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Send in the clones.

For years Randolfe Wicker, a founder of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group, has longed to leave a legacy without having children. During the 1960s he became fascinated with cryonics, the practice of freezing the dead in hopes of bringing them back to life in the future. So when Wicker learned that President Clinton had issued a temporary ban on federal funding for human cloning research, the 59-year-old antiques dealer leaped into action, setting up an ad hoc pro-cloning group at his New York City store, organizing a protest, and going on the radio--talk-show circuit. "I realize my clone would be my identical twin," Wicker told reporters, "and my identical twin has a right to be born."

But cloning as a means of gay parenting faces many obstacles, not least among scientists. "Anyone who thinks they are so perfect that they should have a clone of themselves has--how should I say this?--something of a personality quirk," says Dean Hamer, who, as chief of the National Cancer Institute's gene structure and regulation section in 1993, identified a genetic marker for homosexuality. "Raising a clone would be like raising yourself, only with a generational difference. It would be a very odd way of raising a child because you would know a little more than might be healthy about your child."

Such questions, previously relegated to science fiction, became a matter of practical concern last month when Keith Campbell and Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Scotland reported that they had produced a sheep from the DNA of a ewe. Oregon scientists subsequently announced that they had cloned two rhesus monkeys. A human clone would require the genes of just one parent, which could be extracted from a donor and implanted in a woman's egg, causing fertilization. However, according to Campbell, human cloning is at least a decade away from reality.

Citing concerns that the technology would undermine traditional parenting, lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures across the nation introduced bills to ban all research into the cloning of humans. "We ought not permit a cottage industry in the God business," said John Marchi, a New York Republican state senator.

Some gay activists, however, have argued that gays and lesbians have a stake in the advancement of cloning technology, which they believe could one day simplify nonsexual reproduction. To some lesbians, cloning represents the ultimate liberation from men, since it could mean reproduction without male participation. Among those who see a pro-gay potential in cloning is Jack Nichols, author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists. "The most important thing is that we don't engage in a closing of the mind on this issue," Nichols says. "Let's not rush to judgment and forget the way in which the technology might help gay people create their own families, free from the coercion of the state."

That view was endorsed by the director of the National Institutes of Health, Harold Varmus, who bucked the trend among federal officials by telling a congressional committee March 5 that human cloning might be acceptable in the case of infertile couples who desire genetically related offspring. "Maybe there are situations in which we would find it ethical," Varmus said. He did not comment on the circumstances of same-sex couples.

But Hamer, who is gay, says cloning technology has little benefit for would-be parents, gay or straight: vitro fertilization already allows gay people to have children without having sex with the opposite sex. Cloning, which would be very expensive, is cumbersome and involves some serious ethical problems while providing few benefits. It's not like it eliminates the need for a womb."

The furor over cloning resonates within a larger debate over sex, reproduction, and the family. Yet the heart of that debate lies elsewhere, suggests Thomas Murray, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "We as a society have not done a very good job articulating our family values--and I don't mean to exclude gays and lesbians from that term," says Murray. "There has been a tremendous overselling of the role of genetics in human behavior, including homosexuality. Even if we were to produce genetic replicas of ourselves, it doesn't answer questions about the best way to raise kids in a loving environment."

The ultimate benefit of cloning may lie in other areas than human reproduction. Scientists say animal cloning research could help in the fight against diseases such as AIDS by contributing to the understanding of cell replication. "In general, when overly rapid decisions are made in response to scientific developments, the science suffers," says Benjamin Schatz, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. "We can't allow fear to overcome our best judgment."
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Title Annotation:ethical aspects of cloning
Author:Bull, Chris
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Apr 15, 1997
Words:789
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