This staff working paper was discussed at the Council's February 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.
Staff Working Paper
The Ethics of "Reproductive" Cloning:
Child, Family, and Society
At the first Council meeting, the discussion of the ethics of human
"reproductive" cloning included the following distinctive
strands. Some expressed and defended the moral weightiness of an
inarticulate or "instinctive" revulsion at the prospect
of making cloned human children. Others, emphasizing the low success
rate and abnormalities observed in animal cloning, argued that any
attempt at clonal baby-making would be (at least for now) a reckless
experiment on the child-to-be, given the current state of scientific
knowledge and technical facility. Both of these reactions gave the
impression that saying no to human reproductive cloning is somehow
obvious, or should be.
Perhaps this is true. But others disagreed. For one thing, people
who are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings are concerned
not simply or primarily because the procedure is unsafe or might
not work; their objection is to the results of a perfected cloning
technology, and to a society that permits or embraces the creation
of cloned human children. Moreover, the objection based on safety
is not really an objection to cloning as such and may in time become
a vanishing objection. Furthermore, several Members believed that
"moral repugnance" was an unreliable and untrustworthy
guide to sound moral conclusions, and that, in any case, it was
imperative that we try to articulate reasons or arguments that would
justify such strong opposition to cloning. Making use of the staff
Working Papers "for" and
"against", a few Members
endorsed one or another of the moral arguments that have been raised
against human cloning, but, because of time constraints, the discussion
did not get very far. In returning to this topic at the second Council
meeting, we will attempt to advance this exploration.
Council Members are asked to re-read and ponder the arguments developed
in Working Papers "for"
and "against", distributed
for the first meeting. In the service of focusing and sharpening
our discussion, the present paper attempts succinctly to order some
of these arguments in terms of the cloned child, the cloning family,
and the cloning society.
A. The Cloned Child
The first cloned children -- perhaps all cloned children -- would
be, so to speak, human experiments. They would be biological
experiments -- with grave risks of physical, developmental, and
genetic deformity. They would be experiments in human identity
-- being the first human beings to inherit an identity already lived
in advance by another. They would be experiments in genetic
programming and design, being the first children whose entire
genetic make-up was known and selected in advance. They would be
experiments in family and social life, confusing the
relationships within the family and between the generations, for
example, by turning "mothers" into "twin sisters"
and "grandparents" into "parents."
Experience with animal cloning provides clear evidence to justify
concerns about bodily harm to any child resulting from cloning seen
as a biological experiment. But imagining and reflecting
on the prospect of being
a cloned child leads to concerns about additional harms or injuries
to the child related to the other
ways in which cloning is an "experiment"
on the child-to-be. Some of the leading concerns include:
1. A cloned child is at risk of psychic and social harm. For example:
a. He might experience a confused sense of self and a compromised
belief in the openness of his future, knowing that he is in appearance
and in genotype identical to another person who has already lived.
b. He might suffer because his "parents" and others will
not regard him as they would an ordinary child (a "mysterious
stranger," a "surprise to the world"), but will instead
constantly compare him to the "original" -- not only to
observe how similar he is, but also to wonder why he is not as similar
as expected or planned.
c. He may suffer confusion of social identity, being both the twin
and offspring of only one biological "parent."
2. A cloned child may be injured (done an injustice), whether he
knows it or not and quite apart from any experienced harm, by being
treated as a product of parental design, whose "maker"
stands above him not as a human equal but as a superior artificer.
We cannot be certain that any cloned child will in fact suffer the
predicted psychic or social harms (item 1); knowledge about these
matters would be largely empirical and would hence require producing
cloned children before we could be certain. (The argument about
injustice and equality is not an empirical matter, but a matter
of principle.) Yet given the likelihood of such risks and harms,
and the question about the "justice" of cloning altogether,
the accepted ethical principles governing human experimentation
and the protection of human subjects, if fully regarded, might lead
one to conclude that the cloning of a human child constitutes an
unethical experiment on the child-to-be, even if and when the procedure
could be rendered technically safe for use without increased risks
of serious bodily harm.
In arguing the ethics of reproductive cloning, we find ourselves
in the strange position of "speaking on behalf" of human
beings who do not yet exist and who may never exist. But such a
paradox is an inevitable part of our embodied existence. One generation
always springs from the previous one; and the previous generation,
whether it knows it or not, always "speaks on behalf"
of the next when it chooses to bring it into existence. In the face
of this radical new way of bringing children into the world, we
are compelled to think even more deeply and protectively on behalf
of our offspring, lest we do them irreparable harm and injury in
the very act of giving them life.
B. The Cloning Family and Cloning
It is not the children alone who are at risk of harm and injury
from the practice of human cloning. The cloners also -- both the
parents and the larger society -- may, even if unwittingly, do harm
to themselves. Some of the leading concerns include the following:
a. Lacking concern for the physical, social, and psychic harms that
might be inflicted on the cloned child, parents or families risk
reducing the child to a project, a thing, or, if "it"
happens to turn out "badly," something expendable.
b. Parents who engage in human cloning risk undermining the mystery
and ultimate independence of a newborn child in favor of their own
deliberate control over the child's genetic make-up, and with it,
perhaps the dangerous illusion of control over the child's ultimate
c. Family relations would be confounded and potentially fraught
with difficulties, especially in the case of intra-familial cloning.
The existence of a child who is a younger look alike -- a genetic
"twin" -- of one of the parents is an invitation to all
sorts of family tension, both between parents and clone and between
the parents themselves.
d. The practice of cloning children -- and perhaps viewing them
as experiments or projects -- could have a larger social effect,
not just for the children who are cloned but for all of society.
It could set a precedent for treating children as "artifacts"
to be manipulated, designed, and perfected, not gifts to be cared
for, nurtured, and set free.
e. A society that permitted human cloning -- like a society that
permitted incest -- would seem to be a different society, even if
cloning remained a minority practice. The decision to permit cloning
would say something about how society views children; how it views
the relationship between the generations; and whether it is willing
to defend the interests and dignity of its offspring, even at the
cost of limiting the absolute assertion of reproductive rights.
It is true that there might be reasons to pursue the experiment
of clonal baby-making, and therefore to disregard the human goods
that would potentially be sacrificed in the process. These reasons
include: the desire for an individual or couple to have a biologically-related
child; the desire of parents to reproduce a genetic match for an
existing child in need of transplantation; or the desire of an individual,
couple, or society to replicate individuals of superior intelligence,
beauty, or ability, whose excellence is presumed to be based on
their genetic make-up.
But the quest for "better" children seems to depend in
part -- or perhaps entirely -- on reducing children to projects.
That is to say, in the hope of making their children "better"
human beings, the cloning family or cloning society may undermine
the dignity of their children as human beings. They risk
regarding children as objects, who exist mainly to satisfy parental
wishes and to fulfill parental desires. Moreover, while saying no
to human cloning would restrict one particular way of having children,
we are compelled to remember that procreation is, by its very nature,
a limitation of absolute rights -- since it brings into existence
another human being who also has rights and toward whom we have
responsibilities; and suggests that human beings, who are capable
of bringing others like themselves into the world, do not live for