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 3a: Arguments for "Reproductive" Cloning
Staff Working Paper 3b
Arguments against "Reproductive Cloning"
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the arguments presented in defense
of human cloning is the extent to which they have to stretch and work
to get around what appears to be an almost instinctive revulsion against
cloning human beings on the part of the public and many scientists and
decision makers. For reasons that many people have difficulty articulating,
nearly everyone agrees that they do not want to see a cloned human being
brought to term. What should we make of this revulsion? Is it mere prejudice,
born of ignorance and of the fear of novelty? Or does it rest in some
Exploring and explaining this revulsion, which persists in the face of
what in many cases appear to be rigorous and internally consistent analytical
and philosophical arguments in defense of human "reproductive"
cloning, is a task that may have much to teach us about the purpose and
the proper role of bioethics in our times. For if our revulsion rises
up from deep within us, it may rest upon and express a sense of our humanity
and its meaning that we are unaccustomed to expressing in logical, political
and rhetorical terms. Making an effort to express these ideas -- these
human goods -- in clear, distinct and rigorous form will help us see what
is at stake in the matter of cloning: what is at risk, what there is to
defend, and why it ought to be defended.
The arguments put forward in defense of "reproductive" cloning
tend to strike the ear at first as more familiar and congenial because
they generally address themselves to subjects we are quite used to dealing
with in our political and public life: to individual rights, to the satisfaction
of personal desires, to the exercise of human will. Modern liberal democratic
politics is especially good at thinking about these human goods and at
providing for them. Arguments against permitting human cloning have a
far less familiar ring to them, because while they do draw on some of
the most prominent and important liberal premises (for instance by pointing
to serious concerns about safety and consent, among others) they also
draw upon a rather different set of human goods, to which our politics
does not often address itself explicitly: human dignity and worth; human
bonds, both natural and social; the freedom that can come only from certain
sorts of limits on the human will; the meaning and the power of our procreative
nature and its relation to our mortality. These are, in many ways, the
highest human things, but they are not always, and should not be always,
political things; and so our politics does not often think of them. We
human individuals, however, do think about them. They speak to us often
more clearly and directly than do the theories of individual rights and
the promise of comfort and even of health. For the most part, we are quite
well able to keep these two realms -- one higher but less political, the
other lower but more immediate and practical -- separate. But when the
two fall into conflict, we are challenged to prioritize among them.
The prospect of twenty-first century biotechnology forces us to think
of this, because it threatens to bring the two realms into conflict. It
does so precisely because the powers it makes possible are to be used
on the bodies and minds of human beings, and in ways that go beyond the
traditional medical goal of healing the sick. In their quest for comfort
and health, advocates of human cloning seek to give new form to human
procreation -- and we must think of what that might do to all the human
goods that are connected in countless subtle ways to human procreation.
In their desire to empower human will, they seek to break the mold of
natural human limitation -- and we must think of where a new standard
of human behavior and dignity might come from. In their quest for the
empowerment of individuals, they raise questions that human societies
can answer only together -- and we must face these questions and consider
them carefully before we decide how we ought to proceed.
All the human goods in question -- individual rights, the quest for health
and longer life, the desire for a biologically related child, the desire
for freedom, human dignity, human humility and wonder, and the procreative
character of human life -- are of great importance to us; but as biology
and medicine seek out new powers, some of these goods may come into conflict
with others. It will be up to us, as individuals and particularly as political
communities, to address these conflicts, and in doing so we must take
an active role and not simply let things fall where they may. The stakes
are too high for passivity. The promise is too great. The risks are too
serious. And we must deliberate carefully to reach the wisest judgment
and to determine the best course of action. In making this judgment, we
must understand and we must articulate as clearly as possible both sets
of human goods: not only the one we are very good at talking about, but
also the other, which we rarely speak of, but which we find impossible
The arguments in favor of human "reproductive" cloning speak
mostly, though not exclusively, in the terms of human choice and human
comfort and health. The arguments in favor of refraining from "reproductive"
cloning and prohibiting it will speak mostly (though again certainly not
exclusively) in the terms of human dignity, human flourishing, and human
nature. In both cases, it is less the technical details of cloning that
matter, and more the meaning of "reproductive" cloning in relation
to those goods and those ideals that matter most to us all.
Opposition to human "reproductive" cloning falls into several
general categories, some of which address the more familiar questions
of safety, consent, and individual rights, but most of which focus mainly
on the larger human questions at stake in making this decision.
