The Truth about Anti-Cloning
When the news first swept the world about the cloning of a sheep, a wave of science-fiction reading journalists postulated that soon we would be cloning Michael Jordan in order to create a stellar basketball team. Hysteria flourished in the halls of the federal government as members of Congress and the President clamored to issue public denunciations of human cloning. Once the initial hype died down and along with it outrageous predictions, sober dialogue and debate about the ethical implications of the new technology should have followed.
Instead, we were treated to an outpouring of hand-wringing and moral condemnation. Pope John Paul II declared that every human has a "right to a unique human genome." UNESCO has weighed in as well, declaring, "Practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted."1 Nineteen members of the European Council have signed an agreement prohibiting the cloning of humans saying that "… it is important for Europe solemnly to declare its determination to defend human dignity against the abuses of scientific techniques."2 Finally, our own President reminded us that "[i]t's good to remember that scientific advancement does not occur in a moral vacuum."3
These comments beg a great deal of questions. Is cloning immoral? By what standard? Is the case against human cloning as airtight as the statements indicate? Should cloning be banned for the public safety? In the voluminous writing on the subject, the answers to these questions are far from apparent. In this essay, I will briefly detail the scientific background of cloning. Then I will attempt to flush the philosophical underpinnings of the anti-cloning camp from the bushes of assertion. Finally, I will examine these underlying premises' validity and objectivity. Through these efforts, I hope to shine the illuminating light of reason on an oftentimes emotional subject.p>
Before we move on to these premises, though, we must elaborate the context of the cloning issue—that is, we must understand the scientific theories behind cloning. The whole field of biotechnology is undergoing a revolution. With the discovery of recombinant DNA in 1970, the possibilities of manipulating biological entities seems endless. There now exists a Human Genome Project charged with mapping the whole of man's genetic structure. Once that is achieved, man's heretofore unknown internal development will be laid bare.
In the meantime, cloning is the hottest research going. It is currently focused on a process known as 'somatic cell nuclear transfer.' In this procedure, the nucleus of one cell is inserted into another cell whose nucleus has been removed. As amazing as this is, still more incredible is the potential for combining this nuclear transfer with recent breakthroughs involving adult cells. Prior to becoming mature, adult cells, cells are embryonic—retaining the potentiality of being any type of cell once there is the proper stimulus. These cells are known as stem cells. It now appears that adult cells can be 'reset' back to stem cells and then—with the proper stimulus—any kind of cell imaginable.
This is what the Roslin experiment indicated. In February 1997, Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Scottish animal research facility successfully cloned a sheep from an adult mammary cell. They did this by removing the nucleus of an adult udder cell and then inserting it into a sheep egg cell whose nucleus had been removed.4 Once the cell began dividing, it was implanted into the uterus of another sheep where it underwent the normal gestational process and entered the world as a genetically-equivalent copy of its 'mother.' This newborn was called Dolly and initiated a worldwide debate that continues to this day.
While questions still linger—namely about whether the donor nucleus was in fact an adult cell5—the Dolly experiment did prove that somatic cell transfer does work. Subsequent experiments in Oregon involving a Rhesus monkey confirmed Wilmut's findings.6 This technology is not just of theoretical importance; the ability to change a cell into a completely different type of cell has profound implications for current disease treatment. Patients suffering from leukemia could be given healthy marrow cells removed from their own bodies, thus solving the biggest problem facing such patients—inability to find an acceptable donor. Or diabetics could get insulin-producing cells transplanted into their pancreas. Or heart attack victims could get heart tissue replacements. The possibilities are both staggering and endless.
