Modern Biotechnology And Diginity Of Human Life; An Ethical Analysis

Modern Biotechnology And Diginity Of Human Life; An Ethical Analysis




Since this topic, modern biotechnology and human dignity involves ethics, it necessary to explain the meaning and importance of ethics in biotechnological sciences. We cannot discuss convincingly the dignity of human life without knowing the circumstances surrounding the human life and their social




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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 implications. When we talk of human dignity, we have in mind the respect, which should be accorded to any human person as an ontologically unique being. In order to accord this respect, there is need for the application of the principles of ethics to the daily human activities, especially with regard to the human life and its dignity. As a result, this chapter looks at the following: what is ethics?, What is the purpose of ethics?, What is biotechnology?, Why ethics in biotechnological sciences?, Biotechnological science and the problem of Humanhood and Personhood of the Embryo.


The term “Ethics” originated from the Greek word “ethikos”, and the Latin  “ethicus” which means “custome” or “mores.” Thus, etymologically, ethics implies customary way of acting.3 However, it is not enough to defined ethics as the customary way of acting it goes beyond that conception.  Ethics, as it were, is a science of morality. Morality, however, is the basis of ethics. What should be done, and what should be avoided. Morality is not peculiar to any group of people, community or society but rather it is a universal and objective to all men no matter their colour or tongue. Morality refers to traditions of belief about right and wrong of human action.  In any case, it cannot be denied that what is obtainable in one culture may also be obtained in another culture. But, there are certain acts, which are generally not acceptable in every society such as killing or stealing. Every society abhors it all over the universe but the degree of their abhorrence may slightly differ from one another. The issues of ethics are practical issues. They are neither metaphysical nor abstract issues but rather living in man’s existential world.

Sometimes, it sounds as if there is any separation between ethics and morality. There is no such difference between them. Ethics and morality, as Omeregbe observes, have a relationship similar to that between logic and thinking or the relationship between theology and religion.4 There is mutual relationship between the terms.

From the philosophical point of view, ethics is a branch of philosophy. It studies human conduct. That is from the point of view of moral rightness and wrongness of human action [rectitude and turpitude]. It involves what is good and how to get at it and what is bad and how to avoid it or the ougthness, that is, what ought to be done to achieve what is good and what ought not to be done to avoid what is evil both actual and potential.5


Ethics is very necessary in the society today. Ethics studies social morality as well as philosophical reflection on its norms and practices. Morality is intrinsic to human nature.  The principle of morality is simply avoid evil and do good. The awareness of the implications of this principle of morality is a veritable step towards the appreciation of the goal or purpose of ethics. Nevertheless, B. Eboh citing J. Balm says:“The purpose of ethical inquiry is first to discover, as far as possible the most ultimate reasons why one ought to do anything. 6

Ethics involves what is practical in human life. It helps us to say that this action is bad and the other good. According to William Lillie, training in ethics should enable us to see the defects in our own and other people’s conduct and to understand their exact nature so that, we are better able to set things right in our own conduct and make profitable suggestion to others7.

The problems in the world today especially in the realm of bio-medical and biotechnological advancement needed an urgent attention. There seems to be an obvious alienation of the relevant ethical principles in the activities of the medical scientists and genetic engineer. This makes the objective of this work a truly imperative. We need to employ ethical schemes in the various sphere of our existential activities, otherwise, we shall contribute pitifully to the evil depersonalization of the human person.


In a paper presented by Prof, Francis O. Olatunji on the development of biotechnology in Nigeria, he states that “THE WORD BECAME FLESH” should be the imperative in any research[s] that involves human person.8 Biotechnology is a diverse topic to deal with. In addition to human experimentation, it extends to both plant and animal researches. As a result of its broad nature, a simple definition is very difficult to come by. However, let us undertake a definition in both broad and narrow senses.