1. Safety and Health of Children and Mothers
The first of these is a concern raised by nearly everyone on all sides
of the cloning debate: the safety of all involved. Even most proponents
of "reproductive" cloning generally qualify their support with
a caveat about the safety of the procedure. Almost no one argues that
cloning is presently safe enough to attempt on human beings, and the example
of cloning experiments in other mammals strongly suggests that human "reproductive"
cloning is, at least for now, far too risky to attempt. Safety concerns
revolve around potential dangers to the cloned child, as well as to the
egg donor and the surrogate mother.
Risks to the cloned child must be taken especially seriously, not least
because -- unlike the risks to the egg donor and surrogate mother -- they
cannot be accepted knowingly and freely by the person who will bear them.
The risks to the cloned child have at this point led nearly everyone involved
in the debate to consider cloning thoroughly unsafe. In animal experiments
to date, only approximately 5 percent of attempts to clone have resulted
in live births, and a substantial portion of those live-born clones have
suffered complications that proved fatal fairly quickly.1 Longer term
consequences are of course not known, since the oldest successfully cloned
mammal is only approximately five years of age. Some medium-term consequences,
including premature aging, immune system failures, and sudden unexplained
deaths, have already become apparent in some cloned mammals.
Furthermore, there are concerns that a cell from an individual who has
lived for some years may have accumulated genetic mutations which -- if
used in the cloning of a new human life -- may predispose the new individual
to certain sorts of cancer and other diseases. 2
Along with these threats to the health and well being of the cloned child,
there appear to exist some risks to the health of the egg donor (particularly
risks to her future reproductive health caused by the hormonal treatments
required for egg donation) and risks to the health of the surrogate mother
(for instance, animal experiments suggest a higher than average likelihood
of overweight offspring, which can adversely affect the health of the
These concerns have convinced most of those involved in the field that
attempts at "reproductive" cloning at present would constitute
unethical experimentation on human subjects, and should be forbidden.
These considerations of safety were among the primary factors that led
the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to call for a prohibition of
human "reproductive" cloning in 1997, and the evidence in support
of such concerns has only grown since then.
Nonetheless, as the NBAC report also articulated, safety concerns may
well be temporary, and could prove amenable to technical solutions.3 These
concerns constitute a persuasive argument for a moratorium or temporary
ban; but in themselves they do not get beyond the technicalities of cloning
to the deep moral, social, and ethical issues involved. The present Council,
given its membership and its charter, may be more inclined to consider
the meaning of cloning beyond its technical feasibility and its safety
record, and to look at the more permanent significance of cloning as an
activity that reflects on those who engage in it and on the society that
permits or encourages it. It is in those areas of inquiry that serious
and permanent objections to cloning arise with the greatest force.
Beyond physical safety, the prospect of "reproductive" cloning
also raises concerns about a potential violation of the rights of individuals,
particularly through a denial of the right to consent to the use of one's
body in experimentation or medical procedures.
Consent from the human clone itself is of course impossible to obtain.
It may be argued, on the one hand, that no one consents to his own birth,
so concerns about consent are misplaced when applied to the unborn. But
as George Annas and others have argued, the issue is not so simple. For
reasons having much to do with the safety concerns raised above and the
social and psychological concerns to be addressed below, an attempt to
clone a human being would expose the cloned individual-to-be to great
risks of harm, in addition to, and different from, those accompanying
other sorts of reproduction. Given the risks, and the fact that consent
cannot be obtained, the ethical choice may be to avoid the experiment.
Against this point it might be said that the alternative to cloning is
for the cloned individual not to exist at all, and that no one would prefer
non-existence to the chance at life. Such an argument, however, could
easily come to be used as an excuse for absolutely any use and abuse of
embryonic or newborn life. Giving life to an individual does not grant
one the right to harm that individual. It is true that the scientist cannot
ask an unconceived child for permission, but this puts a burden on the
scientist, not on the child. All that the scientist can know is that he
or she is putting a newly created life at enormous risk; and given that
knowledge, the ethics of human experimentation suggest that the best option
is to avoid the procedure altogether.
Indeed, an inquiry into the purpose and meaning of consent may well support
this point. Why, after all, does society insist upon consent as an essential
principle of the ethics of scientific research? The requirement for consent
is not quite an end in itself. It exists to protect the weak and the vulnerable,
and particularly to protect them from the powerful. It would therefore
be morally questionable, at the very least, to choose to impose potentially
grave harm on an individual, even by the very act of choosing to give
A separate question of consent arises in light of the possibility that
individuals, living or dead, may be used as sources of DNA for a cloning
procedure without their permission or even their knowledge. Unlike other
forms of reproduction, including assisted reproduction and in vitro fertilization,
cloning could be carried out with DNA from individuals who have chosen
to be involved in a reproductive procedure. While an egg or sperm donor
may not consent specifically to have the egg or sperm used in a particular
reproductive procedure, the donor has knowingly donated the sperm or egg,
and thus has consented to having them used in such procedures in general.
