The President's Council on Bioethics click here to skip navigation

 

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.

See also Staff Working Paper: Arguments Against "Reproductive" Cloning


Staff Working Paper

Arguments for "Reproductive Cloning"

This working paper, prepared for the second of our three sessions on human cloning, addresses the following matters: What are the ethical arguments for and against human "reproductive" cloning? Should society ban it? How do advocates of each position respond to the arguments of the other side? How should concern about fundamental human goods (such as human nature, culture, family, individuality, rights, and dignity) shape our judgment about the ethics of human cloning? The paper is divided into two distinct sections, 3a and 3b, which present the case in favor of and against "reproductive" cloning, respectively.

3a. Arguments for "Reproductive" Cloning
The widespread unease, fear, and revulsion that most Americans feel at the idea of cloning human beings is undeniable. Human cloning challenges long-standing assumptions about human life and human nature. It elicits in many people the image of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where biology and science reduce men and women to monsters or machines.

But the stability and wisdom of these prejudices, when viewed in the larger course of human and technological progress, remains an open question. How often in history has the unknown and undone been called "evil" or "hubristic" or "impossible," only to become normal, desirable, and celebrated? How often have new discoveries and new powers over nature been described as fundamental "leaps," when in fact they are a continuation of previous (and accepted) innovations? Of course, there are certainly technologies that many of us probably wish could be undiscovered. And the historical fact that individuals and societies have embraced, over time, technologies that they once feared and rejected does not prove that the technologies are good, only that people became convinced that they are good. In other words, just because something is possible does not mean it is desirable. But equally true is the fact that just because something is new -- even "revolutionary" -- does not mean it ought to be feared and rejected.

A sober judgment about human cloning, therefore, requires a full consideration of our prejudices, and perhaps the discovery that our prejudices are not the only or even the best ones. Among those who desire to clone human beings -- both for experimental and for reproductive purposes -- three human goods (or ideas of human good) are central: The first is the good of human freedom: to inquire, to invent, to reproduce, to seek human progress, to live out one's chosen course of life, to dare to know the unknown and to do the undone. The second is the desire to relieve man's estate: to prevent and treat diseases; to improve the life chances and opportunities of ever more people; and to expand what is humanly possible by improving man's genetic potentialities and capacities. The third is the good of human love: love of oneself and one's existence; love of one's spouse or partner, with whom one desires to share the rearing of a "biologically related" child; and love of the potential child himself or herself.

This working paper will begin by listing the justifiable -- or potentially justifiable -- reasons for human reproductive cloning, as well as the reasons why human cloning ought not to be banned. It will then direct most of its attention to reexamining our moral prejudices relevant to human cloning. It will suggest that the public's repugnance against cloning may be extreme or misguided, and not likely to last once (or if) the technology becomes safe and its good (or justifiable) uses become apparent.

A. Reasons for Reproductive Cloning
The reasons for human reproductive cloning can perhaps be broken down into two basic groups: liberal (a through f) and eugenic (g through i). The first are recognizable and defensible within the core values of modern liberal democracy; the second run against the grain of our prejudices -- for now, if not forever.

Reproductive cloning, it is argued:

a. Allows infertile couples to have children who are biologically related to one of the parents.1

b. Allows nontraditional couples and individuals (same-sex couples, single mothers, single fathers) to have children who are biologically related to themselves.

c. Allows people to have children without the risk of known genetic diseases.

d. Allows people to attempt to "replace" children who have died prematurely.

e. Allows parents to produce children who would be ideal transplant donors for a desperately ill existing child.

f. Expands reproductive freedom and reproductive choice.

g. Allows families or society to reproduce individuals of great genius, talent, or beauty, presumed to be based on their desirable or superior genetic make-ups.

h. Allows society to prepare for the unpredictable nature of the future: for example, extreme circumstances may require the re-creation of certain desirable genomes.

i. Human cloning is the next step in human evolution; the gateway to the genetic self-improvement of mankind; and the desirable continuation of modern civilization's mastery of nature for the relief of man's estate.