The real controversy does not lie with such inarguable medical benefits. It centers around attempts or proposed attempts to duplicate the Dolly experiment on human beings. The controversy has been stirred by the likes of people such as Richard Seed. Seed broke some startling news at a Chicago symposium on reproductive technologies in December of 1997.7 He claimed that he was going to establish a clinic for human cloning using private funds and expects the demand to rise to about 200,000 per year once his procedure is perfected.8 He further claims that he has already obtained some seed money (no pun intended) as well as some doctors and donors who are willing to be the first participants. This set off a public furor which resulted in a general ban on cloning in Europe and a spate of bills in both houses of Congress seeking everything from a five-year moratorium to outright prohibition.9
What is the source of such disapproval? Why does cloning engender such moral opprobrium? In my research on the subject, I have found that arguments against human cloning have fallen into one of four general themes: cloning is unnatural; cloning is a glaring example of man's hubris; cloning has great potential for misuse; and cloning precludes genetic diversity.
The artificiality of cloning is by far the most popular argument offered against cloning. Cloning is just not the way human beings reproduce, according to this view. Changing the way humans engage in one of the most basic needs is fraught with possible peril. Like homosexuality, it is flaunting the natural order of things. Columnist George Will put it this way: "What if the great given—a human being is a product of the union of a man and woman—is no longer a given?" Environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin observed that cloning "throws every convention, every historical tradition, up for grabs."10
Related to the unnatural argument is the fear that cloning would produce a slew of genetically-identical people. In other words, cloning would reduce the diversity of our population. Genetics plays a huge role in determining our individuality and identity, proponents of this premise believe. Start duplicating people and you become a homogenous, collectivist society. "Can individuality, identity, and dignity be severed from genetic distinctiveness, and from belief in a person's open future?" asks Will.11 The assumption underlying Will's query is that these human traits cannot be separated from genetic foundations—that is, all of man's identity, personality, intelligence, etc. are derived from genetic factors. Professor John Fletcher of the University of Virginia's medical school and an authority on biomedical ethics calls this belief 'genetic essentialism' and says that polls indicate between thirty and forty percent of Americans share Will's opinion.12
Another prominent argument by which cloning is deplored is the man-as-God premise. This view basically states that creation is the exclusive domain of God, or should be. For men to arrogate that fundamental divine power for themselves is an unpardonable sin. Man should accept God's divine wisdom and not try to second-judge His actions. By what right does mankind meddle in the affairs of the supreme being? Who is man to believe himself of such significance?
This argument also has its roots in the 'unnatural' argument since God created the natural order of things. Any deviation from this norm is a flaunting of God's natural edicts. Cloning, as the Pope has said, is simply not how Christians reproduce. Or, more colloquially, if God had meant for man to clone himself, He would have given him asexual reproduction. Since He didn't, man must make do with the old-fashioned method of procreation. Cloning opponents have explicitly stated this many times. House Majority Leader Dick Armey said that "to be human is to be made in the image and likeness of a loving God … creating multiple copies of God's unique handiwork" is bad for a variety of reasons. Senator Kit Bond says that "humans are not God and they should not be allowed to play God." Albert Moraczewski, a theologian with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, argues that "cloning exceeds the limits of the delegated dominions given to the human race."13
Cloning has also been criticized for the potential of misuse. It has been speculated that people would utilize the procedure for the wrong reasons. It is generally conceded that an infertile couple who cannot conceive a child by any other means may be a legitimate case for cloning—although many would deny them even this and recommend adoption. Tougher cases abound. What about the couple with predispositions for genetically-transmitted diseases who are very capable of reproduction but don't for fear of transmission? Cloning would be a method to conceive a child without fear of such diseases. What about the couple that desires a child just like one of them, i.e., for narcissistic purposes? Anti-cloners—for lack of a better term—would definitely say that is a wrong reason. What about using cloning for eugenic purposes, i.e., to create 'better' people? Certainly not. In fact, Ian Wilmut himself cannot conceive of a valid purpose of cloning: "For me personally … I still have not heard a suggested use for copying a person that I find acceptable."14
The one scientific argument against cloning is that it flies in the face of necessary genetic diversity. The gene pool must not become a gene bathtub, or humanity will suffer. The fear is that massive cloning would lead to mass plagues as pathogens gain the upper hand in scores of similar immune systems. As one National Public Radio commentator observed, "Diversity isn't just politically correct, it's good science." It is similar to agriculture where cloning and genetic manipulation has been occurring for a long time. If everyone were to use the same hybrid, and that hybrid was prone to a certain pest, there would be widespread crop failure.15