But since, at least in theory, the nucleus of any cell from a given individual
could be inserted into an egg to clone that individual, and since cells
can be obtained illicitly with relative ease, individuals may find themselves
cloned without their knowledge or approval, and thus essentially forced
to reproduce without their consent.
A subset of this problem involves the cloning of the deceased, who, like
the unborn, cannot provide or deny consent. Among the possible uses for
cloning suggested by proponents of human "reproductive" cloning
is the opportunity it offers for parents of a deceased child, or the family
of any deceased individual to clone that individual. Such an action, taken
without prior permission, could be a patent violation of the principles
of reproductive consent, though of course the individual whose rights
are violated would be unable to object.
In these different ways, the long-standing insistence on obtaining consent
for medical procedures, and particularly reproductive ones, could be seriously
undermined by the advent of human "reproductive" cloning.
3. Eugenics and Enhancement
Human "reproductive" cloning could also come to be used for
eugenic purposes: that is, in an attempt to alter (with the aim of improving)
the genetic constitution of future generations. Indeed, that is the stated
purpose of some proponents of "reproductive" cloning, and has
been at the heart of much support for the concept of "reproductive"
cloning for decades. Proponents of eugenics were once far more open regarding
their intentions and their hopes to escape the uncertain lottery of sex
and reach an era of controlled and humanly directed reproduction, which
would allow future generations to suffer fewer genetic defects and to
enjoy more advantageous genotypes. In the present debate, the case for
eugenics is not made quite so openly, but it nonetheless remains an important
driving motivation for some proponents of human cloning, and a potential
use of "reproductive" cloning.
Cloning can serve the ends of eugenics either by avoiding the genetic
defects that may arise when human reproduction is left to natural chance;
or by preserving and perpetuating outstanding genetic traits. In the future,
if techniques for precise genetic engineering become available, cloning
could be useful for perpetuating the enhanced traits created by such techniques,
and for keeping the "superior" man-made genotype free of the
flaws that sexual reproduction might otherwise introduce.
The darkest side of eugenics is of course familiar to any student of the
twentieth century. Its central place in Nazi ideology, and its brutal
and inhuman application by the Third Reich, have put that science largely
out of favor. No argument in today's cloning debate bears any resemblance
to those of Hitler's doctors. But by the same token, it is not primarily
the Nazi analogy that should lead us to reject eugenics.
It is a less dark side of eugenic science that threatens to confront us.
This side is well-intentioned but could prove at least as dangerous to
our humanity. The eugenic goal of "better" and "healthy"
children combined with modern genetic techniques threatens to blur and
ultimately eliminate the line between therapy and enhancement. Medicine
is guided by the natural standard of health. It is by this standard that
we judge who is in need of medical treatment, and what sort of treatment
might be most appropriate. The doctor's purpose is to restore a sick patient
to health. Indeed, we even practice a kind of "negative" eugenics
guided by this standard: as when parents choose to abort a fetus who has
been diagnosed with a serious genetic disease. This "negative eugenics"
may be morally problematic in itself, but it is at least a practice that
is informed by a standard of health.
The "positive" eugenics that could receive a great boost from
human "eproductive" cloning does not seek to restore human beings
to natural health when they are ill. Instead, it seeks to alter humanity,
based upon a standard of man's (or some men's) own making. Once the natural
goal of health has been blurred out of existence, medicine will come to
serve only ends designed by human will, and thus may have no limits, may
feel no constraints, and may respect no barriers. Reproduction itself
might come to serve one or another purely man-made end, and future generations
may come to be products of our artful and rational design more than extensions
of our humanity. All of this may well be guided by what plainly seem like
good intentions: to improve the next generation, to enhance the quality
of life of our descendants, to let our children do more than we ourselves
could do. But in the process, we stand to lose the very means by which
to judge the goodness or the wisdom of the particular aims proposed by
a positive eugenics. We stand to lose the sense of what is and is not
human; a set of limits on our hubris; a standard against which to judge
the legitimacy of certain human actions. All of these, along with the
specific traits and characteristics done away with in the process of eugenic
enhancement, could be lost. "Reproductive" cloning may well
contribute to these losses.
Eugenics, and cloning itself, may also contribute to an unhealthy belief
in genetic determinism, which could have profoundly negative social consequences.