B. The Case Against Banning Reproductive Cloning
Beyond the deep disagreements about the ethics of human cloning, there are prudential, social, and political questions regarding whether banning human cloning is desirable or feasible, and whether its unintended consequences are more or less significant than its intended purpose.

The arguments against such a ban include the following:

a. Government should not or cannot interfere with reproductive rights, even if a majority of society believes certain forms of reproduction are undesirable or immoral.

b. Human cloning is so strange that only a small number of people will try to reproduce in this way, and even if they are successful the effect on society would be limited or insignificant, and does not justify state intervention.

c. Banning human cloning at the federal level is unconstitutional, and would be an undesirable increase of federal power.

d. Banning human cloning will not succeed. People will violate the ban or move their cloning activities "offshore" to more permissive settings. Better therefore to allow it and to regulate its use.

e. Banning human cloning threatens other legitimate avenues of scientific research, and sets a dangerous precedent against the freedom of scientific inquiry.

f. Banning human cloning would threaten widely accepted forms of assisted reproduction (such as artificial insemination and IVF).

g. Even if human cloning is not desirable in light of society's present-day values, it is likely that cloned children will one day exist, and banning cloning today will set a dangerous precedent that future cloned people are unequal, undesirable, and lack equal civil rights. It will establish an unnecessary legacy of discrimination.

C. The Safety of Human Cloning 2
a. The ends justify the means: Beneficial research and technological breakthroughs often come with costs, including research on human embryos and fetuses.

b. Safety is possible without requiring overly reckless experimentation: Parallel with IVF.

D. Moral and Philosophical Considerations -- Reexamining Our Prejudices
1. Existence versus Non-Existence: Those who oppose human cloning believe a class of potential human beings (human clones) should never be created, and hence should never exist. This raises a series of questions and problems: If a child were in fact created through human cloning, would that child possess "human dignity"? Would the cloned child be "sacred" in the eyes of those who affirm the sacredness of human life? If yes, do opponents of cloning believe that potentially dignified and sacred human beings (cloned children) should be denied existence, even if they could be created safely?

Opponents of human cloning offer three answers to this challenge: First, they say that it is not potential clones that are the object of their repugnance, but rather those who would create the cloned children, the desire to create them, and the act of creating them. Second, they say that seeking to stop something from coming to be is not necessarily a denial of the dignity of the thing (or the class of persons) that is stopped. Third, they say that arguing against the possible maiming of unborn children (like arguing against the siring of children through rape or incest) is not the same as saying those children should be mistreated once or if they were to exist or that their existence would lack human dignity.

These are indeed serious, perhaps impregnable objections. Nevertheless, on these questions, it may be worth considering a comparison of the ethics of human cloning and the ethics of the selective abortion of embryos with genetic defects. For on the one hand, many opponents of human cloning at the same time affirm being over non-being on the question of whether to abort "imperfects," arguing that it is a false mercy to kill unborn children even if they have been diagnosed with certain biological or genetic defects. They affirm the sacredness of all human life, including the sacredness of the sick, disabled, and "non-normal." On the other hand, they argue against the creation of human clones, and therefore seem to prefer the non-existence of a class of human beings over existence.

Of course, the difference here is that many of those who seek to stop human cloning would do so before any individual clones have been created. Selective abortion, by contrast, is a "remedy" after the fact -- after unborn individuals have already been created, who are imperfect in some way because of the "misfortunes" of natural fertilization rather than the mistakes of the laboratory. But this difference, in the end, seems less significant than whether existence is affirmed -- however "imperfect" or "non-normal" those who would exist might be -- or whether existence is denied. And if the concern is specifically about the potential "maiming" of children, do objections to human cloning lose their force if the technique were to become as safe in the future as IVF is in the present?

Moreover, when or if it becomes likely that human cloning will happen, doesn't prudence require that arguments against it be moderated or even muted for the sake of the dignity, well-being, and self-esteem of the clones that exist? What would it feel like to be a child that a significant portion of society wants to "ban"? The answer to this question, of course, can cut both ways: as a reason never to clone in the first place, or as a reason to tolerate human clones and human cloning, because society will not likely stop it. One's answer to this question depends not just on whether one believes a ban on human cloning is morally desirable but also on whether one believes it is possible or likely to be effective.

