Genetics and Cloning as Reducing Autonomy

Home Dialogue Page Choices Genetics and Cloning as Reducing Autonomy

This topic contains 8 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Gavin Gill 7 months ago.

  • Author
  • #5744


    When discussing cloning and genetic enhancements, the idea of choices and autonomy arises. Should humans be allowed to clone a loved one in order to fill a void in their lives? Does this predispose the clone to be forced to live up to a certain standard and be limited in their choices? Does this make the clone property of its creator as opposed to its own independent person? Likewise, in the field of genetic enhancements, do genetic enhancements reduce the autonomy of a child to make his own choices? Does increasing a child’s propensity to be musically talented pressure him to pursue music? How would a genetically modified child react to his parents if he knew that he parents had genetically engineered his intelligence, his physical appearance, his skills, and his values?

  • #5748

    Michael Bess

    I heartily agree that autonomy is going to be one of the central issues with all forms of genetic modification that are carried out on people in the early stages of the development of their personhood. This is why epigenetic enhancement, which can in principle be applied at any point in a person’s life, is so significant: people who make epigenetic modifications to themselves after they reach adulthood are not as likely to face the undermining of their autonomy (as long as the modifications they make are freely chosen and not coerced in blatant or sutble ways).

  • #5807


    I agree that epigenetic modification would cause less problems regarding autonomy than genetic modification would do. However, the research and understanding on epigenetics are relatively behind those of genetics, so we are likely to face the choice and problems of genetic enhancements before the advent of fancy, reversible epigenetic modifications.

    I think genetic modification does reduce a child’s autonomy, but the reduction depends on the social background and how our value system changes. On one hand, genetic enhancements definitely jeopardize the principle of “informed consent” and “freedom of choice”. On the other hand, in 50 years from now, it is likely that the majority of newborns are genetically modified in certain area, such as cognitive enhancement and freedom of inherited disease. In a world where the modified is no longer the minority, the problem might be how to balance parents’ responsibility and children’s autonomy. When people are born, they can neither choose the big environment nor the genetic composition, so I think both our value system in a society and genetic modification contribute to the concern of autonomy.

  • #5822


    Cloning as a solution to filling a void in one’s life is a highly misguided belief. While the clone’s genetic nature may be identical, their nurture plays a large role in the expression of those genetic traits. One only need to look at the studies conducted on identical twins to show that near similar genetic makeup does not equate to the same behaviors. Assuming the original version of the clone had identifiable qualities, such as a love for baseball or great sense of humor, it is likely that whoever wanted the clone would expect similar qualities. Therefore, the clone is already born into a world where they must be forced to live up to a certain standard.

    Thus brings up the question of autonomy. I would expect a clone to have far lesser autonomy than its original version, especially while growing up. Hopefully the parents would be open to giving it the same realm of autonomy as they would their other children, but they may be more prone to exploiting its capabilities. Even if the child was not a clone, but rather more of a “designer baby” who was engineered with specific genes, this lack of autonomy could manifest itself. For example, if a parent wanted a star basketball player, they may have requested genes that made the child taller. Being genetically modified may put someone at an advantage, but as I’ve stated earlier, the environment and conditions must be ripe for them to actually use it as an advantage in the first place.

  • #5826

    Michael Bess

    I’m not sure that epigenetic modification lies in a farther future than DNA modification. Since the epigenome is constantly being modified in daily life, the question is more a matter of when we will learn how to manipulate the epigenome to achieve specific purposes. At first this will aim primarily at treating diseases, but eventually the door may well open up for enhancements as well (admittedly, the line between the two is a blurry one: See Appendix A).

  • #5839

    Tony Osorio

    I also believe that cloning a human to fill a void is misguided and I think we will have some horror stories when the first clones are created. When speaking of cloning, I think it is also important to think about the inhumane reasons that clones would be produced. There are many movies where clones are created and used for the benefit of the naturally produced humans, and we often see that these ‘natural’ humans know they are getting a benefit. For example, in Star Wars there is a clone army fighting for The Republic, and in The Island, clones are being produced to replace the organs of the owners of a life insurance policy. However, there is a movie that ends with the viewer finding out that no one knew that there were clones being produced for a foul reason.

    In the movie Moon, cloning is used to develop a stream of workers to maintain an energy harvesting plant on the moon. I had not heard of the movie prior to asking myself about cloning and looking up some cool theories/thoughts online. The protagonist(s) is a man working on the moon power plant, on which he has a three year contract before going back home to earth. He has clear memories of his wife and daughter and is excited to get back home. However, in an accident he is presumed dead and another clone of himself replaces him with he exact same story and memory. Together, both clones figure out a way off the moon and the movie ends with society being rocked by the idea that clones were being produced and abused. It’s a great movie and it pointed out that the more we learn about the brain, the more technology we have, and the more advanced and outstretched our civilization is, the more dastardly plans can be conceived and hidden from society.

    We struggle with the idea of clones being autonomous and not wanting the pressure put upon them, but maybe clones are going to get an even worse deal, and we won’t even know to help.

  • #5852


    I think everyone raises interesting points about autonomy. Currently there are services that allow you to choose what gender your child is (with lots of restrictions) or those who are at risk for having a child with Tay Sachs can have his/her embryo artificially implanted. While these aren’t genetic manipulations before implantation, they are selectively choosing embryos. I think we see the problem with autonomy quite easily when we select genes for a propensity to be a good musician, but I think issues of autonomy can be raised even now. Genetic testing has the potential to raise these questions. Some people believe that allowing parents to genetically screen their children for disease is immoral, because it may lead to termination of embryos that have a genetic risk of developing a disease or will have cause the children to face stigmas because they know they are at risk for certain diseases. (I am only highlighting some of the negative responses to genetic testing, there are huge benefits as well). Will children feel conflicted because they know they were chosen because they would be free from a genetic disease? Is ignorance bliss? I think the questions of agency are already beginning to be upon us.

  • #5876

    Spencer Robbins

    The idea of autonomy and genetic enhancement influencing the relationship between children and parents is certainly an interesting topic to consider. While I strongly agree that designing or selecting traits of children certainly decreases the level of autonomy they posses, I believe that perhaps this decrease in autonomy is less than many believe. I do not find it outlandish to claim that parents already determine much about their children and the lives they live. A pianist may never have been a pianist had his father not owned a piano, A Harvard student may never have been admitted had his parents not hired tutored and encouraged reading. These examples illustrate just a sliver of the control parents already exhibit over their children. To what degree is bioenhancements selected pre-birth so different? Is enhancing a musical gene to predispose your child to being a pianist so different than forcing piano lessons at a young age?

  • #5937

    Gavin Gill

    We seem to get the idea that there is a line being crossed in terms of autonomy when it comes to genetic modification in a way that has never been seen before. This is analogous, in my mind, to those who are afraid of direct genetic modification in food despite indirect human modification for millennia. Spencer alludes to this in his response, but I’d like to hammer in on this idea that we get uncomfortable with people changing the source code. It’s as if there is this human ethos of a sacred nature that our genes have. We should be critiquing why we attribute this sacred nature, or even if it’s such a bad thing. Perhaps this fear of manipulating the nature of a fellow human being is well founded in our fear that ignorance will lead to unintended consequences. Conservatism is not always without its place. Though I see no difference between mate selection and choosing a child’s characteristics, I think it would be wise for us to consider that there are consequences to the psyche of a family whose choices resulted in unwanted effects.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.