In a broad sense, biotechnology is the application of biochemistry, biology, microbiology, genetic and chemical engineering to industrial processes and products, medicine, agriculture and to the environment. It is also the conscious scientific and engineering manipulation of whole or parts of products or culture of biological objects [plants, animals, and micro-organisms] including the creation of new properties in the biological objects through the introduction of foreign nucleic acid for the production of valuable goods and services following a through scientific understanding of the process to be manipulated.

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In a narrow sense, biotechnology is a technology based in the tissue and genetic engineering, and it has wide application in the field of agriculture, health energy industry, environment and other related field. It can be also defined as application of any technique that uses living organism, or substances from those organisms to make or modify a product, to improve plants and animals, or to develop microorganisms for specific uses.

With this definitions of biotechnology, it could be classified as the following; medical biotechnology, agro-biotechnology, environmental biotechnology, and industry biotechnology.9

Having understood the meaning of biotechnology, we shall next investigate the reasons for advocating for ethics in biotechnology.


One of the areas in which ethics has played an important role is in the medical field due to the fact that it directly involves the life and death of man. The rapid development in science and technology especially biotechnological sciences has given vent awareness to some unparallel ethical questions. Issues like genetic engineering, pre-determination of sex, prenatal screening, organ transplantation, abortion, foetal experimentation, euthanasia, cloning with particular reference to human cloning need to be questioned. Other issues like artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood etc need also to be ethically examined. The modern scientists and biotechnologists have done more harm than good to the human person and its dignity. With regard to this, Ekennia warms;

“When scientists attempt to control our lives, they should not lose the sight of the ethical and moral implications of their discoveries and practices. If they misuse bio-medical sciences and technology, humanity may be subjected to terrible threats.”10

Therefore, in order to regulate the activities of scientists and biotechnologists, there is the need for ethics in the research.  Ethics rationally questions the moral status of the activities of the scientists.


From the above definitions of biotechnology, we could observe that, it involves manipulation of biological objects either for promotion or for degradation of human life. Since human life is involved in this biotechnology, it is necessary to explore the issues of human organism and human person. Again, to examine the question, when does human life begin? With these clarifications, the problems of human cloning and embryonic or foetal manipulations would get keen attention. W e shall look at the issue of human organism and human person in respect to biotechnological practices.

Meanwhile, we shall approach this issue from two dimensions; from biological and philosophical concept of humanhood and personhood.  There have been many arguments about the beginning of human life. Some people hold that human life begins at conception or fertilization. While others rejected the position, and hold that life begins at the time of implantation. That is, when an embryo is inserted into a womb. That, human embryonic zygote the product of fertilization of ovum and its developing stage up to the blastocyst, are just toti-potent stem cells which have the potency to mature human organism.


Biologically, life begins by fusion of male sperm and female ovum. It does not matter whether the fertilization is done naturally in the womb or artificially in the petri dish. What is important is that a “new life” is evolved. To affirm this, Wisser says that:

“… the genetic identity of the living human being is irrevocably fixed with the union of two pronuclei from the egg and sperm cell. The unique, genetically distinct existence of human life is established with this step. The genetic sex of this individual is    irrevocably fixed at this time, as is any numeric chromosome anomaly11

However, Dr Harald Varmus, holds an opposite viewed. He maintains that “the product of fertilization of an ovum is  just toti-potent stem cell which has potency to become mature human organism- but even then only if it is implanted. There are others who supported the biological fact that life begins at conception in the fusion of male sperm and female ovum or egg. Dianne N. Irving vehemently criticized this position of Varmus. Irving asserts that:

“ the science of human embryology has long demonstrated beyond any doubt that these human embryonic stages are all really developing stages of a whole human being, not just a part of a human being, not just stem cell. She argues further that even though it is true that the single-cell human embryo zygote, and the muilt-cell developing human organism up to the blastocyst stage is toti-potent, it is scientifically false to call them a stem cell. A stem cell is only a part of a whole organism; an organism is the whole thing”.12

