A second defense of human cloning on the grounds of freedom is the claim that
human existence is by its very nature "open-ended," "indeterminate," and
"unpredictable." Human beings are always remaking themselves, their values,
and their ways of interacting with one another. New technologies are central
to this open-ended idea of human life, and to shut down such technologies
simply because they change the "traditional" ways of doing things is unjustifiable.
As constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe has argued in reference to human
cloning: "A society that bans acts of human creation that reflect unconventional
sex roles or parenting models (surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization,
artificial insemination, and the like) for no better reason than that
such acts dare to defy 'nature' and tradition (and to risk adding to life's
complexity) is a society that risks cutting itself off from vital experimentation
and risks sterilizing a significant part of its capacity to grow."6
2. The Goodness of Existence
Like the appeal to freedom, the appeal to the goodness of existence is not an argument for cloning, but an argument against opponents who speak up in the name of protecting the cloned child-to-be against the harms connected with its risky and strange origins as a clone. This argument asserts that attempts to produce children through cloning, like any attempt to produce a child, will directly benefit the cloned child-to-be, since without the act of cloning the child in question would not exist. Existence itself, it is argued, is the first "interest" that makes all other interests including the interests of safety and well-being possible. Even taking into account the possibility of serious genetic or developmental disorders, this position holds that a cloned individual, once born, would prefer existence as a clone to no existence at all. There is also a serious corollary about how, in the absence of a principle that values existence as such, we will and should regard and treat people born with disabilities or deformities: opponents of cloning might appear in a position of intolerance of saying to cloned individuals, "Better for us (and for you) had you never existed."
3. The Goodness of Well-Being
The third moral argument for cloning-to-produce-children is that it would contribute in certain cases to the fulfillment of human goods that are widely honored and deeply rooted in modern democratic society. These human goods include the health of newborn and existing children, reproductive possibilities for infertile couples, and the possibility of having a biologically related child. In all these circumstances, human cloning could relieve existing suffering and sorrow or prevent them in the future. Those who take this position do not necessarily defend human cloning-to-produce-children as such. Rather, they argue that a moral and practical line can be drawn between cloning-to-produce-children that serves the "therapeutic" aims of health (for the cloned child-to-be, for the infertile couple, or for an existing child) and the "eugenic" aims of producing or mass-producing superior people.
Some people argue more broadly that an existing generation has a responsibility to ensure, to the extent possible, the genetic quality and fitness of the next generation. Human cloning, they argue, offers a new method for human control and self-improvement, by allowing families to have children free of specific genetic diseases or society to reproduce children with superior genetic endowments. It also provides a new means for gaining knowledge about the age-old question of nature versus nurture in contributing to human achievement and human flourishing, and to see how clones of great geniuses measure up against the "originals."
C. Critique and Conclusion
While we as a Council acknowledge merit in some of the arguments made for cloning-to-produce-children, we are generally not persuaded by them. The fundamental weakness of the proponents' case is found in their incomplete view of human procreation and families, and especially the place and well-being of children. Proponents of cloning tend to see procreation primarily as the free exercise of a parental right, namely, a right to satisfy parental desires for self-fulfillment or a right to have a child who is healthy or "superior." Parents seek to overcome obstacles to reproduction, to keep their children free of genetic disease or disorder, and to provide them with the best possible genetic endowment. The principles guiding such prospective parents are freedom (for themselves), control (over their child), and well-being (both for themselves and what they imagine is best for their child). Even taken together, these principles provide at best only a partial understanding of the meaning and entailments of human procreation and child-rearing. In practice, they may prove to undermine the very goods that the proponents of cloning aim to serve, by undermining the unconditional acceptance of one's offspring that is so central to parenthood.
There are a number of objections or at the very least limitations to viewing cloning-to-produce-children through the prism of rights. Basic human rights are usually asserted on behalf of the human individual agent: for example, a meaningful right not to be prevented from bearing a child can be asserted for each individual against state-mandated sterilization programs. But the act of procreation is not an act involving a single individual. Indeed, until human cloning arrives, it continues to be impossible for any one person to procreate alone. More important, there is a crucial third party involved: the child, whose centrality to the activity exposes the insufficiency of thinking about procreation in terms of rights.
After all, rights are limited in the following crucial way: they cannot be ethically exercised at the expense of the rights of another. But the "right to reproduce" cannot be ethically exercised without at least considering the child that such exercise will bring into being and who is at risk of harm and injustice from the exercise. This obligation cannot be waived by an appeal to the absolutist argument of the goodness of existence. Yes, existence is a primary good, but that does not diminish the ethical significance of knowingly and willfully putting a child in grave physical danger in the very act of giving that child existence. It is certainly true that a life with even severe disability may well be judged worth living by its bearer: "It is better to have been born as I am than not to be here at all." But if his or her disability was caused by behavior that could have been avoided by parents (for example, by not drinking or using drugs during pregnancy, or, arguably, by not cloning), many would argue that they should have avoided it. A post-facto affirmation of existence by the harmed child would not retroactively excuse the parental misconduct that caused the child's disability, nor would it justify their failure to think of the child's well-being as they went about exercising their "right to procreate." Indeed, procreation is, by its very nature, a limitation of absolute rights, since it brings into existence another human being toward whom we have responsibilities and duties.
