Ethics of Human Organ Cloning

Posted on: 16th May 2023


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Ethics of Human Organ Cloning


The ethical controversies about using genetic engineering to clone human cells have been widely debated by philosophers, medical practitioners, politicians, and the general public. Each side has raised numerous arguments on the ethics of human organ cloning. However, much of the debate revolves around humancentric principles of autonomy, consent, and individual rights. Organ cloning is a therapeutic cloning process whereby embryonic cells undergo distinct processes to obtain human biological organs. The cloned organs are used for transplantation or other health purposes. Unlike human cloning, which is used to develop fully functioning humans, organ cloning to reproduce a particular type of cells is mainly used for research and therapeutic purposes. This essay aims to address the genuine questions about the use of therapeutic cloning by not only considering the intentions for using these genetic techniques but the deepest ontological and moral statutes of cloning organs from embryo cells. Foremost, the essay adopts a benevolence approach to human organ cloning. Secondly, this essay stipulates that the ethics of human organ cloning hinge on arguments claiming that cloned embryos' moral status does not differ from other human cells from which they were derived. Lastly, it distinguishes between the notion of personhood and a biological being before offering moral status and statutory rights reserved for human beings to embryonic cells.

Arguments For and Against Human Organ Cloning

To evaluate the moral permissibility of organ cloning, it is paramount to describe the human embryo moral status utilized to generate the stem cells in human embryo (Ayala). Most of the cells used are embryos donated from fertility clinics. However, in some instances, to ensure an exact genetic match of the cloned organ with the recipient's body, embryos can be cloned from the patient's tissue cells. In the U.S., thousands of people die annually from failed organs due to illness or an accident. The primary source of human organs has previously been through organ harvest from cadavers; however, through regenerative medicine, therapeutic cloning can meet the demand for human organs and bring about significant medical and social benefits to society (Ayala).

Furthermore, therapeutic cloning of human organs to preserve human life and prevent human suffering is considered a breakthrough in modern medicine. Subsequently, there are not enough human organ donors. The existing protocols for organ transplant and research involve cultivating genetically modified or cloned animals to supplement the growing demand for organs (Savulescu). While cloning of human organs would significantly reduce the demand for growing animals for organ harvesting, it would significantly reduce the demand for human organs trafficked through the black market (Ayala). Without a legitimate source of human organs, the black market has become the alternative solution for organ demand, whereby people obtain organs through illegal and inhumane methods.         

Currently, the U.S has no federal prohibitions on cloning human cells either for reproductive, therapeutic, or research purposes. While most people may not favor reproductive cloning, most of the arguments regarding organ cloning are based on the fact that cloning using human embryo cells is an unnatural process and therefore bound to be immoral (Savulescu). The primary debate regarding organ cloning revolves around the fact that organ cloning from embryo cells involves the extraction of stem cells destroying the embryos. Thus, the core ethical issue at hand regarding the embryos' ontological and moral status is pertinent. If an embryo is equated to a human being, it would be immoral to extract stem cells from it, irrespective of whether the cloned organ is used to cure devastating ailments such as Parkinson's disease or save victims from accidents. However, if a fetus is a person, it's obvious that all forms of therapeutic cloning should be prohibited as well as all areas of embryonic stem cell research (Savulescu).

Some individuals opposed the therapeutic cloning because it is involved in human embryonic cells production for study (Bouhassira). However, they have embraced stem cell research using surplus embryos from fertility clinics (Bouhassira). Since vitro fertility clinics create more fertilized eggs than required for implantation, it can be argued that using the excess embryos to extract stem cells for therapeutic cloning is justifiable, given that the embryos would have been discarded anyway. In this context, the idea of autonomy and rights cannot adequately resolve the moral issues surrounding human organ cloning. Nonetheless, to assess the moral acceptability of stem cell cloning, it is critical to determine the moral status of the early embryo (Bouhassira).

The first issue is the ontological status of the embryo, which is considered a distinct organism and biologically human in nature (Sandel). Despite some authors highlighting that there is no distinction between the notion of personhood and a biological being, both philosophers and theologians have proposed that the criteria for personhood are more sophisticated than those for being a biological human (Sandel). The criteria for personhood feature self-consciousness, the ability to feel pain, reason, communicate using language and use logic. Since human embryos lack all of the outlined traits for personhood, the inquiry regarding their moral status disqualifies them from being given any moral or legal rights. Since human embryos do not qualify for moral protection, they lack any moral status and therefore lack statutory rights reserved for human beings that have been born (Savulescu). Nonetheless, before the ethics of personhood and a biological being is put to rest, it is vital to consider the morally relevant of the sizes of the tissue as well as their arrangement since the when tissues differentiate and when the first brain structures are identified. Similarly, the sizes of the tissue as well as their arrangement signifies the advent of brain functions, which support the earliest forms of fetal development. Thus, justifying the rational self-consciousness argument which upholds the criteria for personhood (Savulescu).

Those against organ cloning have argued that early human embryos deserve to be given full statutory rights as human beings and have equated the destruction of embryos during therapeutic cloning as murder. The ethical argument that is made asserts that since embryos are a part of the human species, they should be treated as such. Since the current legal and moral statutes prohibit sacrificing human beings by destroying human embryos, the atrocious acts of murder are unjustifiably committed (Sandel). Similarly, those in opposition to organ cloning may concede that embryos lack appropriate characteristics for them to be considered human beings. However, it is pretty evident that they can develop to become human beings which is enough reason to give them full moral status. Thus, killing an embryo to acquire stem cells to grow organs is unilaterally comparable to killing a person. Given that most people would not kill another human being knowingly, it is morally unacceptable and unjustifiable to kill human embryos (Savulescu).

In retrospect, proponents of human organ cloning argue that while embryo cells might belong to humans, they are equivalent to any other cells in the human anatomy. Thus, the moral status of being a human being ought to be determined at birth as opposed to any specific period during embryonic cell development (Bouhassira). Furthermore, because the developing organism is a unique individual and biologically human, it cannot be characterized as belonging to any particular person. As a result, there is no legal obligation to limit stem cell research using embryonic stem cells (Sandel).


The essay has addressed the fundamental ethical argument for and against human organ cloning from embryonic cells. The ontological and moral standing of the embryos has been discussed in this essay. The core arguments of the advocates relate to embryos having inherent worth that necessitates legal protection as humans under the Act. However, the ethical dilemma emanates from the fact that embryo cells are intrinsically unique, unlike other cells, and therefore decree for them to be respected. Thus, the level of respect owed to embryos is not statutory enough to hinder the process of therapeutic cloning and research, which has overwhelming medical benefits for humanity. Since the concept of autonomy and rights cannot unilaterally resolve the moral question of human organ cloning.


Works Cited

Ayala, Francisco J. “Cloning Humans? Biological, Ethical, and Social Considerations.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 112, no. 29, 20 July 2015, pp. 8879–8886,, 10.1073/pnas.1501798112.

Bouhassira, Eric. “Cloning, Ethics Of.” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Stem Cell Research, by Eric Bouhassira, SAGE Publications, Inc, 2015, pp. 298–303.

Sandel, Michael J. “The Ethical Implications of Human Cloning.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 48, no. 2, 2005, pp. 241–247, 10.1353/pbm.2005.0063.

Savulescu, J. “Should We Clone Human Beings? Cloning as a Source of Tissue for Transplantation.” Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 25, no. 2, 1 Apr. 1999, pp. 87–95, 10.1136/jme.25.2.87.

Peter Seiyanoi

Peter Seiyanoi

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