Unfortunately, each of these objections to cloning is erroneous. Cloning is unnatural only in the sense that it is not the process by which humans ordinarily procreate. What does that mean, though? We humans do a great many things that our primitive ancestors never envisioned or were even able to envision. The natural order of things is not an unqualified good. The fatalism of this proposition is very hard to defend when examples of man's achievement are put forth. What if mankind had accepted the inevitability of disease and plague? What if mankind had never sought to ameliorate the human condition and extend the lives of its members? What if mankind had never created the creature comforts that have become standard in the civilized world? Certainly, no one would argue that we would better off if we had remained strictly hunter-gatherers. As British philosopher John Gray said, "For millennia, people have been born, have suffered pain and illness, and have died, without those occurrences being understood as treatable diseases."16
Yet they do argue that science must be halted. A ban on cloning, however, will have incredible consequences. To be sure, they will largely be unseen. Who can count the number of people who would have been saved had some genetic disease been taken out prior to conception? How many infertile couples would have benefited from another option? It is impossible to know, though we do know that these two scenarios would occur. As Ronald Bailey put it, "trying to exercise prior restraint on scientific and medical research is fraught with moral peril."17 Cloning discoveries and advances would lead to cures for AIDS, cancer, Tay-Sachs, and heart disease—geneticists can already see how this may be accomplished using DNA manipulation. To nip this research in the bud is to be a party to the human misery that will inevitably continue. In fact, The New England Journal of Medicine has stated that it believes any ban on research to be "seriously misguided" and that research on somatic cell nuclear transfer needs "nurturing before it can be branded a success or failure."18
This aiding and abetting of human suffering is the real hubris. No one is advocating a government-sponsored eugenics plan or government-sponsored cloning. Anyone who engaged in these activities would be doing so privately and voluntarily. It is quintessential arrogance to think that you alone possess true wisdom and that you therefore must prevent people from harming themselves—that you alone know what's best for them. "We control all other aspects of our children's lives and identities through powerful social and environmental influences and, in some cases, with the use of powerful drugs like Ritalin and Prozac," observes Lee Silver, author of the recent book Remaking Eden. "On what basis can we reject positive genetic influences on a person's essence when we accept the rights of parents to benefit their children in every other way?"19
When we recognize the right of individuals to do whatever they want with their bodies free of government restraint, how can we ban cloning? In 1942, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a law that required the sterilization of convicted criminals. It asserted that reproduction is "one of the basic civil rights of man."20 The abortion debate centers around the same issue. How can anyone tell his fellow man what he can and cannot do with his own body?
Moreover, it is not at all clear why cloning is immoral. Certainly, it has been declared to be so by any number of authorities, but why? Cloning has been going on for millennia, under a different name of course—identical twins. The clone would be fully human. True, he would be a different age than his twin but what would that matter? "You should treat all clones like you would treat all monozygous twins or triplets," Dr. H. Tristam Engelhardt, a professor of medicine at Baylor and a philosopher at Rice, argues. "That's it."21 If a clone is essentially an identical twin separated by time, its moral status becomes obvious. It is a human being, period.
Many scary scenarios have been provided showing clones being abused or used for spare parts. This, however, is ludicrous if we understand a clone to be a human being. All human beings, by virtue of existence, have "certain inalienable rights" that cannot be trampled. Therefore, anyone who enacted such scenarios would be guilty of violating the clone's individual rights and subject to prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, as if he had committed such acts on a 'real' person.
Ronald Bailey proposed an interesting thought experiment in an article of his on the subject which clearly illustrates the principle involved:
If tomorrow someone could prove that you were a clone, would you think your life was worth less, that your loves and experiences were devalued? You would be the same person you always were. Nothing would be different simply because you were born from a "previously experienced genome," in the tortured language of the cloning prohibitionists. A clone would likely have no more issues about self-worth and life chances than test-tube babies or adopted children do today.22
This analogy is especially appropriate since clones would bear no external indications of their conception and would therefore face the same issues as adopted children.