The biological fact is that human embryonic organism and the mature organism according to scientists is one and the same organism. The only difference is that the embryonic organism is just younger and at a less developed stage of growth. She argues that “scientific application of philosophical term “ toti-potent” was to confuse a scientific reality”13 and that she calls “scientific fraud”14 Irving concludes that “all the scientific aberration are used scientifically and ethically to justify different unethical human embryo researches, such as human embryo stem cell research, human and animals chimera research, human cloning many others15


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Many attempts had been made to defined human being due the fact that human being is a sophisticated animal. Ancient philosophers had tried to distinguish between human being and human person. Some view human being from the point of view of rationality, consciousness and the like. Aristotle in his metaphysics defined human being as a rational animal due to the power of reasoning. Another philosopher, Boethius, defined human person as “an individual substance of a rational nature”.16 The philosopher’s efforts were to distinguish between human being and human person. That is, to give personhood a high pedestal.

As regard this, Aristotle came with the issue of matter and form, which is tantamount to soul and body in a human being. For him, human person consists of soul and body.  The soul animates the body. It gives the body life. Before Aristotle, Plato had stated that the soul is independent of the body. Aristotle disputed this position by saying that soul and body make a complete human being. He came to this conclusion through the means of matter and form. There is no matter without form and no form without matter, likewise, no body without soul and no soul without body.

Then, the question is, when does human soul unite with the body to form a whole human being? He argues that at conception, the soul exists and animates the tissues, and organs of the human foetus.17 He proposed levels of the soul’s development distinguished as vegetative soul at zygote stage and later rational soul for the whole human being.

However, this problem passed through Aquinas who followed his master Aristotle till the modern era when thinkers like Descartes, Lock, Kant and made laudable contributions. The soul is identified with capacity of consciousness18. Locke made outstanding differentiation between human organism and human person. For him, a human being is a specific type of animal- a being possessed of a living body, and human person is essentially an intelligent being possessed of reason and understanding of itself as existing over time19.

Based on this consciousness, Glannon says that the capacity for consciousness ceases when we permanently lose it perhaps at death capacity. For him, we are “person” due to the capacity of consciousness. Singer not only considers the embryonic stage but also “new born” child. According to him, neither the foetus nor the newborn infant up to the age of one month is a person.20

From above philosophical concept of a human being and human person; we could see that the distinguishing feature is consciousness. Both the biologists and philosophers failed to understand that human development is a progressive movement. The foetal or embryonic stage is  one of the stages in human development.

No matter the position of arguments on the conception and definition, it is biologically indisputable that human life begins at the moment of the fusion of the male sperm and the female egg. . What is at stake is the value of human life. Any scientific and biotechnological research(s) should consider the moral value of human life.

However, in the next chapter, we shall going to look at the backbone of this work, which is cloning especially human cloning. Having aforementioned that human cloning involves creation of life and destroying it in biotechnological sciences. We have at length exhausted the issue of human organism and human person in relation to beginning of human life and the status of human embryonic organism. Having known this, the respect to human life and its dignity is imperative in any research pertaining human being.



Before the controversial issue of human cloning after the birth of the sheep called Dolly in February 23, 1997, the scientists have been cloning animals secretly especially in America. During the earlier periods, philosophers like Hans Jonas, Leon Kass, and Paul Ramsey21, exposed the danger of cloning and other new reproductive techniques.

The birth of Dolly and the circumstances surrounding it raised some ethical questions because moralists knew that very soon it would be the turn of human being. The Scottish embryologist, Ian Wilmut22, and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute were to actualize the efforts of the scientists on cloning. Cloning is an extension of research that had been going on 40 years ago using nuclei derived from non-human embryonic and cells. Since Dolly is a mammal, there is an equal possibility of human cloning.

Nowadays, the scientific prospect of human cloning has become a great issue of ethical concern in the contemporary society. Questions such as: what is the dignity of human being in the face of human cloning? How would cloned have children affective the relationship in the family?  What is the status of embryos in human cloning? And other related questions come to mind.

