This staff working paper was discussed at the Council's January 2002 meeting. It was prepared by staff
solely to aid discussion, and does not represent the official views of the Council or of the United States Government.
The President has authorized the Council to look at the
scientific, medical, and ethical issues relating to human cloning
as one of its first priorities. Anticipating the possibility of
this assignment and mindful of the importance of the topic, the
Council's staff has prepared working papers for the Council's first
discussions of human cloning. This is the first of four.
Biotechnology, Procreation, and the
Meaning of Human Cloning
This working paper, prepared for the first of our three sessions
on human cloning, has three major purposes: First, it aims to set
human cloning in the larger contexts of biotechnology and human
procreation and the bioethical discussions these subjects have generated.
Second, it presents the importance of human cloning as the first
project for the Council. Finally, but most important, it seeks to
articulate the kinds of questions that might lead to a rich exploration
of the meaning of cloning human beings.
1. Biotechnology and Human Procreation:
A Matter of Moral and Political Concern.
For roughly half a century, and at an ever-accelerating pace, biomedical
science has been gaining wondrous new knowledge of the workings
of living beings, from small to great. Increasingly, it is providing
precise and sophisticated knowledge of the workings also of the
human body and mind. Such knowledge of how things work often leads
to new technological powers to control or alter these workings,
powers generally sought in order to treat human disease and relieve
suffering. But, once available, powers sought for one purpose are
frequently usable for others. The same technological capacity to
influence and control bodily processes for medical ends may lead
(wittingly or unwittingly) to non-therapeutic uses, including "enhancements"
of normal life processes or even alterations in "human nature."
Moreover, as a result of anticipated knowledge of genetics and developmental
biology, these transforming powers may soon be able to transmit
such alterations to future generations.
Concern over the meaning of acquiring such powers -- both the promise
and the peril -- has attracted scholarly and public attention. For
over thirty years, ethical issues related to biomedical advance
have occupied the growing field of bioethics. Increasingly, these
ethical issues have entered public discussion and spawned debates
about what we should do about them. A growing number of people sense
that something new and momentous is happening: that the accelerating
waves of biotechnical advances touch deeply on our most human concerns
and the things that make us human; and that the four-centuries-old
project for human mastery of nature may now be, so to speak, coming
home, giving man the power to alter and "master" himself.
One important aspect of human life already affected by new biotechnologies
is human reproduction. Even before we have seen the potential fruits
of the human genome project, powers to manipulate the origins of
human life have been gathering, the result of the confluence of
work in genetics, cell biology, and developmental biology. Negatively,
we have acquired powers to prevent conception and to block embryo
implantation and gestation. Positively, we have acquired powers
to overcome various forms of infertility, both female and male.
Beginning with techniques of artificial insemination (sperm from
husband or donor) and progressing through in vitro fertilization
(IVF) and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection, artificial aids to
sexual reproduction have come into standard medical use. In addition,
we are gradually acquiring powers to affect in a deliberate way
the genetic endowment of the next generation. Genetic screening,
amniocentesis to test for genetic disease (and sex of offspring),
and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of in vitro embryos -- as
well as demonstrated abilities to do embryo twinning or to produce
chimeric embryonic hybrids -- have opened possibilities for choosing
(and someday altering) the genetic makeup of the resulting offspring.
The new technologies of laboratory-assisted reproduction have also
opened up possibilities for non-reproductive uses of nascent human
life. The availability of human embryos, produced in excess in IVF
clinics (or produced-to-order by IVF techniques in research laboratories),
has facilitated research on early human development and has led
to the extraction and growth of human embryonic stem cells, the
pluripotent precursor cells that may hold great promise for future
treatment of chronic degenerative diseases.
Finally, we may be on the threshold of a more radical departure
in human procreation: human cloning, the asexual reproduction of
a new human organism that is genetically virtually identical to
an already existing or previously existing organism. The first successful
cloning of a mammal (Dolly the sheep) was announced in February
1997; since then, cows, mice, pigs, and goats have also been cloned.
Several fertility specialists in the United States and abroad have
announced, to great fanfare, their intention to clone human beings,
and their efforts may already be well under way. In November 2001,
American researchers claimed to have produced the first cloned human
embryo, a being that grew only to a 6-cell stage before it died.
Public concern about the prospect of human cloning, triggered by
the cloning of Dolly, has remained high and legislative efforts
to ban human cloning proceed at home and abroad. In the United States,
six states have banned human cloning. In July 2001, the House of
Representatives passed a strict ban on all human cloning, including
the creation of embryonic human clones. President Bush has expressed
his opposition to all human cloning and has strongly supported the
House-passed ban. As of this writing the Senate has not taken any
action on the subject, though at least two competing bills have
been introduced to ban cloning. What to think and what to do about
human cloning and embryo research cloning, or both, remain topics
of lively public discussion and debate.
2. Human Cloning: The Importance
of Studying It Now
We accept the President's charge to study human cloning and concur
in the view that it is important that we do so as our first project.
With the public debate swirling and with the Senate soon to consider
the matter of a legislative ban, it would be most irresponsible
for the Council to avoid what is today the first public issue of
bioethics on the national agenda. We have an obligation to be prepared
to participate in the discussion, to clarify the issues, evaluate
the arguments, and to offer whatever help we can.
The subject of cloning is not only timely, it is also important
in itself, and quite apart from the scale on which it may be practiced.