There may be both philosophical and practical difficulties connected with holding that clones should never exist, but that if they do in fact come into being they will posses human dignity. (Just as it seems problematic to say that whole classes of unborn children with certain diseases should be preemptively aborted, while those who live with such diseases are still human beings in the full sense.) 3 It also seems plausible to argue that a cloned individual, once born, would prefer existence as a clone to no existence at all, which would leave opponents of cloning in the intolerant position of saying: "We don't want you; better for us and for you that you never existed."

2. The Many Faces of Human Dignity: What gives human beings dignity? What defines human nature? What responsibilities and duties define the good life, the good society, or the good civilization? On these questions, there are deep disagreements -- perhaps irreconcilable conflicts -- between competing ideals, competing moralities, and therefore a competing sense of what is justified and what is not, what is good and what is evil. It is therefore not so easy to say that cloning is an assault on human dignity.

Example 1: Person A may believe human life is defined by the achievements of the strong and those endowed with superior intelligence (or by the rights of all citizens to become these things); and that any eugenic or reproductive program that increases the number and capacity of such human beings (say, by cloning individuals with the best genotypes) is morally good. Person B may believe that human life is defined by the equal dignity of all human beings as they are or as God has made them, and that the good society is defined by its capacity to protect the powerless and needy against the powerful and uncaring, and by its capacity to secure the equal rights of all.

Example 2: Person A may believe that the human quest for immortality through science, even if destined to be unsuccessful for the foreseeable future, is what defines the good life, and that the spirited scientists who seek this goal with their research, even at the expense of human embryos, are heroic. Person B may believe that realism about human mortality is the key to wisdom and virtue, and that far more important than how long human beings live is the way they live: the depth of their loves and commitments, their calm acceptance of life's hardships and duties, their willingness to respect life and to honor moral limits, their courage in the face of danger, and so forth.

Example 3: Person A may believe that prenatal screening and abortion of embryos that will grow up sick and suffering is a form of mercy. Person B may believe that selective abortion of the "imperfect" is a form of murder or unjustifiable discrimination or both.

Example 4: Person A may believe that giving children the best genetic equipment expands individual rights -- both the rights of those who clone (by increasing their reproductive choices) and the rights of the cloned (whose future opportunities and capabilities may be expanded by guaranteeing them a superior genome). Person B may believe that choosing the genetic characteristics of children through human cloning destroys individual rights, because it reduces children to objects or artifacts and denies individuals the right to a genetically open future. Both moral outlooks are rationally defensible. Both are rooted in ideals about human nature and human dignity.

3. Nature versus Culture (or History): Any normative idea linked to "human nature" inevitably runs into the problem of what is natural versus what is historical or cultural. Especially when it comes to technological innovation, things that at first seem dangerous, hubristic, and unnatural often quickly or eventually come to be accepted as tolerable, normal, and beneficial. This does not necessarily mean that our accommodation of technology means that the technologies to which we accommodate ourselves are good. But the recent history of other reproductive technologies (artificial insemination, IVF) is instructive: Both were questioned and even denounced at first, but are now accepted and even celebrated by most citizens, including those committed to an "essentialist" idea of human nature and traditional ideas of the family.

This dilemma of nature versus culture is also apparent when it comes to matters of sexuality, reproduction, and the family. Homosexuality, for example, was once illegal and taboo on the grounds of being "unnatural," but is now widely if not universally tolerated. Given this dilemma, it seems defensible to argue that our fears about human cloning may be understandable, in light of our past, but must be reexamined in the light of the present and future: in the light of evolving culture, science, and technology. And while one may call into question whether the forward movement of history and technology is desirable, doing so may require a larger critique of progress than most critics of cloning are prepared to make. Indeed, by conceding the goodness of (or being willing to tolerate) technologies like IVF, and by accepting "non-traditional" forms of family life and novel contexts for rearing the young, cloning critics may have already conceded the most serious grounds for objecting to reproductive cloning.

