Friends of the Earth

Why Environmentalists Oppose Human Cloning And Inheritable Genetic Modification

Date: 01/13/2002

A Brave New World Divorced from Nature?

Since its inception, the environmental movement has worked to address the innumerable impacts human beings have had on our planet.  Human activity, often marked by a philosophy of domination and control of the natural world, has dramatically changed the environment. Forests have been clearcut, wetlands drained to make way for farmland, and the air and water filled with industrial pollutants that permeate our bodies. Today, we face another change — the radical reorganization of life at the genetic level. This could propel us into a “brave new world,” devaluing each individual and completing the divorce from nature that began a long time ago.

Technological developments in the field of genetic engineering have proceeded rapidly in recent years and are largely unregulated: animals have been cloned, plants crossed with bacteria, and chimeras or creatures possessing cells with different genotypes such as sheep-goats have been produced. Most disturbing of all, the groundwork has been laid for inheritable genetic modification and industrial-scale production of human embryos, and several scientists are working to produce the first cloned human.  

Despite the serious nature of these developments and the almost universal condemnation of human cloning , this rogue group of fertility doctors with ties to biotech corporations is forging ahead.  In the absence of any international ban or clean national policies on cloning and inheritable genetic modification, they are making the crucial decisions about a technology that stands to fundamentally change the nature of human beings and our relationship to the rest of the world.

What ARE Human Cloning and Inheritable Modification?

Human cloning is an asexual from of reproduction, in which a nucleus from a somatic (non-reproductive) cell of a child or adult is implanted in an egg that has had its nucleus removed. The resulting clonal embryo, if implanted in the womb and brought to term, would be a virtual genetic duplicate of the person from whom the nucleus was taken. Opponents of cloning feel that this is in fact not “reproduction”, but manufacturing of human beings. Inheritable genetic modification, also known as “germline” manipulation, creates changes that are passed onto the next generation.  Inheritable genetic modification would permanently alter future generations of the human species. These techniques are not needed to address medical or infertility situations, and can be banned without impeding research on beneficial uses of human genetic science.

Why Environmental Groups Oppose Human Cloning

While all of us seek to improve the quality of human life, certain activities in the area of genetics and cloning should be prohibited because they violate basic environmental and ethical principles – principles that form the core values for which the environmental movement stands.

Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle is a cornerstone of environmentalism. It requires that we have some regard for the consequences of our actions before we carry them out. In this century alone, the list of unforeseen and unintended consequences of modern industrial civilization is enormous; so is the attendant economic and environmental damage. The unforeseen and devastating consequences of the use of CFCs, DDT, and PCBs illustrate the need for this underlying principle.

The field of genetic engineering has become notorious for flaunting this basic standard. This is illustrated by the case of the detrimental impacts of Bt corn on the Monarch butterfly, discovered after 20 million acres of genetically modified corn were planted across the U.S. Only after the problem was revealed by researchers was the most harmful variety of this corn, Bt 176, removed from the market. The unregulated nature of this field of research has allowed commercial interests to proceed with mass crop plantings in the absence of safety checks by federal agencies and before essential research into the consequences of releasing such genetically modified organisms was done. 

Research science is being used to make changes in the food we eat, the way human beings are born and live, but it is not being used to ensure that those changes are appropriate and safe for their widespread implementation. As environmentalists, we must question the formidable arrogance of those who claim to know and understand the consequences of profoundly altering nature. Given the alarming lack of regulation in the field of genetic engineering, we must take active steps to avoid being pushed over the precipice of human cloning and inheritable genetic modification.

Respect for Nature

Environmentalists embrace an ethic of respect for nature and strive to demonstrate the interdependence of humans and our natural world. Proponents of cloning and inheritable modification, on the other hand, extol the virtues of “re-making Eden” — of “improving” what nature has given us. For example, “designer babies” or pets that don’t shed lead us down a slippery slope toward the redesign of the rest of life.  Indeed, if society allows the cloning of human beings, all other species are fair game for genetic manipulation.

Ensuring Diversity & Ecosystem Survival

Cloning represents a fundamental shift in our relationship with nature.  It is a break from the process of natural evolution known to build strength into species through diversity. It is the ultimate in monoculture.

In this “brave new world,” any distinction between the natural and the technological will be erased, deepening an alienation that fosters destructive behavior toward ecosystems. Why, for instance, protect habitat when a few cloned trophy specimens could be perpetuated in zoos?

Justice and Equity

Many environmental organizations work for environmental and social justice and are deeply concerned about the pollution burdens that have been placed on minorities and the poor. Cloning and inheritable modification have the potential to generate greater inequalities among people and societies.

An Unsafe and Cruel Experiment

Dolly the sheep was cloned and discarded more than 200 times before one even survived.  Over 98% of clones are either stillborn, die shortly after birth, are malformed, or look normal, but have congenital defects like premature aging. Many animals cloned in experiments suffer from “large baby syndrome” in which the fetus grows to twice its normal size, sometimes resulting in the death of the mother. Any attempt to clone a human being would constitute an unethical experiment upon the resulting child-to-be.

The Public Is Against Human Cloning

Poll after poll reveals that the American public is overwhelmingly against human cloning. A 2001 CNN/Time poll showed 90% of Americans opposed to human cloning. Gallup showed similar results at 89%, and the Museum of Natural History, 92%.

An Extension of Our Present Work

Concern about cloning is a logical extension of our critique of genetic engineering of plants and animals.  In each case we are looking at the prospect of scientists (and their corporate backers) engineering life for profit with only afterthoughts about possible impacts.

 We Must Take a Stand

Cloning and inheritable genetic modifications of human beings are incompatible with the ethic of protecting the natural environment.  Organizations and individuals who care to prevent cruel and unsafe experiments on our own species, to stop irreversible changes to our nature, and to sustain our relationship to the natural world should support a ban of human cloning and inheritable genetic modifications.

For more information cloning and human genetic manipulation, contact Lisa Archer at 202-783-7400 x190 or larcher@foe.org.