The one scientific objection raised is similarly easily dismissed. Crops are not human beings. Whereas agricultural scientists may use one plant for copying, human beings will never clone just one person. It is crazy to assume that there would be millions of versions of one individual running around. That is the only situation where genomic diversity would be at risk. Even then, science and technology would surely be able to control the pathogens much like they eradicated the various diseases that existed in epidemics in earlier times.
If the controversy about cloning is nonsensical, why all the fuss? From the statements I have scattered around this essay, I have concluded that the opposition to cloning stems from philosophical grounds. Although the anti-cloners may couch their antipathy in scientific terms or safety issues, the real motivation is subterranean. Anti-cloning is but one application of a philosophy prevalent today. This philosophy is anti-technology, anti-man, and anti-life.
This anti-technology I mention is best suggested by the 'unnatural' argument. The Industrial Revolution has been assailed for being unnatural. The free world's current luxurious lifestyle has been derided as harmful to the natural world. Those who use this argument would have mankind revert to the status of ten thousand years ago. To them, technology is not an unqualified good and progress something to be stopped. The betterment of man's life brought about by cloning breakthroughs and other related advances cannot be a bad thing. "Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body wrecking ordeal," philosopher Ayn Rand concluded. "In 'nature,' the struggle for food, clothing, and shelter consumes all of a man's energy and spirit…."23 Who could reasonably argue that we are worse off because we live longer and better than our primitive ancestors?
Similarly, proponents of this philosophy are anti-man. They do not regard man as a part of the natural world they revere. "Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along," is the way biologist David M. Graber put it in The Los Angeles Times.24 Man, who has unleashed technology on the earth, must control his ways. Man has overstepped the bounds of his domain and must be checked. What rationale could underlie such a premise?
Ultimately, those who are anti-technology and anti-man succumb to anti-life views. Cloning offers hope to those who suffer from horrid genetic diseases and their unborn children. It is of inestimable benefit to mankind. It will help infertile couples—which currently number 15% of the American population25—to realize their dreams of family. To the opponents, people's lives should be "brutish, nasty, and short," in Hobbes' classic formulation. How could anyone be anti-life?
It is hard to imagine that anyone could hold these viewpoints, but they do. Before you is the evidence of such beliefs. Several pieces of legislation seeking anything from a five-year moratorium to an outright ban on cloning are currently before Congress. It is unclear at this time whether or not they will be successful. The future of mankind and our standard of living is at stake. There now exist several diseases for which no cure is known. Without progress in medicine, man's life will suffer. There has always been opposition to new technologies—voices crawling out of the woodwork decrying man's arrogance—and most of the time these new technologies have been implemented. I can only hope that cloning will not be among those that have been restricted.
1 Bailey, Ronald. "Send in the Clones." Reason, June 1998, 63.
4 Bailey, p. 63.
9 Nash, J. Madeleine. "The Case for Cloning." Time, 9 February 1998.
10 Bailey, Ronald. "The Twin Paradox." Reason, May 1997, p. 52.
11 Ibid., p. 52.
12 Ibid., p. 52.
13 Eibert, Mark D. "Clone Wars." Reason, June 1998, p. 52.
15 Bailey, "Twin Paradox," p. 54.
16 Postrel, Virginia I. "Fatalist Attraction." Reason, July 1997, p.6.
17 Bailey, "Send in the Clones," p. 66.
19 Ibid., p. 66.
20 Eibert, p. 53.
21 Bailey, "The Twin Paradox," p. 52.
22 Bailey, "Send in the Clones," p. 66.
24 Graber, David M. "Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower." Rev. of The End of Nature, by Bill McKibben. Los Angeles Times Book Review 22 October 1989: 10.
25 Eibert, p. 53.