In effect, the issue of cloning is one of the outstanding recent developments in genetic engineering. The idea of genetic engineering deals with Gene and DNA. Let’s explain the concepts; Gene and DNA. Genes are units of chromosomes that determine the characteristics of individual. They are strings of chemicals that help to create the proteins in the body. Genes are located in the nuclei of the cells in the body. Gene determines the nature and character of a person. On the other hand, DNA is the short form of deoxyribonucleic acid. It is the chemical that makes up the genetic information in the living organisms. According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, DNA is the chemical in the cell of plants and animals, which carries genetic information. From DNA, we also get RNA, which means ribonucleic acid. This is a molecule transcribed from the DNA of a cell as part of the production of protein by the cell.

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Genetic engineering, a new discovery in biotechnology involves gene manipulations. This manipulation takes the form of removing either the genes or the DNA of one plant or organism and inserting it into another plant or organism. In essence, cloning involves the change of DNA in the cell of an organism.


Cloning is the creation of an organism that is exactly a genetic copy of another. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a clone as “any group of plant or animal produced artificially from cell of a single ancestor and therefore exactly the same with it. Cloning can be seen from two perspectives, biologically and scientifically. Biologically, it is derived through asexual means from a single individual. It can be carried out through different means like fissions, or parthenogenesis production23. It involves the development of an organism from unfertilized ovum, seed or spore. Through this means, genetically identical duplicate(s) of an organism are produced. Scientifically, it involves cell separation from the single cell of an organism. Cells asexually derived from a single cell or organism, and the clones are genetically identical to the organism from which the cells are derived. Cloning is all about transferring a nucleus from the cell of one organism to an enucleated.

Scientists claim that cloning occurs naturally as we can observe in human beings around us, especially in monozygotic twins, in which human beings or identical twins are clone of each other. These identical twins have same genetic information but were divided at its earliest stage of development. This early division of the embryo matured to be identical twins. Hence, scientists have followed this natural division in their use of artificial means to duplicate human beings.

As we observed in the Dolly, cloning is not as easy as we are saying it. It is very difficulty practice in scientific realm. Dolly sheep was different from other mammals because it is an identical of another adult sheep and has no father. Before Dolly was cloned, there were two hundred and seventy-seven nuclear transfers before they could produce a single clone, which was named Dolly. Dolly was produced from the nuclei extracted from the mammary gland of a mature six-year-old ewe (female sheep). These nuclei extracted from the ewe, was introduced into an enucleated or unfertilized egg and this resulted to the growth of a new organism just as a male sperm could have done24. This zygote was implanted into a recipient ewe, the surrogate mother, which carried dolly from January 1996 till July 5, 1997 when dolly was born25.


This is where the onus lies. The successful cloning of Dolly has drawn the attention of the scientists from plant and animal cloning to the cloning of human beings. The American Medical Association defined “human cloning as the product of genetically identical organism via somatic nuclear cell transfer. This somatic cell transfer refers to the process, by which the nucleus of a somatic cell of a living organism is transferred to an oocyte from which the nucleus has been removed”.26 The issue is that human cloning does not produce the exact person but rather the copy of the individual cloned who has the physiological and biological identity. The uniqueness of the person and cloned are not the same.

However, many reports have been got about human cloning.  In November 2001, scientists from Advanced Cell Technology Company in Massachusetts announced that they had cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of advancing therapeutic research. In the same November 2001, “an Advanced Cell Technology, a biotech company based in Worcester MA in the United States of America, announced to the world that they had produced an embryo with human DNA which grown to the six-cell level. According to them, if the embryo had been implanted in a woman’s womb, it might have developed into a newborn”27. No wonder Ekennia affirms that the possibility of human cloning is no longer in doubt.28 The issue of human cloning cannot be doubted but whether it is morally sound or ethically permissible needs to be investigated or reflected.


In order to understand exactly the ethical implication of human cloning, it is necessary to expose the different methods used in the exercise. There are three methods of cloning; Embryo cloning, Adult DNA or Somatic Nuclear Cell Transfer [SNCT] and Therapeutic cloning.


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