Against a Prohibition on Cloning
Back when my wife, Lesley, and I thought we may be having children of our own, we had two names picked out in case our child was a girl: Theresia and Penny. I have used both names in discussions of this subject; here, I speak of Theresia.
However, because of a childhood illness, the only way that Lesley can have a child that is biologically hers is through the technology associated with cloning. Doctors had told us this for a long time, but we were slow to accept it. And so we continued to hope, for a while.
The technology of cloning provides a way fulfilling those hopes. Yet, many are eager to prohibit this. If there were good reason to keep her from having her own biological children, then she would have to shrug and accept it. But none of the reasons offered against cloning are very good. In some cases, it is horrifying to listen to what many people say in defense of such a prohibition.
These reasons can be divided into seven families:
1. Religious Objections
2. Identity and Sanctity of Life Objections
3. Technological Terror Objections
4. Defective Child Objections
5. Slavery and Spare Parts Objections
6. Selfishness Objections
7. Funny Feeling Objections
These include arguments ranging from “my god does not want people to clone,” to “cloning is playing god,” to “clones will not have souls.”
First, to those who claim that their god does not want Theresia coming into this world, I say that this is between you and your god. We are not a part of your religion. You may preach, implore, and attempt to convert us, but you have no right to use the law to drag Lesley in front of your preachers so that they may refuse her permission to have her own child.
Your religion may prohibit the eating of pork, but you may not prohibit grocery stores from selling it to those not of your religion. Your religion may prohibit the use of contraceptives, but the Supreme Court ruled (Griswold v. Connecticut) that you may not prohibit the sale of birth control to those not of that religion. Similarly, your religion may prohibit you from cloning, but does not give you the right to prohibit medical professionals from selling this service to Lesley and others in her situation.
Second, cloning no more involves “playing God” than other forms of reproduction, including sex. All of it, equally, creates life from life. And where the objection is that cloning is “unnatural;” artificial insemination, surgery, and the use of antibiotics are equally unnatural, yet still permitted. Indeed, Lesley and I both exist in defiance of nature; Lesley having been cured of a cancer that would have otherwise killed her, and because my mother obtained medical treatments that prevented yet another miscarriage. Theresia would, in fact, be carrying on a family tradition.
Third, I had hoped that society had advanced far beyond the age when one would question whether a person indistinguishable from humans could be lacking a soul. “There is no soul” is an assertion that belongs back in the age where people sought to rationalize genocide and slavery as activities that did not victimize real people. Theresia would be, and would be entitle to the treatment that is due anybody who is, fully human.
I can well imagine playmates and adults telling Theresia that she has no soul, and I would teach her that these people are as worthy of contempt as any bigot. I would tell her of relatives who told me, when I was young, said that marrying somebody of a different race and having children was selfish, because it showed
disregard to the suffering and rejection that the child would experience at the hands of others. And I hope that Theresia would quickly be able to understand that the moral fault lies, not with those who bring this child into the world, but with those others who refuse to accept her.
Identity and Sanctity of Life Objections
Some have objected that cloning threatens their sense of identity, and assert that they find it easier to get out of bed in the morning knowing that they are unique. Others assert that cloning, by making it possible to duplicate people, will cheapen individual lives.
Both misunderstand what is possible through cloning.
Those who find it easier to get out of bed knowing they are unique must be grateful that they do not have an identical twin. For identical twins have much more in common than Lesley would have with Theresia. Identical twins are usually raised in the same household by the same parents, in the same culture, facing the same trends and pressures at the same times in their lives.
Lesley, who underwent surgery for cancer at the age of fourteen, married me, and who (hypothetically) had herself cloned so as to have the daughter that the cancer otherwise would have prevented her from having, will still be a unique person ¯ importantly different from any clone that might come into existence, simply can not be duplicated by cloning.
