I recently wrote a paper for a Moral Reasoning course in defense of human cloning. The concept of human cloning seems a bit frightening to me, but I don’t think that’s altogether rational.
Let me first define human cloning by the current hypothetical techniques for doing so. Human cloning is the creation of a human being, or human tissues, using 100% of the nuclear genetic material from a donor. You have to know a little bit about biology to fully understand this, but essentially the process means that instead of having two parents — each donating 50% of their genetic code, randomly — only one parent donates complete DNA, making the child, or clone, a genetic duplicate of the parent.
To examine the issue of human cloning, let’s consider the following benefits — why would we even consider cloning humans in the first place? I won’t lay out the entire list of benefits, but instead present the four general categories of benefit:
- To create donor organs or tissues (rather than new people) for therapy to cure diseases;
- To create donor tissues to prevent aging and prolong lifespan;
- As an alternate means of reproduction;
- To learn more about genetics through the process of studying and implementing cloning in practice.
There are a number of objections and fears about cloning, as well:
- The fear that cloned humans will lack individuality, or infringe upon the uniqueness of the donor.
- The fear that cloned humans will experience social hardships;
- The fear that genetic diversity will be reduced, threatening humanity as a species;
- The fear that cloning will result in the manufacturing and marketing of human beings;
- The religious objection that human cloning is playing God;
- The objection that until a human is cloned, the risk to the clone is uncertain, making it unethical to attempt cloning.
…to which offer the following points:
- On concerns about individuality: Reasearch into human cloning may also allow A cloned human will be no less an individual than monozygotic (or identical) twins are individuals. Identical twins share 100% of their genetic material, and occur in nature. They do not lack individuality. What’s more, they are further separated in time than identical twins, and more likely to be raised in different environments, making their individuality potentially greater than that of natural twins.
- On concerns about social norms: A cloned human may appear to lack the “normal” structure of a family. It has also been suggested that the fact that clones effectively have three parents — a genetic mother and father (the same parents as the original donor), and a direct parent (the donor). They may also have adoptive parents who are none of these three. While the social dynamic of a cloned person’s family may be unusual or difficult to assimilate, it is not much different than cases of adopted children, children born to surrogate mothers, or children born to single parents (to widows, or by in-vitro fertilization). The law allows these situations to arise, and it can be argued that cloning presents little difference.
- On concerns about genetic diversity: The argument here is simple. Unless the genetic diversity of the human race dwindles so much that there are fewer than 1000 genetically unique individuals, we have little cause for concern about the survival of the human race as a whole.
- On the manufacturing of human beings: The idea that we’ll end up with designer babies if cloning is allowed is a slippery-slope argument. We can easily restrict these things without banning cloning entirely. Yes, cloning opens these things up as a possibility, but so do most forms of genetic manipulation. The cloning of human beings still requires surrogate mothers, which prevents visions of clone factories from appearing. In societies that do not allow the sale of human beings anyways, this may not be much of a concern.
- On religious concerns: I do have respect for religion, but in democratic societies where government is secular, this cannot be a driving principle. While certain groups may decline to participate in cloning, religious principles are not grounds for legal restriction.
- On the ethics of even trying: This, I think, is one of the biggest problems. When creating the first human clone, we run the risk of producing a person who will suffer some hardships — they may experience medical problems, age unexpectedly quickly, or have trouble integrating into society if their origin is known publicly, especially when clones are uncommon. It’s also possible that failed attempts at cloning may produce deformed, disabled or short-lived humans who will undergo unneccessary suffering. The fact that we cannot be certain of the risks in cloning a human until we clone a human successfully. The best counter-argument against these concerns is that the process must not be done hastily, and must see success in other animals first. We may wish to clone other primates, and eventually chimpanzees (who are the animals most similar to humans, genetically), before attempting to clone a human being. Only with repeated success in other animals will this concern start to fade.
I’m not convinced that an outright ban on human clothing is justifiable. I think there are certainly valid ethical concerns, but the result should be regulation and care, rather than a reluctance to even try.
What do you think… should we ban cloning? Did I fail to address any key concerns?