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Ethical Rights

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Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cells

3. Analysis of principles

1. Principle 1 is the golden rule of ethics. It is about not imposing one’s views on others, respecting that others’ views are just as valid as one’s own. However, this important principle has not been applied to the extent it ought to have been in cloning debates to date. It is important to recognise that most of the arguments against cloning in the Andrews Report can be attributed to religious organisations and related groups and individuals. The PHC Act effectively forces these religious views on those who may wish clone a human. Principle 1 has been violated, as it would be if religious groups were prohibited from doing something they wished to do, such as worshiping their deity of choice. Reproductive cloning is a matter for prospective parents, and they would know their own reproductive needs better than religious groups or governments. This is consistent with Mills’ libertarian view that ‘over himself, over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign’.

2. Principle 2 states that discrimination on the basis of one’s genetic makeup (genome) is unethical and wrong. Invidious discrimination, the irrational social, racial, religious, sexual, ethnic and age-related discrimination of people is wrong, and similarly discrimination on the basis of one’s mode of conception (sexual, IVF, cloning or other) or parentage is equally wrong. The community would now appreciate that the PHC Act’s ban on cloning technologies is effectively discriminatory.

3. Principle 3 is a factual statement and includes a list definition of ‘person’. That the human embryo is not a person is already recognised by society. The human embryo is not a legal entity; embryos are routinely destroyed when excess to IVF procedures or occasionally through use of an Intrauterine Device (IUD) or morning after pill. Many fetuses (much more developed cell collections than embryos) are aborted in Australia. It is illogical to permit the abortion of fetuses and yet prohibit the destruction of human embryos as if embryos had some property that fetuses do not, especially as a fetus has a greater chance of becoming a person. In vitro, embryos do not have any scientific attributes that should isolate them from research. Embryos can only grow into a child in the right biochemical environment, such as a uterus, and without such an environment they have no potential to ever become a person.

4. The permission of those who conceived the embryo would be required for research, and approved research plans would be required etc, but the potential benefits from medical research on embryonic stem cells are enormous, though they may take some time to be realised.

5. Principles 1 and 2 taken together imply that human cloning should be permitted, but only if, or when, the technology is accepted as safe, otherwise the life of a person (the clone once born) could be adversely affected. Principle 3 suggests that any research, that is justified and acceptable under usual research guidelines, should be permitted on human embryos.

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