In short, the right to decide "whether to bear or beget a child" does not include a right to have a child by whatever means. Nor can this right be said to imply a corollary the right to decide what kind of child one is going to have. There are at least some circumstances where reproductive freedom must be limited to protect the good of the child (as, for instance, with the ban on incest). Our society's commitment to freedom and parental authority by no means implies that all innovative procedures and practices should be allowed or accepted, no matter how bizarre or dangerous.
Proponents of cloning, when they do take into account the interests of the child, sometimes argue that this interest justifies and even requires thoroughgoing parental control over the procreative process. Yet this approach, even when well-intentioned, may undermine the good of the child more than it serves the child's best interests. For one thing, cloning-to-produce-children of a desired or worthy sort overlooks the need to restrain the parental temptation to total mastery over children. It is especially morally dubious for this project to go forward when we know so little about the unforeseen and unintended consequences of exercising such genetic control. In trying by cloning to circumvent the risk of genetic disease or to promote particular traits, it is possible perhaps likely that new risks to the cloned child's health and fitness would be inadvertently introduced (including the forgoing of genetic novelty, a known asset in the constant struggle against microbial and parasitic diseases). Parental control is a double-edged sword, and proponents seem not to acknowledge the harms, both physical and psychological, that may befall the child whose genetic identity is selected in advance.
The case for cloning in the name of the child's health
and well-being is certainly the strongest and most compelling. The desire
that one's child be free from a given genetic disease is a worthy aspiration.
We recognize there may be some unusual or extreme cases in which cloning
might be the best means to serve this moral good, if other ethical obstacles
could somehow be overcome. (A few of us also believe that the desire to
give a child "improved" or "superior" genetic equipment is not necessarily
to be condemned.) However, such aspirations could endanger the personal,
familial, and societal goods supported by the character of human procreation.
We are willing to grant that there may be exceptional cases in which cloning-to-produce-children
is morally defensible; however, that being said, we would also argue that
such cases do not justify the harmful experiments and social problems
that might be entailed by engaging in human cloning. Hard cases are said
to make bad law. The same would be true for succumbing to the rare, sentimentally
appealing case in which cloning seems morally plausible.i
Finally, proponents do not adequately face up to the difficulty of how "well-being" is to be defined. Generally, they argue that these matters are to be left up to the free choices of parents and doctors. But this means that the judgments of "proper" and "improper" will be made according to subjective criteria alone, and under such circumstances, it will be almost impossible to rule out certain "improvements" as unacceptable.
In the sections that follow, we shall explain more fully why Members of the Council are not convinced by the arguments for cloning-to-produce-children, even in the most defensible cases. To see why this is so, we need to consider cloning-to-produce-children from the broadest possible moral perspective, beginning with ethical questions regarding experiments on human subjects. What we hope to show is that the frequently made safety arguments strike deeper than we usually realize, and that they point beyond themselves toward more fundamental moral objections to cloning-to-produce-children.
* * *
II. The Case against Cloning-to-Produce-Children
A. The Ethics of Human Experimentation
We begin with concerns regarding the safety of the cloning procedure and the health of the participants. We do so for several reasons. First, these concerns are widely, indeed nearly unanimously, shared. Second, they lend themselves readily to familiar modes of ethical analysis including concerns about harming the innocent, protecting human rights, and ensuring the consent of all research subjects. Finally, if carefully considered, these concerns begin to reveal the important ethical principles that must guide our broader assessment of cloning-to-produce-children. They suggest that human beings, unlike inanimate matter or even animals, are in some way inviolable, and therefore challenge us to reflect on what it is about human beings that makes them inviolable, and whether cloning-to-produce-children threatens these distinctly human goods.
In initiating this analysis, there is perhaps no better place to start than the long-standing international practice of regulating experiments on human subjects. After all, the cloning of a human being, as well as all the research and trials required before such a procedure could be expected to succeed, would constitute experiments on the individuals involved the egg donor, the birthing mother, and especially the child-to-be. It therefore makes sense to consider the safety and health concerns that arise from cloning-to-produce-children in light of the widely shared ethical principles that govern experimentation on human subjects.
Since the Second World War, various codes for
the ethical conduct of human experimentation have been adopted around
the world. These codes and regulations were formulated in direct response
to serious ethical lapses and violations committed by research scientists
against the rights and dignity of individual human beings. Among the most
important and widely accepted documents to emerge were the Nuremberg Code
and the Helsinki Declaration of 1964.8
Influential in the United States is also the Belmont Report, published
in 1978 by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects
of Biomedical and Behavioral Research.9
The Nuremberg Code laid out ten principles for the ethical conduct of experiments, focusing especially on voluntary consent of research subjects, the principle that experiments should be conducted only with the aim of providing a concrete good for society that is unprocurable by other methods, and with the avoidance of physical or mental harm. The Helsinki Declaration stated, among other things, that research should be undertaken only when the prospective benefit clearly outweighs the expected risk, when the research subject has been fully informed of all risks, and when the research-subject population is itself likely to benefit from the results of the experiment.