4. Human versus Post-Human: Those who appeal to human nature and traditional virtue in opposition to cloning must acknowledge that much of human history is a story of cruelty, failure, and suffering. It may be that human nature -- or the human condition -- can be improved, which is to some the very definition of progress. The nature of that improvement may be unpredictable, and one can certainly imagine a scenario in which human cloning might contribute to human self-improvement rather than undermining what is believed to be human nature. Perhaps, in the long run, it will prove no more natural for human beings to suffer, or to marry, or to reproduce sexually, than it is natural for them not to fly in airplanes, explore beyond the earth, or discover the true movements of the planets. The matter of evolution presents additional questions, since it shows humankind, with all other species, to be apparently in continuous transition. Viewed in the light of our long evolutionary history, post-humanity would seem to be less a choice than a destiny, and perhaps ultimately a desirable destiny.4

5. Environment versus Genetics: Which scenario would be more fundamentally different from what we accept as the normal human experience in America in 2002: To grow up as a healthy clone in Scarsdale, New York, or to grow up as a non-clone in ancient Egypt? To grow up as a healthy clone in Chevy Chase, Maryland, or a non-clone in the most underdeveloped part of the world? Which is more normal or desirable: A naturally conceived child with a genetic disease who dies at age three or a child conceived through cloning who lives a full and healthy life? And what if the clone grew up separate from his "genetic parent" -- say, in an adopted household where the rearing parents did not even know the source of their child's DNA?

Granted, our judgments about human cloning ought not to be made in such stark and artificial "either-or" terms. But the point of these examples is that having a genome already lived may be insignificant when compared with the circumstances in which one lives. Moreover, it seems especially problematic to say that human dignity depends in a fundamental way on family lineage, when it is clear that people born to single parents, people who are adopted, and people reared in "non-traditional" families all acquire an intelligible and meaningful place in the world. (Of course, one must acknowledge that there is no existing analogue to being a child whose complete genetic make-up is both selected in advance and "already lived" by another.)

Both genetics and environment matter, but the essential point is not clone versus non-clone, but a healthy genome and healthy environment versus an unhealthy genome and an unhealthy environment. Certainly, one could argue that to be the "genetic twin" of one's "father" or "mother" is an unhealthy psychological environment for a child. But it is certainly not the worst environment imaginable -- far from it -- and it may be that the psychological harm of being a clone is rooted in socially constructed (historical) ideas of human individuality and human dignity rather than anything essential about human nature.

6. Two Ideas of Humility: Those who advocate human cloning and those who oppose human cloning typically have very different conceptions of the meaning of humility: Those who oppose cloning believe human beings must be humble before nature (that is, humble about our wisdom and capacity to improve or modify the human condition for the better). They believe human beings should not act in ways that undermine, transform, or rebel against the lasting truths of human existence -- defined in part by the differences between men and women; by the central role of family, lineage, and sexual reproduction; and by the givenness of human mortality. Humility means living well in light of our true condition -- including the unchosen burdens and responsibilities of human life -- and maintaining laws that prevent those who would use technology to undermine human nature

By contrast, those who advocate for human cloning believe human beings must be humble about nature -- or at least humble about imposing one idea of human nature on everyone. They believe that what defines human life is its openness to fundamental change and the history of those fundamental changes; and that those who unreasonably seek to halt human experimentation and human progress act with a reactionary hubris that is morally unjustified. (This raises the question, of course, of whether any restraints on technology -- or, for that matter, on all human behavior -- are reasonable to those who believe human nature is "open-ended"?)

In reality, the argument over the meaning of humility is an argument about conflicting ideals and the conflicting social policies that follow from those ideals. These conflicts include: the ideal of preserving the traditional family versus the ideal of overcoming or transforming it; the ideal of protecting the weak (including human embryos) versus the ideal of using the weak to help the strong or using the unborn to help the living; the ideal that the human condition is fundamentally fixed, and that what is true about our nature is more significant than what is altered by history versus the ideal that human nature is fluid, that the transformations of history are fundamental, and that the role of those in the present is to imagine the next transformations and make them happen; the ideal that man is properly measured by being or nature or God versus the ideal that man should be the measure of all things (even as this measure is itself ever-changeable). Of course, prudence demands judging the best balance among these competing ideals. But this "best balance" inevitably depends on how much significance one gives each of the different ideals, and whether one believes the ideals themselves have inherent or only subjectively determined value.

