The announcement of the birth of the cloned ewe, Dolly, in 1997 by scientists at the Roslin Institute, was a shock for the entire world. Up until that point, the issue of the morality and ethics of cloning had been relegated to discussions of purely theoretical nature. Because of the conceptual simplicity of the process used, in which an enucleated egg is implanted with the genetic material from a somatic cell, many people immediately saw that the actual instantiation of cloning a human being was a distinct possibility and a potential moral and ethical danger zone. We had not, as a species, ever truly considered the likelihood that human reproduction would fall so fully under the hand of technology. Though there are many detractors to the application of cloning technology to humans, I believe that human cloning technology can be used with responsibility to achieve a number of improvements to human experience. Consequently, I oppose the proposal to ban research into the cloning of human beings because the arguments used to support such a ban do not bear the weight of critical inspection, though the arguments themselves are also important to human advancement.
The arguments in support of a ban on human cloning are numerous and varied; they are, in fact, too varied to cover them all in a single paper. Nonetheless, there are a number of arguments that appear with relative frequency and can be grouped under general headings that seem to express natural fears and misgivings about human cloning and humanity’s relationship to the process of cloning in a moral sense. [All these arguments are refuted below.]
The general summation of these arguments seems to present itself in a single statement as presented below:
“Cloning should be banned because it fosters the treatment of people as means, not ends, provides no clear benefits in exchange for risks, fosters the further ambiguation of kinship structures, and compromises the dignity and uniqueness of individuals.”
In what I call the utilitarian argument, the assumption seems to be that the entire process of cloning is, at its root, a process that reduces human beings to the status of instruments, denying them their God given state of dignity as ends in and of themselves. Even though there may be many ethical applications of cloning, the very nature of the act presents a slippery slope that leads to a reductionist view of people. According to David M. Byers in his article, “An Absence of Love,” “At this most fundamental level, clones would be human beings created, at least in part, to fulfill the will of another human being.”(70). He goes on to say, “Cloning, at base, is an assertion of power over another human being, exercised without consent.”(76). In the utilitarian argument, there is considerable concern that, especially for the gene donor and for the clone, the act of cloning will compromise their dignity and their freedom from instrumental treatment. With respect to the instrumental treatment of the clone, it has been said, “Cloning tries to force an outcome on the individual – to fulfill a predetermined destiny that the individual may not be able to fulfill.’(Evans, 30).
The risk/benefit argument suggests that there are insufficient supporting arguments in favor of cloning to outweigh the risks associated with the process, as it would be applied to humans. “When we consider the suggested goals of human cloning (to create spare body parts, produce a child, or advance science), in each case there are other techniques available to achieve these goals.”(Evans, 27). It is undeniable that there are a number of risks associated with the process of Roslin Nuclear Transfer that, if applied to a human embryo, would constitute a significant moral transgression. “Because we will likely never be able to protect the human subject of cloning research from serious harm, the basic ethical rules of human experimentation prohibit us from ever using it on humans,”(Annas, 60). There are even those that support that the benefits that are touted as possible boons from cloning are unnecessary. In an article in The National Review, E.V. Kontorovich asserts. “As for infertility, it is not even a disabling sickness that, on humanitarian grounds, we should feel obligated to alleviate.” He goes on to say, “There is nothing heartless about saying that people should resort to alternatives besides cloning, like adoption.” (2 of 5).
Kinship and the Family argument
A significant proportion of the detractors of human cloning touches on an important point –that of kinship and the family. The topic of familial definition has been undergoing considerable transformation in the late twentieth century, and stands to be redefined even further. Nonetheless, the kinship argument is at the heart of most people’s distrust of the cloning process. Most people fear that the very definition of a person’s place in the world, as defined by their place in a kinship group, becomes threatened. “The relationship between the parties to asexual reproduction would be inherently ambiguous.”(Kontorovich, 4 of 5). Furthermore, that ambiguity is seen as threatening to the structure of the family. “Cloning undermines the structure of the family…. Reproduction and progeny are not connected. Furthermore, cloned individuals may have difficulty determining who their parents are.”(Evans, 30-31).