Theresia would live in a different time, spend part of her childhood logged onto personal computers, serf the internet, and live in a society that has the capacity to clone humans and with the understanding that she is a clone. She will be raised by a different set of parents than Lesley was.
I have no doubt that I will find it easy to tell Lesley and Theresia apart. And I expect they will have even less trouble. And having neither in the world will in any way lessen the importance, or the uniqueness, of the other.
Besides, the identical twins I have known have expressed no such misgivings over having such a twin. None have expressed an attitude that twinning, in this way, is a curse to be avoided if possible, and to be endured only if necessary. If the value and uniqueness of the separate lives of identical twins is of no real concern, then this alleged “danger” of cloning is imaginary.
Technological Terror Objections
This can also be called the 10,000 Hitler objection, since it is most commonly stated as fear that someone would use the technology that gave us Theresia to create an army of Hitlers.
It’s a fear generated from too much bad science fiction. Cloned soldiers would still have to be carried to maturity by an army of mothers, and raised by an army of nannies and teachers. It would still take about two decades to come up with the first batch of useful soldiers.
Even then, getting the clones to all believe the same thing would be impossible. Knowledge can not be cloned, and knowledge heavily influences what type of person we become. To hear the way some people speak about an army of mindless clones with identical personalities, one would think that Hitler’s clones would all grow up speaking German, regardless of the language spoken by those around them.
In short, there is no more reason to believe that Hitler’s clones would be identical to Hitler, than in believing that Theresia would be identical to Lesley.
A dictator wanting an army would be best advised to use more traditional methods of reproduction and selective breeding, combined with traditional methods of propaganda. Granted, this will produce some soldiers that are below norm, but it will produce others that are above norm that can be used to create the next generation of even better soldiers; a benefit that cloning does not allow. Here, cloning changes nothing.
Defective Child Objections
These objections are grounded on the fact that the cloning procedure is complicated, and the adult cell being cloned is in some relevant ways different from embryonic cells. Both factors could result in the child suffering from birth defects.
This objection may have some validity if clones develop particularly severe problems, such as extreme unending pain.
However, it is also dangerous to hold too strongly to a principle that states “we may prohibit you from having biological children of your own whenever we feel that your child will fail to meet to our standards for a ‘normal’ child.”
In fact, it is ironic that where this is given as a reason to prohibit cloning, such a prohibition would institutionalize one of the terrors which causes others to (irrationally) fear cloning. If we may prohibit the birth of clones that are ‘inferior’ to ‘normal’ children, then we should also feel free to require sterilization of individuals who would parent children considered ‘defective,’ forcing them to adopt and to raise as their own the ‘superior’ offspring of ‘normal’ humans.
Theresia might not be a perfect child. However, that a child may be less than perfect provides a very dangerous argument for legislating that society may prohibit the conception of that child.
Slavery and Spare Parts Objections
These objections hold that cloning should be prohibited on the grounds that clones will be treated as slaves or, worse, chopped up and sold as spare parts.
Enslaving, and chopping up people for spare parts, are both possible without cloning. Prohibiting cloning will do nothing to avoid these issues. Nor is there any reason to think that, by permitting cloning, society will suddenly feel an irresistible impulse to vote for the NAZI party or repeal the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In short, there is no causal relationship between allowing cloning and allowing these types of abuses. We can have the former without the latter.
In fact, legalized cloning, recognizing that individuals are not to require that others live according to their standards, would be a step away from, not toward, the totalitarian abuses asserted in these types of arguments.
If people were really interested in creating people to be used as spare parts, they could be doing this today with our present technology. Granted, a clone would be a better match for a recipient than a person conceived from a sperm and egg. Still, traditional offspring are good enough for practical purposes, and could already be contributing their organs to organ farms.
And if people were really interested in having a group of less intelligent slaves, then, as with the army of super soldiers, this is already possible using selective breeding. And we will still need the mothers who are willing to carry these children to term. Cloning adds an expensive and unnecessary step to the process; thus it does not, in fact, introduce any new problems or concerns.