In the end, it may be that neither side can "prove" its case beyond a reasonable doubt. For example: It is perfectly plausible for Person A to say that his goal is to "end suffering and disease," and that this goal (the improved genetic endowment of future generations) justifies overturning society's current taboos regarding cloning and eugenics. Person B can counter that the goal of making men "perfect" or "better" is unrealistic, and that seeking it through baby-manufacture is unethical. But again, neither side can "prove" its case. How many things have been declared unrealistic but shown otherwise? And how can one prove that embryos, or the sick, or the weak, have equal value to the living, or the healthy, or the strong? Is it more hubristic to seek to end suffering and disease or to stop those who believe they can? Is it more humble to accept the limits of the human condition or to deny any fixed ideas about man as man and therefore to deny the legitimacy of state regulation of scientific research? Perhaps humility and hubris -- and the ideas of human dignity and human purpose that ground them, as well as the proper application of prudence -- are ultimately in the eye of the beholder.

7. Conclusion: Taken together, some reasons for pursuing human cloning are recognizable; others are shocking. Those that are recognizable -- most notably, cloning as another possible option for the remedy of infertility -- parallel earlier technologies that once shocked or disturbed us, like artificial insemination and IVF. These recognizable reasons to clone can thus be defended within the core values of modern liberal democracy: expanding individual rights and reproductive choices; expanding tolerance for all classes of people; support for technology; protection of the rights of scientists to do unrestricted research; caution about using the power of the state to regulate private decisions; and so on.

The shocking reasons for cloning (for example, the eugenic improvement of human beings and the quest for post-humanity) are not illegitimate just because they run against the grain of our prejudices. For it may be that our present-day moral presumptions are misguided, and that a rational case for humanitarian or evolutionary eugenics deserves a fair hearing; and that its various advocates deserve at least some room to prove their case or pursue their ideals. And while such ideals offer a direct challenge to our idea of civilization, the truth is that our values and purposes are not the only morally justifiable ones, and our civilization is not likely to be the last form of human (or post-human) civilization in history.



1. In most of the world, there is generally a strong desire for human couples to have biologically related children. In the United States in particular, there is a bias in law, custom, and medicine to foster and permit this. Treatment of infertility has become a medical sub-specialty. Procedures such as IVF have enabled many infertile couples, single parents, and individuals with genetic diseases to have children who are biologically related to one or both of the parents. In the United States, with minor exceptions, the state does not regulate who can produce children or the number of children permitted per family. These decisions are left to individuals and are part of what we mean by reproductive freedom. Part of the current debate about reproductive cloning thus involves whether it is necessarily or desirably a component of reproductive freedom, and whether there are unique or justifiable reasons to reproduce with human cloning.

2. For a larger discussion of the state of human cloning technology, see Working Paper: Scientific Aspects of Human and Animal Cloning.

3. Nevertheless, one must concede that such an argument could be used also for the following reasons: 1) to justify any kind of mistreatment of the unborn, on the grounds that criticizing such mistreatment is also a criticism of the mistreated; and 2) to indict even such things as preventative medicine or good nutrition as a form of not embracing unborn children "as they are" or "as God has given them." Is there anything problematic in saying that pregnant mothers must not take thalidomide or heroin, but the maimed children of those who are reckless must still be treated with lovingkindness and respect? Is not this "paradox" built into all efforts to prevent injury and defect in the unborn?

4. Of course, it must be acknowledged that to claim that something is desirable for human beings implies a prior idea of what is good for human beings (which suggests an idea of "human nature" and of what is normatively human).

back to top

See also Staff Working Paper: Arguments Against "Reproductive" Cloning


  - The President's Council on Bioethics -  
 
Home Site Map Disclaimers Privacy Notice Accessibility NBAC HHS