Finally, the opposition to cloning claims that cloning would deprive people of their natural and God given state of uniqueness and that compromising that uniqueness may lead to unfortunate results. One of the more eloquently stated fears about loss of uniqueness was stated as a concern for genetic diversity. “The production of human clones goes against Nature in that the latter requires that the genetic structure of all human offspring be a composite of genes from two donors. In that way, Nature assures diversity and helps overcome some of the inherent weaknesses in either donor. Thus it follows that widespread cloning would lead to a gradual diminution of genetic quality.”(Paris, 47). Another argument that fits under the label of concern for uniqueness is a consideration for the rights of the clone to a unique and untried genotype. “Moreover, the cloned individual will be saddled with a genotype that has already lived. He will not be fully a surprise to the world, and people are likely always to compare his performances in life with that of his alter-ego.”(Kass, 58).
Though the arguments presented by the opposition seem sound at first glance, there are a number of unconsidered issues that address those arguments directly. Within this refutation, I plan to show that each argument within the opposition section of this paper cannot bear the weight of critical inspection. Each argument ( Utilitarian, Risk/Benefit, Kinship and the Family, and Uniqueness) will be addressed in turn, followed by a conclusion that will sum up my views on both the issue of human cloning, and of the argument that surrounds it.
In response to the utilitarian argument, there is much to be said. First, to address the slippery slope, it needs to be realized that process of human living is a slippery slope of choices, risks and mistakes. We do the best we can to make the best choices, accurately assess and minimize the risks, and avoid the mistakes. “…any slippery slope argument depends on actual or highly probable empirical results that may or may not be realized. Arguably, safeguards could be put in place to protect clones from such outcomes, and such safeguards would address the objection.”(Heller, 170). Throughout the entire objection sequence, it has never once been questioned whether or not clones would be considered fully human. Indeed, most of the objection arguments are founded on the assumption that every clone is a fully dignified human being with rights that can be violated. If this is the case, and I do believe that it is, then that means that clones are also subject to the entire spectrum of human experience, including being subjected to use by other humans. If a particular act cannot be perpetrated upon someone with “natural” parentage, why on Earth would we allow it to be perpetrated on a clone? We do not freeze the second born twin to have spare parts for the first; the thought of calibans brings to mind just this image. With respect to the argument by Mr. Byers, that clones are created to fulfill the will of another being, this argument could be expressed with no loss of parallel to the discussion of planned children of any kind, including those conceived in the natural way. As for the objection that cloning would perpetrate a process of attempting to create specific personality traits or inclinations, or the assertion of power, we cannot prevent that process, even in the rearing of “natural” children. According to Michael Tooley of the University of Colorado at Boulder, “The upshot is that, if cloning that aimed at producing people who would be more likely to possess various personality traits or traits of character, or who would be more likely to have certain interests, was wrong because it was a case of interfering with personal autonomy, then the childrearing practices of almost all parents would stand condemned on precisely the same grounds.”(97).