As we become better able to manipulate and to control human genotypes,
we may tend to place greater importance on the genotype, wishing to secure
for our descendants every possible advantage. To a man with a hammer,
everything begins to look like a nail. To a society armed with the power
to control and change the genome, the genome will suddenly look very much
in need of control and change. The ability to manipulate the genotype
of an individual may tend to convince us of the supreme importance of
genetics in shaping an individual, which in turn may lead us to want more
control, in a self-intensifying cycle pointing toward an increasing surrender
to an ideology of genetic determinism. Whether or not our control of the
genome actually turns out to give us much control over individuals, our
new ability may of itself be enough to lead us to place undue importance
It is essential to realize that many of the social concerns raised below
could result from this very attitude. An excessive focus on the importance
of the genotype would exacerbate the social and psychological pressures
to which a cloned individual may be subject.
In addition, eugenics may also open the road to a new inequality, by which
only those who can afford it can procure advantages for themselves and
their descendants into future generations. A situation in which only the
rich can grant their children high IQs, broad shoulders and long lives
would prove unbearable to a liberal democracy, and might either lead to
serious social tension or more likely to a government entitlement to genetic
enhancement and manipulation -- managed by the state.
By serving the ends of eugenics, "reproductive" cloning may
open the door to all of these various difficulties.
4. Respect for Nature
Cloning also raises a number of concerns about humanity's relation with
the natural world. The precautionary principle, which informs the ideals
of the environmental movement, may have something to say to us about cloning.
It urges us to beware of the unintended consequences of applications of
human power and will -- particularly over nature. Natural systems of great
complexity do not respond well to blunt human intervention, and one can
hardly think of a more complex system than that responsible for human
reproduction. This principle suggests that geneticists should not pretend
to understand the consequences of their profound alterations of human
nature, and lacking such understanding they should not take actions so
drastic as the cloning of a human child.
The ethic of environmentalism also preaches a respect for nature as we
find it, and argues that the complex structure of the natural world has
much to teach us. Such an ethic therefore disapproves of efforts aimed
at simply overcoming nature as we find it, and imposing a man-made process
over a slowly evolved natural process. It opposes the hubristic overconfidence
inherent in the cloning project, and fears that such a project may erase
the boundary between the natural and the technological.
In addition, cloning, in the unlikely event it should become commonplace,
may diminish the diversity of the human gene-pool. Sexual reproduction
introduces unique combinations of genes into the human gene-pool, while
eugenic cloning aimed at reproducing particular genotypes will tend to
diminish that diversity, and with it the "strength" of the species.
Eugenic enhancement may thus "weaken" future generations.
5. Manufacture and Commodification
"Reproductive" cloning could also represent an enormous step
in the direction of transforming human procreation into human manufacture.
In natural procreation, two individuals come together to give life to
a new individual as a consequence of their own being and their own connection
with one another, rather than merely of their will. They do not design
the final product, they give rise to the child of their embodied selves,
and they therefore do not exert control over the process or the resulting
child. They beget something that is in essence like themselves; they do
not make something that is in essence their own. The product of this process,
therefore, stands beside them fully as a fellow human being, and not beneath
them as a thing made by them with only their own purposes in mind. A manufactured
thing can never stand beside its human maker as an equal, but a begotten
child does stand equally beside its parents. The natural procreative process
allows human beings -- through the union of male and female -- to make
way for fellow human beings, to whom they give rise, but whom they do
not make. It thus endows each new generation with the dignity and freedom
enjoyed by all that came before it.
Even most present forms of partially artificial reproduction, including
IVF, essentially imitate this natural process, and while they do begin
to introduce the characteristics of manufacture and industrial technique,
they cannot claim to control the final outcome as an artisan might shape
his artifact. The end they serve is still the same -- the birth of a child
from the sexual union of seed from two progenitors. Reproduction with
the aid of such techniques therefore still at least implicitly arises
from (and gives rise to) a willingness to accept the product of a process
we do not control. In this sort of procreation, children emerge out of
the same mysterious process from which their parents came, and therefore
are not mere creatures of their parents.
Human "reproductive" cloning, and the forms of human manufacture
it might make possible, could be quite different. Here, the process would
begin with a very specific end-product in mind, and would be tailored
to produce that product. Scientists or parents would set out to produce
specific individuals for particular reasons, and the individuals might
well come to be subjected to those reasons. The procreative process could
come to be seen as a means of meeting some very specific ends, and the
resulting children would be products of a designed manufacturing process:
means to the satisfaction of a particular desire, or to some other end.
They would be means, not ends in themselves.