Clonal reproduction represents the first instance of assisted baby-making
in which the genetic endowment of the resulting (cloned) child would
be specifically determined and known in advance. It may therefore
represent a first step toward normalizing the genetic design of
children or, more ambitiously, the project of eugenic "improvement"
of the human race. Bypassing sexual reproduction, it moves procreation
increasingly under artful human control and perhaps toward a form
of manufacture. These facts are important for the resulting children
and their families, as well as for the society at large: A world
that practices human cloning would seem to be a very different world,
perhaps radically different, from the one we know. It is part of
our task to understand whether, how, and why this is so.
An investigation of human cloning also provides this Council with
an important opportunity to illustrate how a rich and deep bioethics
can and should deal with technological innovations that implicate
our humanity. The most profound issues, here as elsewhere, go beyond
the commonplace and utilitarian concerns of feasibility, safety,
In addition, on the policy side, cloning offers a test case for
considering whether public control of biotechnology is possible
and desirable, and by what means and at what cost. The issue has
high public visibility, and public opposition to clonal reproduction
is strong. At the same time, there are keen proponents of research
on cloned human embryos and others who oppose any governmental interference
with the freedom of scientists and biotech companies to conduct
Human cloning was once before the subject of a report by a federal
bioethics commission, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission
(NBAC), established in 1995. Published in 1997, Cloning Human
Beings declared that attempts "t this time" to clone
a human being were unethical, owing to questions about the safety
of the technique and the likelihood of harm to the resulting offspring.
The NBAC report explored other ethical and social issues about which
it did not reach consensus. About these it recommended that they
be the subject of widespread and continuing deliberation "in
order to further our understanding of the ethical and social implications
of this technology and to enable society to produce appropriate
long-term policies regarding this technology should the time come
when present concerns about safety have been addressed." In
a recent letter to President Bush, dated September 26, 2001, NBAC
Chairman Harold Shapiro listed human cloning among the "Outstanding
Ethical and Public Policy Issues" that the outgoing Commission
believes require serious and sustained attention at the federal
level. He stressed the need to take up again the "ethical,
social, and legal issues associated with human cloning in the event
that the risks to the fetus and mother were someday to be considered
acceptable." Our Council is eager to carry to the next stage
the work that NBAC so ably began.
3. How to Proceed?
The Council begins its work on human cloning mindful of the immediate
public policy challenge: the need for a decision regarding the desirability
(or lack thereof) of a legislative ban on human cloning. We plan
in due course to consider the various policy options and assess
their relative merits. But in keeping with our mission to examine
fully and deeply the human and moral significance of any scientific
or technical innovation, we shall begin by considering the meaning
of human cloning, seen especially as an important challenge to the
character of human procreation and its personal, familial, and social
significance. We intend to consider in the fullest way possible
the range of scientific, moral, and practical questions raised by
human cloning: among them, the history and science of human cloning;
the ethical arguments for and against the creation of cloned human
beings; the relationship between "reproductive" cloning
and research cloning (more often called "therapeutic"
cloning); and the question of what is the wisest public policy.
But to properly ground these inquiries and judgments, we believe
that we must start from the human activities or aspects of our humanity
that are at stake or in conflict. We seek to understand what they
are and why we do (or should) care about their survival.
We suggest that proper points of departure for the discussion of
clonal baby-making (and indeed for many of the new biomedical technologies)
are the character of human procreation, the character of human freedom,
and the goals of biomedical science.
On the one side, we have various questions connected with the nature
and moral meaning of human procreation and the relationships and
responsibilities connected with it. For it is human procreation
in all its aspects that provides the major human context for considering
proposals to clone a human being. What does it mean to bring a child
into the world, and with what attitude should we regard its arrival?
What is the human difference between sexual and asexual reproduction
and what does this difference mean for the relation between the
generations? What is the significance of one's origins and one's
genetic make-up to who one is and how one regards oneself, to one's
"identity," individuality, and sense of self? What does
it mean if reproductive activities become increasingly technological
and commercialized? May or should one generation be permitted to
design, redesign, "improve," or select in advance the
genetic characteristics of the next generation, and if so, on the
basis of what goals and standards? What is the moral status of nascent
human life, created in the process of trying to assist human procreation?
What does it mean to regard nascent human life as a natural resource,
to be used for the benefit of others?
On the other side, and raising novel challenges to human procreation,
we have the pursuit of two other (and often allied) human goods.
First is freedom: of scientists to inquire, of technologists to
invent, of individuals to reproduce, of entrepreneurs to invest
and make money. Second is the desire to relieve mans estate:
negatively, to prevent and treat disease and alleviate suffering;
positively, to engineer "improvements" in heritable human
potentialities and capacities. The pursuit of knowledge and the
healing of illness are indeed high human callings. But what are
the necessary and sufficient conditions for their flourishing? Should
those who exercise these various freedoms accept certain limits?
Is the need to find new cures for the sick a moral imperative that
should trump all other goods and values? If not, what are the moral
boundaries that scientists and technologists should respect as they
continue their quests for knowledge and cures?
The fact that there are deep and fundamental disagreements about
these issues cannot be ignored. There is a need both for sobriety
and for a full hearing of all arguments in this debate, and it is
in this spirit of open inquiry that the Council shall do its work.
But there is also the need for responsible judgments and policies,
and for recognition of the fact that these are inescapably moral
matters, to be decided on not by scientists or techno-entrepreneurs
acting alone but by all of us conversing and deliberating in the
public square. We enter into the discussion of human cloning guided
both by this desire for wisdom and by the need for prudence.