Although the opposition states that there is no benefit that outweighs the risks associated with human cloning, I think that this is an extremely subjective argument. There is no way that attendant risks to the process of “natural” procreation can realistically be assessed except on a case by case basis. For instance, if a couple both have the gene for sickle cell anemia, though neither has expressed the disease, there is a twenty-five percent chance for each child that they have that that child will express the genetic disease of sickle cell anemia. Compared to the risks currently estimated for cloning, the couple would be subjecting their child to less potential for suffering if they underwent the RNT procedure than if they conceived in the old fashioned way. Human cloning can also be an answer for infertile couples. The process of IVF was really only intended for treatment of blocked fallopian tubes, a fairly simple mechanical defect. “Today, however, in the absence of effective treatments for many other types of infertility, IVF is the only treatment available for large numbers of patients for whom the chance of success is small. The result is that according to the federal government’s annual report of IVF clinic success rates, four out of every five attempts at IVF, GIFT, and ZIFT end in failure.”(Human Cloning Foundation, 2 of 7) It is possible, through cloning of embryos to provide for the possibility of multiple attempts at pregnancy without the attendant risks associated with IVF. According to the Human Embryo Research Panel, “[Embryo cloning]…has the advantage of not inducing superovulation in women, with all its attendant risks, in order to extract a sufficient number of eggs.”(p. 45)
Kinship and Families argument
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the principal definitions of a parent is “a person who holds the position or functions of a parent. A protector and guardian; sometimes applied to a father- or mother-in-law.” This definition of familial bond is one of the most liberal, but also one, with which I can find no one who will disagree. It is counterintuitive to most people to think that the person who engaged in one’s childrearing is not the parent, so why is the issue of cloning so different? In a world of single parent families, the process of cloning is a natural extension of the process already undertaken to a great degree. In households of two parents, the genetic lineage of a beloved child is not as important as whether or not the child is raised in a loving environment. If you disagree, perhaps you should ask an adopted child whom he or she considers his or her parents. Rarely will it be anyone but the parents of rearing. Addressing the issue that cloned children are made, not begot, “… the distinction between making and begetting may not bear moral weight because it would rule out other reproductive techniques that are commonly viewed as morally permissible.”(Heller, 171).
“Human clones have always existed, however, brought about by the natural process of the birth of identical twins…. However similar such twins may be in appearance and some other traits, there is absolutely no doubt that they are two separate individuals whose lives and personalities may develop in markedly different ways.”(Polkinghorne, 37). There is nothing that we can do at this time to compromise the uniqueness of any individual, and that includes clones. In fact, due to the mitochondrial distinction issue, clones actually have less in common with their donors, if conceived with the RNT technique, than identical twins do with each other. With respect to the fear that clones will be treated as just a batch of genetic code, with no uniqueness and dignity of their own, “Kids are not commercial property – slavery was abolished some time ago.”(Bailey, 75). Though there may be a number of people who may try to replicate an inspired genius or a successful sports star, they are likely to be unsuccessful. Human individuation has survived for thousands of years in the face of Little League Dads and Stage Mothers. “…a ban on cloning would not abolish pushy parents.”(Bailey, 76). In the meantime, it is important to remember that, regardless of whether or not cloning humans gets a green light, we need to seriously look at the way we already treat our children. “We need to construct visions of just what it means to treat children with dignity when they are the product –that is, when they are the gift –of advanced reproductive technology.”(Peters, 24).
The processes of human ambition may try to erase the individual from humanity’s ranks, but this is not a problem inherent in cloning; it is a problem inherent in humans. The issue of cloning simply throws the entire mess into stark relief. If we enact a ban on cloning now, we will be doing ourselves a disservice for a number of reasons. We will lose the benefits that can be garnered from the technology to alleviate a number of kinds of suffering, but we will also lose the benefits of the moral discussions about the value of human dignity and what it means to be unique (or not). Lost, too would be the opportunity to see ourselves as already perpetrating upon our fellow man exactly the things that we fear will be brought on by a new technology. We didn’t need the new technology to create the horrors we fear; they are already here. Only through this open and heated discussion can we look past the symptoms of our fear to the underlying corruption in our attitudes toward our fellow man. As put by Peter Harris, “I oppose the ban because of my deep interest in fostering such a public discussion. A legal ban brings closure to a public debate rather than stimulating it.”(Harris, 47).
As for whether or not we should engage in genetic research and human cloning, I leave you with a brief quote from Harris:
no modern scientist has stolen anything out of heaven.
Rather, the capacity for knowledge has been given to humanity
by the omniscient and omnipotent creator of us all,
the one whose authority and being are not usurped
even by the capacity of the creature to clone itself.”
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Byers, David M. “An Absence of Love.” Cole-Turner. 66-77.
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Evans, Abigail Rian. “Saying No to Human Cloning.” Cole-Turner. 25-34.
Harris, Peter J. “A View from the Underside.” Cole-Turner. 43-48.
Heller, Jan C. “Religiously Based Objections to Cloning.” Humber and Almeder.
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Tooley, Michael. “The Moral Status of Cloning Humans.” Humber and Almeder. 67-101.