Finally, the Belmont Report proposed three basic ethical principles that were to guide the treatment of human subjects involved in scientific research. The first of these is respect for persons, which requires researchers to acknowledge the autonomy and individual rights of research subjects and to offer special protection to those with diminished autonomy and capacity. The second principle is beneficence. Scientific research must not only refrain from harming those involved but must also be aimed at helping them, or others, in concrete and important ways. The third principle is justice, which involves just distribution of potential benefits and harms and fair selection of research subjects. When applied, these general principles lead to both a requirement for informed consent of human research subjects and a requirement for a careful assessment of risks and benefits before proceeding with research. Safety, consent, and the rights of research subjects are thus given the highest priority.
It would be a mistake to view these codes in narrow or procedural terms, when in fact they embody society's profound sense that human beings are not to be treated as experimental guinea pigs for scientific research. Each of the codes was created to address a specific disaster involving research science whether the experiments conducted by Nazi doctors on concentration camp prisoners, or the Willowbrook scandal in which mentally retarded children were infected with hepatitis, or the Tuskegee scandal in which underprivileged African-American men suffering from syphilis were observed but not treated by medical researchers and each of the codes was an attempt to defend the inviolability and dignity of all human beings in the face of such threats and abuses. More simply stated, the codes attempt to defend the weak against the strong and to uphold the equal dignity of all human beings. In taking up the application of these codes to the case of cloning-to-produce-children, we would suggest that the proper approach is not simply to discover specific places where human cloning violates this or that stipulation of this or that code, but to grapple with how such cloning offends the spirit of these codes and what they seek to defend.
The ethics of research on human subjects suggest three sorts of problems that would arise in cloning-to-produce-children: (1) problems of safety; (2) a special problem of consent; and (3) problems of exploitation of women and the just distribution of risk. We shall consider each in turn.
1. Problems of Safety
First, cloning-to-produce-children is not now safe.
Concerns about the safety of the individuals involved in a cloning procedure
are shared by nearly everyone on all sides of the cloning debate. Even
most proponents of cloning-to-produce-children generally qualify their
support with a caveat about the safety of the procedure. Cloning experiments
in other mammals strongly suggest that cloning-to-produce-children is,
at least for now, far too risky to attempt.10
Safety concerns revolve around potential dangers to the cloned child,
as well as to the egg donor and the woman who would carry the cloned child
(a) Risks to the child. Risks to the cloned
child-to-be must be taken especially seriously, both because they are
most numerous and most serious and because unlike the risks to the
egg donor and birth mother they cannot be accepted knowingly and
freely by the person who will bear them. In animal experiments to date,
only a small percentage of implanted clones have resulted in live births,
and a substantial portion of those live-born clones have suffered complications
that proved fatal fairly quickly. Some serious though nonfatal abnormalities
in cloned animals have also been observed, including substantially increased
birth-size, liver and brain defects, and lung, kidney, and cardiovascular
First, many people who are repelled by or opposed to the prospect of cloning
human beings are concerned not simply or primarily because the procedure
is unsafe. To the contrary, their objection is to the use of a perfected
cloning technology and to a society that would embrace or permit the production
of cloned children. The ethical objection based on lack of safety is not
really an objection to cloning as such. Indeed, it may in time
become a vanishing objection should people be allowed to proceed
despite insuperable ethical objections such as the ones we have just offered
with experiments to perfect the technique.v
Should this occur, the ethical assessment of cloning-to-produce-children
would need to address itself to the merits (and demerits) of cloning itself,
beyond the safety questions tied to the techniques used to produce cloned
children. Thus, anticipating the possibility of a perfected and usable
technology, it is important to delineate the case against the practice
Moreover, because the Council is considering cloning within a broad context of present and projected techniques that can affect human procreation or alter the genetic makeup of our children, it is important that we consider the full range and depth of ethical issues raised by such efforts.
How should these issues be raised, and within what moral framework? Some, but by no means all, of the deepest moral concerns connected to human cloning could be handled by developing a richer consideration of the ethics of human experimentation. Usually and regrettably we apply the ethical principles governing research on human subjects in a utilitarian spirit, weighing benefits versus harms, and moreover using only a very narrow notion of "harm." The calculus that weighs benefits versus harms too often takes stock only of bodily harm or violations of patient autonomy, though some serious efforts have been made in recent years to consider broader issues. In addition, we often hold a rather narrow view of what constitutes "an experiment." Yet cloning-to-produce-children would be a "human experiment" in many senses, and risks of bodily harm and inadequate consent do not exhaust the ways in which cloning might do damage. As we have described, cloning-to-produce-children would be a biological experiment with necessary uncertainties about the safety of the technique and the possibility of physical harm. But it would also be an experiment in human procreation substituting asexual for sexual reproduction and treating children not as gifts but as our self-designed products. It would be an experiment in human identity creating the first human beings to inherit a genetic identity lived in advance by another. It would be an experiment in genetic choice and design producing the first children whose entire genetic makeup was selected in advance. It would be an experiment in family and social life altering the relationships within the family and between the generations, for example, by turning "mothers" into "twin sisters" and "grandparents" into "parents," and by having children asymmetrically linked biologically to only one parent. And it would represent a social experiment for the entire society, insofar as the society accepted, even if only as a minority practice, this unprecedented and novel mode of producing our offspring.