I have no fear that Theresia will fall into such a fate; and where there is a society ruled by people unconcerned with the wrongness of these moral crimes. And where the leaders of a country are less concerned with the wrongness of these moral crimes, people born of normal births are in just as much danger as clones. Cloning adds nothing, and subtracts nothing, from the risk.
Though the acceptance of some of the reasons given here for a prohibition on cloning provides a very real danger.
In discussing this issue, a lot of people assert that Lesley and I are selfish for wanting Theresia, particularly since so many children are waiting to be adopted.
In this, we are just as selfish than the hundreds of millions of people each year who plan a pregnancy. They, too, are ‘ignoring’ the plight of adoptable children in favor of passing along their genes to the next generation. And if having one’s own child under these circumstances is to be considered a crime, then that crime should apply to all who have children of their own, not just those who would have their own children through cloning.
And so I challenge those who raise this objection to first go to their parents and tell them, “Mom, dad, you should have been required to adopt rather than bring me into this world.” Those who would not do this simply can be dismissed as being insincere in their criticism of us.
The same objection applies to those who assert that there are already too many people coming into the world, and we do not need another way to have children. If this were a valid objection, then all further research into infertility treatments; to only outlaw cloning for this reason would be arbitrary. And a fair law would have to limit the freedoms of everybody who plans to have a child of their own, not just those who would plan to have a child by cloning.
Funny Feeling Objections
Here, the arguer raises no specific objection to cloning. He simply asserts that the thought of cloning bothers him.
However, I find this “funny feeling” some have very much like the “funny feeling” certain racists get at the thought of a white person and a black person having a mixed-race child. The feelings are a symptom of a prejudice, and history gives many examples of sentiments such as these dominating a society, affecting even otherwise good people. In the case of cloning, this prejudice is probably acquired by too much exposure the bad science fiction described above, the way prejudice against mixed-race couples is learned by too much exposure to racism.
However, when it comes to stating that Lesley and I are to be prohibited from having Theresia, it is not unreasonable to insist on hearing a more substantive objection than “the thought of your having that child bothers me.” And all of the substantive reasons I have heard have had their own problems.
None of this argues that we should begin cloning humans tomorrow. There is an established set of guidelines for testing new medical procedures, which restrict trials on humans pending the results of preliminary studies. Cloning should be subject to these guidelines. Holding the science of cloning to these restrictions requires no additional legislation; rules are already in place.
If lawmakers are going to make new laws that effectively prohibit certain people from procreating, they must have good reason to do so. None of the reasons presented against cloning stand up to this weight.
1. “Your Theresia is offensive to God, therefore she must not be allowed to come into this world” is a dangerous principle to accept for restricting who may have children of their own.
2. Having a clone will not confuse people as to their own identity, nor will it allow us to create duplicates of people in a way that puts at risk the uniqueness or the value of the person cloned.
3. Cloning can not create an army of people who think in identical ways, and is a very inefficient way to create an army, compared to methods already available.
4. The risk that bringing Theresia into this world shall be prohibited because she might fall short of somebody’s idea of perfection would also argue for
forced sterilization and other eugenic policies.
5. There is no more of a chance that Theresia will be a slave or sold off for spare parts than there is for children conceived through traditional means.
6. In wanting a child of our own, we are no more selfish and no more guilty of contributing to an overpopulation problem than every one of the hundreds of millions of parents planning to have their next child.
7. “Funny feelings” certainly are not good enough reasons to make it illegal for Lesley to have her own biological child.
Some of these reasons simply arise from a misunderstanding of cloning. But a couple are frightening in their own right. Imagine living in a society where the people find it acceptable to assert, “your child would be less than perfect, so you may not have that child,” or “our god is offended by your procreation, therefore you may not procreate.”
It should not be difficult to imagine such a society at all. Surprisingly, it is here, right now, and can be heard wherever people gather to insist that cloning be banned.