Things made by man stand subservient to the man who made them. Manufactured
goods are always understood to have been made to serve a purpose, not
to exist independently and freely. Scientists who clone (or even merely
breed) animals make no secret of the instrumental purposes behind their
actions -- they act with specific instrumental ends in mind, and the resulting
animals are means to that preexisting end. Human cloning threatens to
introduce the same approach and the same attitudes into human procreation.
The transformation of human procreation into human manufacture could thus
result in a radical dehumanization of the resulting children, as well
as of those who set out to clone, and by its effect on societal attitudes
also a dehumanization of everyone else. When we become able to look upon
some human beings as manufactured goods, no matter how perfect, we may
become less able to look upon any human beings as fully independent persons,
endowed with liberty and deserving of respect and dignity.
There is also cause for concern about the dignity of the sources of "raw
material" in the cloning process, who are after all human beings
themselves. Of particular concern are the attitudes that the industrialization
of human reproduction might engender (and to some extent are already engendering)
toward egg donors. Wide-scale human cloning depends upon the availability
of large numbers of eggs, which would need to be donated (or otherwise
procured). With the introduction of the attitudes and approaches of manufacturing
into the realm of human reproduction, women who donate (or sell) their
eggs for use in cloning could increasingly come to be seen as mere sources
of raw material, and in time may come to be pressured to donate or sell,
for the sake of life or science or progress. The attitudes of modern industrial
societies toward the sources of their raw materials are well known, and
turning human beings into such "natural resources" is a worrisome
A further concern along these lines has to do with the commercialization
of human reproduction that would almost necessarily follow from the industrialization
of cloning techniques. Manufactured objects naturally become commodities
in the marketplace, and their manufacture comes to be guided by market
principles and financial concerns. When the "products" are human
beings, the "market" could easily become a radically dehumanizing
"Reproductive" cloning presents us with the potential for a
market in clones of particular outstanding individuals (as in some sense
already occurs with existing techniques when potential parents seek egg
or sperm donors with high IQs or deep blue eyes); or more generally for
the further encroachment of market principles and profit motives into
the realm of human procreation. Present techniques already point the way
toward a world of celebrity cell auctions and rent-a-womb agencies, and
the widespread use of human "reproductive" cloning might very
well get us there.
The concerns expressed here -- and, indeed, throughout this critique of
cloning -- do not depend on cloning becoming a very widespread practice.
On the contrary, even small scale markets, say, in celebrity cloning,
could affect far more than just the lives of those individuals who are
involved in particular transactions within them. The acceptance of such
markets by society would affect the way everyone thinks about the issues
at stake. The adoption of market terms and ideas in the arena of human
moral choices could easily blind us to genuine moral issues. The reconceptualization
of society as a system of rent-seeking, of human life as a scarce good
in demand, and of moral wrongs as mere costs, could make us far less capable
of reasoning thoughtfully about our status and responsibilities as human
In sum, human manufacture, guided by market principles, violates some
fundamental principles of human dignity and moral conduct; and "reproductive"
cloning could make such violations easier and thus more common.
6. Identity and Individuality
The above-stated concerns about the consequences of cloning as a manufacturing
process lead into broader and more serious concerns about the mental and
emotional life and the personal and social relations of the individual
produced by a "reproductive" cloning procedure. These concerns
would apply even if cloning was only conducted on a small scale.
The natural procreative process is uniquely capable of endowing new human
beings with a combination of rootedness and family bonds on the one hand,
and independence and individuality on the other. Our genetic uniqueness
and our genetic relatedness to others both mirror and ground this social
human truth: Each of us has a unique, never-before-enacted life to live
with a unique trajectory from birth to death; and each of us owes our
existence and our rearing to those who have come before and who have brought
us into being and taken responsibility for our existence and our rearing.
By nature, every child is tied to two biological parents, and that child's
unique genetic identity is determined by what is essentially a chance
combination of these parents' genotypes. Each child is thus related equally
and by the closest of natural bonds to two adult human beings and yet
each child is genetically unique. Both these characteristics, and the
procreative nature of humanity from which they arise and to which they
point, help give shape to the psyche of each of us, and to the human institutions
that allow us to thrive.
Our genetic uniqueness, manifested externally in our looks and our fingerprints
and internally in our immune systems, is one source of our sense of freedom
and independence. It symbolizes our autonomy and it endows us with a sense
of possibility. Each of us knows that no one has ever had our unique combination
of natural characteristics before. We know that no one knows all the potentialialities
contained within that combination. A cloned child, however, will live
out a life shaped by a genotype that has already lived. However much or
little this may actually mean in terms of hard scientific fact, it could
mean a great deal to that individual's experience of life. He or she may
be constantly held up to the model of the source of his or her cloned
genotype, or may (consciously and unconsciously) hold himself or herself
up to that model. He or she would be denied the opportunity to live a
life that in all respects has never been lived before, and (perhaps more
importantly) might know things about his or her own genetic destiny that
may constrain his or her range of options and sense of freedom.