By considering these other ways in which cloning would constitute an experiment, we could enlarge our analysis of the ethics of research with human subjects to assess possible nonbodily harms of cloning-to-produce-children. But valuable as this effort might be, we have not chosen to proceed in this way. Not all the important issues can be squeezed into the categories of harms and benefits. People can be mistreated or done an injustice whether they know it or not and quite apart from any experienced harm. Important human goods can be traduced, violated, or sacrificed without being registered in anyone's catalogue of harms. The form of bioethical inquiry we are attempting here will make every effort not to truncate the moral meaning of our actions and practices by placing them on the Procrustean bed of utilitarianism. To be sure, the ethical principles governing human research are highly useful in efforts to protect vulnerable individuals against the misconduct or indifference of the powerful. But a different frame of reference is needed to evaluate the human meaning of innovations that may affect the lives and humanity of everyone, vulnerable or not.
Of the arguments developed below, some are supported by most Council Members, while other arguments are shared by only some Members. Even among the arguments they share, different Members find different concerns to be weightier. Yet we all believe that the arguments presented in the sections that follow are worthy of consideration in the course of trying to assess fully the ethical issues involved. We have chosen to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion of arguments because we acknowledge that concerns now expressed by only a few may turn out in the future to be more important than those now shared by all. Our fuller assessment begins with an attempt to fathom the deepest meaning of human procreation and thus necessarily the meaning of raising children. Our analysis will then move onto questions dealing with the effects of cloning on individuals, family life, and society more generally.
B. The Human Context: Procreation and Child-Rearing
Were it to take place, cloning-to-produce-children would represent a challenge to the nature of human procreation and child-rearing. Cloning is, of course, not only a means of procreation. It is also a technology, a human experiment, and an exercise of freedom, among other things. But cloning would be most unusual, consequential, and most morally important as a new way of bringing children into the world and a new way of viewing their moral significance.
One we outlined some morally significant features of human procreation
and raised questions about how these would be altered by human cloning.
We will now attempt to deepen that analysis, and begin with the salient
fact that a child is not made, but begotten. Procreation is not
making but the outgrowth of doing. A man and woman give themselves in
love to each other, setting their projects aside in order to do just that.
Yet a child results, arriving on its own, mysterious, independent, yet
the fruit of the embrace.vi
Even were the child wished for, and consciously so, he or she is the issue
of their love, not the product of their wills; the man and woman in no
way produce or choose a particular child, as they might buy a
particular car. Procreation can, of course, be assisted by human ingenuity
(as with IVF). In such cases, it may become harder to see the child solely
as a gift bestowed upon the parents' mutual self-giving and not to some
degree as a product of their parental wills. Nonetheless, because it is
still sexual reproduction, the children born with the help of IVF begin
as do all other children with a certain genetic independence
of their parents. They replicate neither their fathers nor their mothers,
and this is a salutary reminder to parents of the independence they must
one day grant their children and for which it is their duty to prepare
Gifts and blessings we learn to accept as gratefully as we can. Products of our wills we try to shape in accord with our desires. Procreation as traditionally understood invites acceptance, rather than reshaping, engineering, or designing the next generation. It invites us to accept limits to our control over the next generation. It invites us even to put the point most strongly to think of the child as one who is not simply our own, our possession. Certainly, it invites us to remember that the child does not exist simply for the happiness or fulfillment of the parents.
To be sure, parents do and must try to form and mold their children in various ways as they inure them to the demands of family life, prepare them for adulthood, and initiate them into the human community. But, even then, it is only our sense that these children are not our possessions that makes such parental nurture which always threatens not to nourish but to stifle the child safe.
This concern can be expressed not only in language about the relation between the generations but also in the language of equality. The things we make are not just like ourselves; they are the products of our wills, and their point and purpose are ours to determine. But a begotten child comes into the world just as its parents once did, and is therefore their equal in dignity and humanity.
The character of sexual procreation shapes the lives of children as well as parents. By giving rise to genetically new individuals, sexual reproduction imbues all human beings with a sense of individual identity and of occupying a place in this world that has never belonged to another. Our novel genetic identity symbolizes and foreshadows the unique, never-to-be-repeated character of each human life. At the same time, our emergence from the union of two individuals, themselves conceived and generated as we were, locates us immediately in a network of relation and natural affection.
Social identity, like genetic identity, is in significant measure tied to these biological facts. Societies around the world have structured social and economic responsibilities around the relationship between the generations established through sexual procreation, and have developed modes of child-rearing, family responsibility, and kinship behavior that revolve around the natural facts of begetting.
There is much more to be said about these matters, and they are vastly more complicated than we have indicated. There are, in addition, cultural differences in the way societies around the world regard the human significance of procreation or the way children are to be regarded and cared for. Yet we have said enough to indicate that the character and nature of human procreation matter deeply. They affect human life in endless subtle ways, and they shape families and communities. A proper regard for the profundity of human procreation (including child-rearing and parent-child relations) is, in our view, indispensable for a full assessment of the ethical implications of cloning-to-produce-children.
