Bioethicist speaks

Kelly Hildebrandt

In an ethical debate that has focused on societal impacts, Arthur Caplan changed the tides and asked the audience how cloning would affect the clones.
Caplan’s speech, “Biomedical Technology: Miracles or Madness?” is part of the Honeywell-Sweatt Lecture series and drew a crowd of about 100 people Thursday night. The nationally-known bioethicist addressed the morality of “Dolly,” a recently cloned sheep, and whether cloning in general should be regulated.
“This is all silliness,” Caplan said about the current moral arguments surrounding cloning.
Some of the common arguments against cloning are that figures such as Adolf Hitler could be recreated or that a person could become immortal through constant cloning.
“You are not going to be able to recreate Adolf Hitler just by recreating his genes,” Caplan said, explaining that his environment and experiences would also need to be simulated.
Instead, he said the moral argument should focus on the clone, primarily on whether it is safe and what it would be like to be a clone.
For example, currently most people have the opportunity to find out their genetic history and whether or not they may contract certain diseases.
A clone, on the other hand, wouldn’t have this option because it would know by watching its parent exactly how it would age and what would happen to it, Caplan said.
Finally, before any sort of regulations are made on cloning, Caplan said it first has to be understood.
He used a meeting he recently had with state legislators about regulating cloning. When he asked them where genes were located, five of the 10 said, “In your brain,” while only three knew that genes are located in cells.
“If seven of the 10 had no idea, we’re probably in no position to regulate the genetic revolution,” he said.
Andy Tso, a graduate student in biomedical engineering who attended the lecture, agreed with Caplan that anti-cloning issues are overblown because people don’t understand the issues surround cloning.
The Honeywell-Sweatt Lecture series is sponsored by the Center for the Development of Technological Leadership and the Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“He’s probably one of the best known bioethicists in the country,” said Avram Bar-Cohen, executive director of the Center for Development of Technological Leadership.
Caplan is currently director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and was also the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University in the early 1990s, said Bar-Cohen.
He has been an active member on many committees concerning bioethics including President Clinton’s Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses. Caplan received his doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University.
The Center for Development of Technological Leadership seeks to bridge the gap between business and engineering, Bar-Cohen said. The center offers nontraditional engineering degrees in collaboration with other departments, including the mechanical engineering and Carlson School of Management. The Honeywell-Sweatt Lecture series began in 1988.