It may be reasonably argued that genetic individuality as such is not
an essential human good, since identical twins share a common genotype
and seem not to be harmed by it. But this argument misses entirely the
context and environment into which a human clone would be born. Identical
twins are born together, before either one has developed and shown what
his or her potential -- natural or otherwise -- may be. They are each
largely free of the burden of measuring up to or even just knowing the
genetic traits of the other, since neither twin is yet known to the world.
But a clone is the twin of a person who is already (or was) living. Moreover,
he or she was cloned from that person's DNA for a reason, and must therefore
in one way or another deal with his or her connection to that person and
that reason. This would constrain the clone's individuality or sense of
self in ways that differ in kind from the experience of identical twins.
The key, again, is the cloned individual's life as that individual experiences
it, and not just the scientific question of the extent to which genetic
identity actually shapes us.
In these ways, even though genotype is certainly not destiny, the cloned
individual and the society around him may come to place too much importance
on the genotype, because as something known it is something which can
be analyzed. By leading this individual to be judged in relation to his
genetically virtually identical twin source in a way that others are not
judged, his status as a clone could turn that origin into a kind of destiny,
and might sharply constrain his freedom and sense of identity. It could
prove very difficult for the cloned individual to step outside the shadow
of his progenitor, and to live a truly new, unique, and free and independent
The cloned individual's sense of independence could also suffer because
of his status as a being made to order by another. Children conceived
by sexual reproduction (even with the aid of IVF) know that they, like
all human beings before them, entered the world as something of a surprise.
No parent knows exactly what to expect, and so every good parent is willing
to accept what comes and to welcome the children as they are. This characteristic
of human procreation encourages parents to start off on their important
task with an attitude of acceptance and humility, and to start the new
child off on its course through life as one who is welcomed, whatever
he or she turns out to be. Parents, of course, will proceed to rear and
educate their child with certain aims in mind, but these aims tend to
be moderated and informed by the need to humbly accept the child they
have begotten, as that child is. A great deal of our sense of freedom
and independence derives from this vital aspect of our relationship with
our progenitors. But the cloned child does not (or at the very least may
think he does not) share such a relationship with his parents. The cloned
child will have been created by the deliberate design of parents or scientists,
and thus his relation to others will be fundamentally different from that
of naturally conceived individuals. As discussed above, a begotten child
stands in the same relation to the world as his parents; a created child
-- any kind of manufactured or designed child -- does not. He stands beneath
his parents and others in a way that children generally do not: as a human
artifact designed and constructed. This fact of his origins almost cannot
help but harm the cloned person's sense of individuality and freedom.
At the same time that our procreative origins endow us with individuality
and freedom, our natural connection to our family of origin also binds
us to the human world in ways that matter deeply. Personal and social
identity and social links of responsibility are connected in countless
ways to ties of biological kinship. The psychic identity of the cloned
individual, already troubled by a diminished sense of individuality as
mentioned above, could be much further troubled by the utter confusion
of kinship relations that would result from the circumstances of its origins.
7. Family and Procreation
Just as the cloned individual's sense of individuality may be confused
by his origin, his connection to others, and particularly to their own
family, may become muddled as well. Moreover, this effect could be mirrored
and amplified in the effect that cloning might have on the institution
of the family, and the way in which individuals and communities come to
think of procreation.
The clone's place in the scheme of human relations will be uncertain and
confused. The usual clear designations of father and mother, sister and
brother, would be confounded. The clone would have only one genetic parent,
his or her connection to grandparents would span both one and two generations
at once, and every other family relation would be similarly confused.
Even if the child was cloned from someone who is not a member of the family
in which the child is raised, the fact would remain (and may be known
to the child) that he or she has been created in the nearly precise genetic
image of another, for some particular reason with some particular design
in mind. This is far from the way children generally (and naturally) relate
to their family of origin, and the differences may tend to run against
the grain of the social institutions that surround the family.
It may be sensibly argued that some social arrangements already in existence
break the link between natural kin and social family structure. A great
many children, after all, are adopted, and live happy lives in loving
families in the absence of biological connections with their parents.