C. Identity, Manufacture, Eugenics,
Family, and Society
Beyond the matter of procreation itself, we think it important to examine the possible psychological and emotional state of individuals produced by cloning, the well-being of their families, and the likely effects on society of permitting human cloning. These concerns would apply even if cloning-to-produce-children were conducted on a small scale; and they would apply in even the more innocent-seeming cloning scenarios, such as efforts to overcome infertility or to avoid the risk of genetic disease. Admittedly, these matters are necessarily speculative, for empirical evidence is lacking. Nevertheless, the importance of the various goods at stake justifies trying to think matters through in advance.
Keeping in mind our general observations about procreation, we proceed to examine a series of specific ethical issues and objections to cloning human children: (1) problems of identity and individuality; (2) concerns regarding manufacture; (3) the prospect of a new eugenics; (4) troubled family relations; and (5) effects on society.
1. Problems of Identity and Individuality
Cloning-to-produce-children could create serious problems of identity and individuality. This would be especially true if it were used to produce multiple "copies" of any single individual, as in one or another of the seemingly far-fetched futuristic scenarios in which cloning is often presented to the popular imagination. Yet questions of identity and individuality could arise even in small-scale cloning, even in the (supposedly) most innocent of cases, such as the production of a single cloned child within an intact family. Personal identity is, we would emphasize, a complex and subtle psychological phenomenon, shaped ultimately by the interaction of many diverse factors. But it does seem reasonably clear that cloning would at the very least present a unique and possibly disabling challenge to the formation of individual identity.
Cloned children may experience concerns about their distinctive identity not only because each will be genetically essentially identical to another human being, but also because they may resemble in appearance younger versions of the person who is their "father" or "mother." Of course, our genetic makeup does not by itself determine our identities. But our genetic uniqueness is an important source of our sense of who we are and how we regard ourselves. It is an emblem of independence and individuality. It endows us with a sense of life as a never-before-enacted possibility. Knowing and feeling that nobody has previously possessed our particular gift of natural characteristics, we go forward as genetically unique individuals into relatively indeterminate futures.
These new and unique genetic identities are rooted in the natural procreative process. A cloned child, by contrast, is at risk of living out a life overshadowed in important ways by the life of the "original" general appearance being only the most obvious. Indeed, one of the reasons some people are interested in cloning is that the technique promises to produce in each case a particular individual whose traits and characteristics are already known. And however much or little one's genotype actually shapes one's natural capacities, it could mean a great deal to an individual's experience of life and the expectations that those who cloned him or her might have. The cloned child may be constantly compared to "the original," and may consciously or unconsciously hold himself or herself up to the genetic twin that came before. If the two individuals turned out to lead similar lives, the cloned person's achievements may be seen as derivative. If, as is perhaps more likely, the cloned person departed from the life of his or her progenitor, this very fact could be a source of constant scrutiny, especially in circumstances in which parents produced their cloned child to become something in particular. Living up to parental hopes and expectations is frequently a burden for children; it could be a far greater burden for a cloned individual. The shadow of the cloned child's "original" might be hard for the child to escape, as would parental attitudes that sought in the child's very existence to replicate, imitate, or replace the "original."
It may reasonably be argued that genetic individuality is not an indispensable human good, since identical twins share a common genotype and seem not to be harmed by it. But this argument misses the context and environment into which even a single human clone would be born. Identical twins have as progenitors two biological parents and are born together, before either one has developed and shown what his or her potential natural or otherwise may be. Each is largely free of the burden of measuring up to or even knowing in advance the genetic traits of the other, because both begin life together and neither is yet known to the world. But a clone is a genetic near-copy of a person who is already living or has already lived. This might constrain the clone's sense of self in ways that differ in kind from the experience of identical twins. Everything about the predecessor from physical height and facial appearance, balding patterns and inherited diseases, to temperament and native talents, to shape of life and length of days, and even cause of death will appear before the expectant eyes of the cloned person, always with at least the nagging concern that there, notwithstanding the grace of God, go I. The crucial matter, again, is not simply the truth regarding the extent to which genetic identity actually shapes us though it surely does shape us to some extent. What matters is the cloned individual's perception of the significance of the "precedent life" and the way that perception cramps and limits a sense of self and independence.
2. Concerns regarding Manufacture
The likely impact of cloning on identity suggests an additional moral and social concern: the transformation of human procreation into human manufacture, of begetting into making. By using the terms "making" and "manufacture" we are not claiming that cloned children would be artifacts made altogether "by hand" or produced in factories. Rather, we are suggesting that they would, like other human "products," be brought into being in accordance with some pre-selected genetic pattern or design, and therefore in some sense "made to order" by their producers or progenitors.
Unlike natural procreation or even most forms of assisted reproduction cloning-to-produce-children would set out to create a child with a very particular genotype: namely, that of the somatic cell donor. Cloned children would thus be the first human beings whose entire genetic makeup is selected in advance. True, selection from among existing genotypes is not yet design of new ones. But the principle that would be established by human cloning is both far-reaching and completely novel: parents, with the help of science and technology, may determine in advance the genetic endowment of their children. To this point, parents have the right and the power to decide whether to have a child. With cloning, parents acquire the power, and presumably the right, to decide what kind of a child to have. Cloning would thus extend the power of one generation over the next and the power of parents over their offspring in ways that open the door, unintentionally or not, to a future project of genetic manipulation and genetic control.
