it enhances. But when viewed from the perspective that takes in the broader social landscape one is not as sure. It is unfortunate that a volume such as this that includes essays anthologized elsewhere did not take the opportunity to offer any essays, perhaps from the perspective of sociology, that explore this issue.
What one takes away from this volume is not only a sense of the divergence of opinion about a few key ethical issues in human cloning, but a sense of the sometimes dramatic lack of consensus about just what the issues are. I do not see this as a weakness of the volume, but a strength. This collection offers excellent preparation for anyone in the field of genetic counseling who will be inevitably confronted with a number of questions from parents or parents-to-be. The divergent array of views expressed in these essays successfully captures the current array of views spread across the social spectrum. As with any new technology, especially one as far-reaching as human cloning, time is needed to calm shrill voices and allow consensus to form around core issues.
Ben Mulvey, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Liberal Arts at Nova Southeastern University. He received his doctorate in philosophy from Michigan State University with a specialization in political theory and applied ethics. He teaches biomedical ethics at NSU. He is a member of Broward General Medical Center's bioethics committee, Hospice Care of Broward County's ethics committee, Florida Department of Corrections Health Services Bioethics Committee, and is a member of the board of advisors of the Florida Bioethics Network.