Some children are also conceived by artificial insemination and various
IVF techniques, and may have unusual relationships with their genetic
parents, or no relationships at all. This is true, but it must be noted
that all of these existing arrangements attempt to emulate the model of
the natural family (at least in its arrangement of the generations), while
cloning actually runs against the grain of that model. Adopted children,
like biological children, are welcomed as they are (sometimes more so
than biological children), frequently before their adoptive parents know
much about what they are and may become. They were not conceived with
some specific predetermined end in mind, and indeed they were not conceived
to be adopted (nearly no one deliberately produces children for the purpose
of adoption.) Their connection to the parents who raise them is not biological,
but it follows closely the model of the biological family: It is based,
in most cases, on a loving union of the parents aimed at raising up a
new and unique individual whom the parents did not make but whom they
wish to love, protect, and guide. It combines the same genetic uniqueness
and the social connectivity of the biological parent-child relationship.
Nothing about the adoptive child-parent relationship prevents the development
of traditional familial bonds. The same generally holds true for children
conceived through IVF for the same reasons.
But something about the relationship between the cloned child and the
cloning parent may indeed interfere with the development of these traditional
social bonds. The confusion created by the complicated relationship of
cloner to cloned may mean that no clear lines of parent-child, sibling-sibling,
or other familial kin relations will develop. These vital links could
be subject to serious confusion and uncertainty, and so the model of the
natural family would be very difficult if not impossible to emulate. By
breaking through the natural boundaries between generations, cloning threatens
to undo the social links between them. A clone of oneself is a brother
and a son, or a sister and a daughter. Should you relate to him or her
as parent or as sibling? Neither relationship could take form very well
under the strains of the peculiarly muddled natural relation established
The point may be made thus: Existing family relationships are either drawn
from or based upon the relationships that naturally arise from the process
of human procreation. Cloning not only does not point naturally to these
relations, it actively opposes them by undermining their foundations,
especially the relationships between generations. The cloned child's psychic
health and sense of identity may well be placed in jeopardy.
And the family, as an institution, may be harmed as well. The family,
of course, is at once a social and a natural institution, and the two
elements reinforce each other in countless subtle ways. Breaking some
of the links between them could leave the institution of the family without
a firm grounding in nature and without strong social support.
This may take form, for one thing, in the attitudes of parents toward
their roles. As stated above, parents who choose to have a child at least
tacitly acknowledge a certain humility before the procreative process
which is out of their hands. They tacitly acknowledge the limits of their
power to control, and they implicitly promise to accept their child, whatever
he or she proves to be. This humility before the hand of procreative chance
sets the parents in a certain relation to the child, and helps set quite
necessary boundaries on the power of one generation over another. In cloning
a child, on the other hand, parents seek to exercise total control over
the outcome of the reproductive process itself. This does not mean that
they completely shape their child before it is born: After all, there
is more to each of us than our genome and our environment. But it does
mean that they control and -- even if they do not -- that they will be
held responsible for those things that parents have until now been forced
to leave to chance, and that they therefore do not acknowledge, with humility,
the limits of their powers, but rather they approach procreation as an
exercise of their power and will. Rather than accept whatever child they
turn out to have given rise to, these parents determine in advance what
sort of child they will accept. The resulting child is much more the product
of these expectations than a child conceived in the natural way would
be. Such a cloned child is likely to be regarded more like a possession
of its parents, or even an instrument of their will, than a normally conceived
child would be. The parents begin their child's life with an overbearing
act that must be said to border on despotism. They begin the new child's
life by restricting the new child's independence and individuality. The
family, in this way, loses something of its character as a nursery of
a novel and independent new human generation, and gains something of the
character of an instrument of the present generation. This does not mean
that the parents are ill-intentioned, but it could very well mean that
their children are less free to flourish. The character of families thus
changes in ways we may not like.
Other, more immediately concrete, troubles may confront family life as
well. The parents of a cloned child may find themselves unable to treat
a child who is the clone of someone they have known (let alone of themselves)
in the way that parents may presently treat a child generated sexually.
Such a cloned child would be born with an unnatural and perhaps unhealthy
relation to someone (past or present) in the world, and this could make
healthy family life more difficult.
In addition, the presence of human clones may over time tend to undermine
society's sense of what a family relationship means and how it relates
to nature, sex and reproduction. The distance between the procreative
nature of humanity and the social status of the family could grow, and
both may become less thoroughly grounded in one another. That grounding,
as has been discussed, is vital for both, and its diminution could bring
with it profound problems. Family relations, and social relations in general,
are founded at the deepest level on mankind's procreative nature, and
on our character as begotten and begetting creatures. Undoing that nature
and that character may tend to undo the roots and the foundations of family
structure and family life. Much about the way we live as human beings
has to do with our procreative nature: begetting and belonging condition
the way we think of our place in the world, our place among human beings,
our place in time, our mortality. Society is structured around all of
Human institutions, and particularly those (like the family) that transcend
specific times and places, are storehouses of human wisdom. They possess
in their very structure more intelligence and experience than do the thoughts
and ideas of any particular generation. Undoing these institutions, as
"reproductive" cloning may begin to do, would very likely have
far greater repercussions than we can fully contemplate.