Of course, there is no denying that we have already taken steps in the direction of such control. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis of embryos and prenatal diagnosis of fetuses both now used to prevent the birth of individuals carrying genes for genetic diseases reflect an only conditional acceptance of the next generation. With regard to positive selection for desired traits, some people already engage in the practice of sex selection, another example of conditional acceptance of offspring. But these precedents pale in comparison to the degree of control provided by cloning and, in any case, do not thereby provide a license to proceed with cloning. It is far from clear that it would be wise to proceed still farther in our attempts at control.
The problem with cloning-to-produce-children is not that artificial technique is used to assist reproduction. Neither is it that genes are being manipulated. We raise no objection to the use of the coming genetic technologies to treat individuals with genetic diseases, even in utero though there would be issues regarding the protection of human subjects in research and the need to find boundaries between therapy and so-called enhancement (of this, more below). The problem has to do with the control of the entire genotype and the production of children to selected specifications.
Why does this matter? It matters because human dignity is at stake. In natural procreation, two individuals give life to a new human being whose endowments are not shaped deliberately by human will, whose being remains mysterious, and the open-endedness of whose future is ratified and embraced. Parents beget a child who enters the world exactly as they did as an unmade gift, not as a product. Children born of this process stand equally beside their progenitors as fellow human beings, not beneath them as made objects. In this way, the uncontrolled beginnings of human procreation endow each new generation and each new individual with the dignity and freedom enjoyed by all who came before.
Most present forms of assisted reproduction imitate this natural process. While they do begin to introduce characteristics of manufacture and industrial technique, placing nascent human life for the first time in human hands, they do not control the final outcome. The end served by IVF is still the same as natural reproduction-the birth of a child from the union of gametes from two progenitors. Reproduction with the aid of such techniques still implicitly expresses a willingness to accept as a gift the product of a process we do not control. In IVF children emerge out of the same mysterious process from which their parents came, and are therefore not mere creatures of their parents.
By contrast, cloning-to-produce-children and the forms of human manufacture it might make more possible in the future seems quite different. Here, the process begins with a very specific final product in mind and would be tailored to produce that product. Even were cloning to be used solely to remedy infertility, the decision to clone the (sterile) father would be a decision, willy-nilly, that the child-to-be should be the near-twin of his "father." Anyone who would clone merely to ensure a "biologically related child" would be dictating a very specific form of biological relation: genetic virtual identity. In every case of cloning-to-produce-children, scientists or parents would set out to produce specific individuals for particular reasons. The procreative process could come to be seen increasingly as a means of meeting specific ends, and the resulting children would be products of a designed manufacturing process, products over whom we might think it proper to exercise "quality control." Even if, in any given case, we were to continue to think of the cloned child as a gift, the act itself teaches a different lesson, as the child becomes the continuation of a parental project. We would learn to receive the next generation less with gratitude and surprise than with control and mastery.
One possible result would be the industrialization and commercialization of human reproduction. Manufactured objects 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 become a profoundly dehumanizing force. Already there is commerce in egg donation for IVF, with ads offering large sums of money for egg donors with high SAT scores and particular physical features.
The concerns expressed here do not depend on cloning becoming a widespread practice. The introduction of the terms and ideas of production into the realm of human procreation would be troubling regardless of the scale involved; and the adoption of a market mentality in these matters could blind us to the deep moral character of bringing forth new life. Even were cloning children to be rare, the moral harms to a society that accepted it could be serious.
3. Prospect of a New Eugenics
For some of us, cloning-to-produce-children also raises
concerns about the prospect of eugenics or, more modestly, about genetic
"enhancement." We recognize that the term "eugenics" generally refers
to attempts to improve the genetic constitution of a particular political
community or of the human race through general policies such as population
control, forced sterilization, directed mating, or the like. It does not
ordinarily refer to actions of particular individuals attempting to improve
the genetic endowment of their own descendants. Yet, although cloning
does not in itself point to public policies by which the state would become
involved in directing the development of the human gene pool, this might
happen in illiberal regimes, like China, where the government already
And, in liberal societies, cloning-to-produce-children could come to be
used privately for individualized eugenic or "enhancement" purposes: in
attempts to alter (with the aim of improving) the genetic constitution
of one's own descendants and, indirectly, of future generations.
Some people, in fact, see enhancement as the major purpose of cloning-to-produce-children. Those who favor eugenics and genetic enhancement were once far more open regarding their intentions to enable future generations to enjoy more advantageous genotypes. Toward these ends, they promoted the benefits of cloning: escape from the uncertain lottery of sex, controlled and humanly directed reproduction. In the present debate about cloning-to-produce-children, the case for eugenics and enhancement is not made openly, but it nonetheless remains an important motivation for some advocates. Should cloning-to-produce-children be introduced successfully, and should it turn out that the cloned humans do in fact inherit many of the natural talents of the "originals," some people may become interested in the prospects of using it to produce "enhanced children" especially if other people's children were receiving comparable advantages.
