Friday, December 30, 2011

On Cloning

From May 5, 2010. Again, I don't know what prompted this, but here it is, even if it's a repeat!

Politicians should make the final decisions about whether to legalize cloning. Politicians, when acting as elected representatives of the electorate, have the broadest mandate and the most comprehensive access to information upon which to base a decision.

When deciding whether to legalize cloning, anyone making the decision must consider a number of factors. Cloning represents a brave new world with tremendous potential for good and ill. Politicians, through debate involved in the electoral process, will have the best sense of what the public will accept as legitimate.

We cannot expect religious leaders to make a final decision because too much diversity exists between religious viewpoints, not to mention secular viewpoints. On topics in which morality plays a paramount role, such as abortion rights, we find that no coherent religious point of view exists. We cannot even define a religious point of view because we have a difficult time defining what constitutes a religious stance. Does Scientology count? Do all forms of Christianity count, from Unitarians to Pentecostals? Should all varieties of Jewish practice receive consideration? When we consider that the U.S. consists of religious practices and beliefs from around the world in addition to our Christian and Jewish heritage, from shamanism to Hindu to Muslim to Buddhist, how could we define the class of decision-makers? Without at least a nominally coherent set of decision makers, we cannot expect a coherent decision to issue forth on such a sensitive topic.

The possibility of using doctors—just medical doctors, or do we consider professional scientists in this class as well?—holds some promise, but this class fails in comparison to politicians also. Doctors can provide a scientific perspective on the issue that that we can’t expect lay people, such as politicians and religious leaders, to provide. Setting aside the moral and religious concerns raised by cloning, the scientific concerns of a biologically unique undertaking must raise serious scientific questions. As cloning represents a form of biological reproduction not found among humans or other more highly evolved species in nature, scientific knowledge becomes crucial in helping us assess the potential costs, risks, uncertainties, and benefits of cloning. For all of their knowledge, however, doctors cannot provide us with answers to questions of how we want to shape and form our society. Doctors, like religious leaders and persons from all walks of life, can participate in political decisions and act as political leaders in helping society make these decisions. When doctors enter the public realm, they do so as politicians, not as physicians.

The unique value of politicians in this circumstance arises from their role in democratic society. Politicians must act as generalists. Politicians must know and understand the values and morals of the electorate (notwithstanding the flaws of their personal morality). Politicians must seek scientific understanding of the consequences

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