8. Impact on Society
These repercussions, moreover, would not be limited to the lives of individuals
and families directly affected by cloning. Indeed, the impact of human
"reproductive" cloning on society at large may be the least
appreciated, but among the most important, factors to consider in contemplating
a public policy on human cloning.
Cloning is a human activity, which affects not only those who are cloned
or who are clones, but also the entire society that allows or that supports
(and therefore that engages in) such activity -- as would be the case
with a society that allows some of its members to practice slavery, to
take a most extreme example. The question before us is whether "reproductive"
cloning is an activity that we, as a society, should engage in. In addressing
this question, we must reach well beyond the rights of individuals, and
the difficulties or benefits that cloned children or their families might
encounter. The question we must face has to do with what we, as a society,
will permit ourselves to do. When we say that "reproductive"
cloning may erode our respect for the dignity of human beings, we must
say that we, as a society that engages in cloning, would be responsible
for that erosion. When we argue that vital social institutions could be
harmed, we must acknowledge that it is we, as a society that clones, that
would be harming them. We should not ask if "reproductive" cloning
is something that some people somewhere should be permitted to do. We
must ask if cloning is something that all of us together should want to
do or should allow ourselves to do. Insofar as we permit cloning in our
society, we are the cloners and the cloned, just as we are the society
affected by the process. Only when we see that do we understand our responsibility
in crafting a public policy regarding human "reproductive" cloning.
Since we are the ones acting to clone, we must further realize that our
actions will affect us not only in what they directly do to us, but also
in the way they shape our thinking. A society that clones human beings
is a society that thinks about human beings differently than a society
that refuses to do so. We must therefore also ask ourselves how we as
a society prefer to think of human beings.
These sorts of questions are not easy for a modern liberal polity to contend
with. We are not accustomed to thinking in these terms, and we are not
comfortable using them in political discourse. But cloning (along with
the accompanying broader issues raised by contemporary biotechnology)
forces us, as few other matters do, to think this way, because cloning
is a human activity that threatens (or promises) to affect the very nexus
of human societies: the junction of human generations. Liberal society
will not and should not seek to regulate every sort of human activity,
but it cannot help but involve itself in those that directly affect its
highest and most urgent tasks: tasks like its own perpetuation and the
transmission of its ideals and way of life to future generations. Doing
nothing about such a subject is not an option. If we as a society refrain
from considering the question entirely, we would -- implicitly -- be saying
yes to cloning, with all that such a statement would entail. We face the
choice only of engaging in cloning or forbidding it, and the option we
select will say a lot about us. Given the issues involved, there is no
neutral ground for the polity to hold in this particular debate.
Society exists beyond individuals, beyond generations. And among the highest
tasks of any society is the management of its relation to the future,
and the transmission of its institutions and its ideals to the next generation.
As we have seen, it is here, at this vital junction of the generations,
that cloning threatens to wreak havoc, and this junction is insufficiently
protected by the market and by private interests. It is here that cloning
poses a special challenge to society, and it is here that politics becomes
important in meeting that challenge.
Politics becomes important because politics is the means that a free society
has at its disposal to protect its common interests, to serve its common
needs and to express its common will. There is, in modern free societies,
a very reasonable reticence to bring politics into what is usually quite
properly thought of as the very private realm of human reproduction. This
attitude is generally a healthy one, but in some cases it is dangerously
misplaced, and "reproductive" cloning is such a case. It is
so precisely because "reproductive" cloning would affect more
than individuals, and more than the private relationships at the heart
of reproductive choices. The way in which the next generation will enter
this world has everything to do with the way in which our society will
live into the future. A society that produces children through cloning
is a society that thinks about children and family and the human condition
in a certain way; and we must be given the option, as a society, to decide
if that is the way that we wish to think about these most important matters.
1. For further details see Working
Paper: Scientific Aspects of Human and Animal Cloning.
2. Some further examples of these concerns about
the safety of cloned children may be found in the article reprinted
in Working Paper: Scientific
Aspects of Human and Animal Cloning, Appendix A.
3. Though it must be noted that however safe animal cloning may
become, the first attempt to clone a human being will constitute
an extremely dangerous experiment on the cloned individual, since
identical techniques have yielded vastly different results in different
See also Staff Working Paper:
Arguments for "Reproductive" Cloning