Cloning can serve the ends of individualized enhancement either by avoiding the genetic defects that may arise when human reproduction is left to chance or by preserving and perpetuating outstanding genetic traits. In the future, if techniques of genetic enhancement through more precise genetic engineering became available, cloning could be useful for perpetuating the enhanced traits and for keeping any "superior" manmade genotype free of the flaws that sexual reproduction might otherwise introduce.
"Private eugenics" does not carry with it the dark
implications of state despotism or political control of the gene pool
that characterized earlier eugenic proposals and the racist eugenic practices
of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, it could prove dangerous to our
humanity. Besides the dehumanizing prospects of the turn toward manufacture
that such programs of enhancement would require, there is the further
difficulty of the lack of standards to guide the choices for "improvement."
To this point, biomedical technology has been applied to treating diseases
in patients and has been governed, on the whole, by a commonsense view
of health and disease. To be sure, there are differing views about how
to define "health." And certain cosmetic, performance enhancing,
or hedonistic uses of biomedical techniques have already crossed any plausible
boundary between therapy and enhancement, between healing the sick and
"improving" our powers.viii
Yet, for the most part, it is by some commonsense views of health that
we judge who is in need of medical treatment and what sort of treatment
might be most appropriate. Even today's practice of a kind of "negative"
eugenics through prenatal genetic diagnosis and abortion of fetuses
with certain genetic abnormalities is informed by the desire to
The "positive" eugenics that could receive a great boost from human cloning, especially were it to be coupled with techniques of precise genetic modification, would not seek to restore sick human beings to natural health. Instead, it would seek to alter humanity, based upon subjective or arbitrary ideas of excellence. The effort may be guided by apparently good intentions: to improve the next generation and to enhance the quality of life of our descendants. But in the process of altering human nature, we would be abandoning the standard by which to judge the goodness or the wisdom of the particular aims. We would stand to lose the sense of what is and is not human.
The fear of a new eugenics is not, as is sometimes alleged, a concern born of some irrational fear of the future or the unknown. Neither is it born of hostility to technology or nostalgia for some premodern pseudo-golden age of superior naturalness. It is rather born of the rational recognition that once we move beyond therapy into efforts at enhancement, we are in uncharted waters without a map, without a compass, and without a clear destination that can tell us whether we are making improvements or the reverse. The time-honored and time-tested goods of human life, which we know to be good, would be put in jeopardy for the alleged and unknowable goods of a post-human future.
4. Troubled Family Relations
Cloning-to-produce-children could also prove damaging to family relations, despite the best of intentions. We do not assume that cloned children, once produced, would not be accepted, loved, or nurtured by their parents and relatives. On the contrary, we freely admit that, like any child, they might be welcomed into the cloning family. Nevertheless, the cloned child's place in the scheme of family relations might well be uncertain and confused. The usually clear designations of father and brother, mother and sister, would be confounded. A mother could give birth to her own genetic twin, and a father could be genetically virtually identical to his son. The cloned child's relation to his or her grandparents would span one and two generations at once. Every other family relation would be similarly confused. There is, of course, the valid counter-argument that holds that the "mother" could easily be defined as the person who gives birth to the child, regardless of the child's genetic origins, and for social purposes that may serve to eliminate some problems. But because of the special nature of cloning-to-produce-children, difficulties may be expected.
The crucial point is not the absence of the natural biological connections between parents and children. The crucial point is, on the contrary, the presence of a unique, one-sided, and replicative biological connection to only one progenitor. As a result, family relations involving cloning would differ from all existing family arrangements, including those formed through adoption or with the aid of IVF. A great many children, after all, are adopted, and live happy lives in loving families, in the absence of any biological connections with their parents. Children conceived by artificial insemination using donor sperm and by various IVF techniques may have unusual relationships with their genetic parents, or no genetic relationships at all. But all of these existing arrangements attempt in important ways to emulate the model of the natural family (at least in its arrangement of the generations), while cloning runs contrary to that model.
What the exact effects of cloning-to-produce-children
might be for families is highly speculative, to be sure, but it is still
worth flagging certain troubling possibilities and risks. The fact that
the cloned child bears a special tie to only one parent may complicate
family dynamics. As the child developed, it could not help but be regarded
as specially akin to only one of his or her parents. The sins or failings
of the father (or mother), if reappearing in the cloned child, might be
blamed on the progenitor, adding to the chances of domestic turmoil. The
problems of being and rearing an adolescent could become complicated should
the teenage clone of the mother "reappear" as the double of the woman
the father once fell in love with. Risks of competition, rivalry, jealousy,
and parental tension could become heightened.ix
Even if the child were cloned from someone who is not a member of the family in which the child is raised, the fact would remain that he or she has been produced in the nearly precise genetic image of another and for some particular reason, with some particular design in mind. Should this become known to the child, as most likely it would, a desire to seek out connection to the "original" could complicate his or her relation to the rearing family, as would living consciously "under the reason" for this extra-familial choice of progenitor. Though many people make light of the importance of biological kinship (compared to the bonds formed through rearing and experienced family life), many adopted children and children conceived by artificial insemination or IVF using donor sperm show by their actions that they do not agree. They make great efforts to locate their "biological parents," even where paternity consists in nothing more than the donation of sperm. Where the progenitor is a genetic near-twin, surely the urge of the cloned child to connect with the unknown "parent" would be still greater.
