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Reflections on Ethics 13
Thoughts On Cloning

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In the New York Times (24 January 2003,) Leon R Kass[1] writes:

The central issue in the cloning debate, however, and the primary reason to support a ban or moratorium on all human cloning, is this: it threatens the dignity of human procreation. Concern about this threat should lead us to oppose all cloning, including cloning for research.”

There has been a lot of questionable argumentation about the ethics of cloning, both pro and con. But “the dignity of human procreation” really takes the cake for foolishness.

Whatever you say about the sex act, whether for procreation or recreation, one thing is sure; the act is not dignified.[2] And that is one of its many attractions.

And I doubt that even Mr. Kass finds the act dignified. He is just using “dignity of human procreation” as a code phrase to oppose genetic selection. The specific words have absolutely no relevance to the argument he advances.

By basing his argument on genetic selection, he is equating cloning with in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, therapeutic abortion and all the other advances that lead to a higher proportion of healthy and wanted babies. Mr. Kass does not want to ban just cloning. He wants to turn back the clock.

Are there valid arguments against cloning?

Most of them are pretty weak.

It’s not natural. Really, these are just code words for “I don’t like it.” What in our lives is truly natural? Every technical advance humans have made whether in reproduction or in the rest of our lives is unnatural. My house is not natural, nor is my car, nor my clothing, not most of what I eat, nor is my artificial knee. And I wouldn’t give any of them up. As for reproductive technology: artificial insemination is not natural; in vitro insemination is not natural; fertility drugs are not natural. And the minority among us with reproductive difficulties should not be forced to give them up.

A clone is not human. To summarize this argument: Humans have a soul. The soul is created when a sperm fertilizes the ovum. Clones are created without sperm. Therefore they are not human. In other words, just metaphysical babbling. Probably, those who make this argument don’t realize they are denying the humanity of their Adam, their Eve, and their Jesus Christ.

It’s not in the Bible. Please - go live with the Amish. But even the Amish who try to live in the 17th century do things that are not in the Bible.

It will end human evolution. The argument: Continued evolution depends on mixing genes. Cloning does not mix genes. So cloning will bring about a halt to human evolution. But, this argument only has relevance if cloning becomes the prime method of reproduction. It is extremely unlikely that it will ever become cost effective or desirable for the vast majority. The traditional method will continue to be the preferred method well into the foreseeable future for reasons of cost and enjoyment.

There is one argument against human cloning that has validity. And it is the only one with relevance. That is: There is no reasonable assurance today that a healthy child will be the result. Given the results to date from animal cloning experiments, [3] there are too many failures in embryonic development, and those brought to term either have abnormalities or suffer from premature aging.

From my viewpoint, that is sufficient to oppose human cloning to completion right now.

Alleviate that concern, and I don’t see a genuine ethical problem. And I see no problem with alleviating that concern through research into human cloning.

Let those with excessive vanity select this way to reproduce. Perhaps we could then eliminate that trait from the mainstream gene pool.

 

Footnotes:

  1. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and chairman of the US President's Council on Bioethics.
  2. If you wonder if the act can be imbued with dignity, just imagine the two most dignified people you can think of performing it. For example: consider the Queen of England and the actor James Earl Jones. Both individuals with great natural dignity; but just imagine them “doing it” together. If that image is too much for you, knock 50 years off their ages. Or alternatively, imagine your parents in the act that produced you. And there go the last shreds of their dignity.
  3. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the ethics of animal experiments, whether for cloning or other purposes.