For all these reasons, the cloning family differs from the "natural family" or the "adoptive family." By breaking through the natural boundaries between generations, cloning could strain the social ties between them.
5. Effects on Society
The hazards and costs of cloning-to-produce-children may not be confined to the direct participants. The rest of society may also be at risk. The impact of human cloning on society at large may be the least appreciated, but among the most important, factors to consider in contemplating the morality of this activity.
Cloning is a human activity affecting not only those who are cloned or those who are clones, but also the entire society that allows or supports such activity. For insofar as the society accepts cloning-to-produce-children, to that extent the society may be said to engage in it. A society that allows dehumanizing practices especially when given an opportunity to try to prevent them risks becoming an accomplice in those practices. (The same could be said of a society that allowed even a few of its members to practice incest or polygamy.) Thus the question before us is whether cloning-to-produce-children 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. We must consider what kind of a society we wish to be, and, in particular, what forms of bringing children into the world we want to encourage and what sorts of relations between the generations we want to preserve.
Cloning-to-produce-children could distort the way we raise and view children, by carrying to full expression many regrettable tendencies already present in our culture. We are already liable to regard children largely as vehicles for our own fulfillment and ambitions. The impulse to create "designer children" is present today as temptation and social practice. The notion of life as a gift, mysterious and limited, is under siege. Cloning-to-produce-children would carry these tendencies and temptations to an extreme expression. It advances the notion that the child is but an object of our sovereign mastery.
A society that clones human beings thinks about human beings (and especially children) differently than does a society that refuses to do so. It could easily be argued that we have already in myriad ways begun to show signs of regarding our children as projects on which we may work our wills. Further, it could be argued that we have been so desensitized by our earlier steps in this direction that we do not recognize this tendency as a corruption. While some people contend that cloning-to-produce-children would not take us much further down a path we have already been traveling, we would emphasize that the precedent of treating children as projects cuts two ways in the moral argument. Instead of using this precedent to justify taking the next step of cloning, the next step might rather serve as a warning and a mirror in which we may discover reasons to reconsider what we are already doing. Precisely because the stakes are so high, precisely because the new biotechnologies touch not only our bodies and minds but also the very idea of our humanity, we should ask ourselves how we as a society want to approach questions of human dignity and flourishing.
Cloning-to-produce-children may represent a forerunner of what will be a growing number of capacities to intervene in and alter the human genetic endowment. No doubt, earlier human actions have produced changes in the human gene pool: to take only one example, the use of insulin to treat diabetics who otherwise would have died before reproducing has increased the genes for diabetes in the population. But different responsibilities accrue when one sets out to make such changes prospectively, directly, and deliberately. To do so without regard for the likelihood of serious unintended and unanticipated consequences would be the height of hubris. Systems of great complexity do not respond well to blunt human intervention, and one can hardly think of a more complex system both natural and social than that which surrounds human reproduction and the human genome. Given the enormous importance of what is at stake, we believe that the so-called "precautionary principle" should be our guide in this arena. This principle would suggest that scientists, technologists, and, indeed, all of us should be modest in claiming to understand the many possible consequences of any profound alteration of human procreation, especially where there are not compelling reasons to proceed. Lacking such understanding, no one should take action so drastic as the cloning of a human child. In the absence of the necessary human wisdom, prudence calls upon us to set limits on efforts to control and remake the character of human procreation and human life.
It is not only a matter of prudence. Cloning-to-produce-children
would also be an injustice to the cloned child from the imposition
of the chromosomes of someone else, to the intentional deprivation of
biological parents, to all of the possible bodily and psychological harms
that we have enumerated in this chapter. It is ultimately the claim that
the cloned child would be seriously wronged and not only harmed
in body that would justify government intervention. It is to this
question the public policy question of what the government should
and can do to prevent such injustice that we will turn in Chapter
Seven. But, regarding the ethical assessment, Members of the Council
are in unanimous agreement that cloning-to-produce-children is not only
unsafe but also morally unacceptable and ought not to be attempted.x
- National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Cloning Human Beings Bethesda,
MD, 1997. Back
- National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human
Reproductive Cloning, Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002.
(Referred to in subsequent citations as NAS Report.) Back
- NAS Report, pp. 6-7. Back
- Lederberg, J. "Experimental Genetics and Human Evolution" The American
Naturalist, September-October 1966. Back
- Supreme Court of the United States. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 US 438,
- Tribe, L. "On Not Banning Cloning for the Wrong Reasons" in Nussbaum, M.,
and C. R. Sunstein. Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies about
Human Cloning. New York: Norton, 1998, p. 321. Back
- Nuremberg Report. Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military
Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10, Vol. 2, pp. 181-182.
Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1949. Back
- Helsinki Declaration. 18th World Medical Association General Assembly Ethical
Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects, adopted
in Helsinki, Finland, June 1964, and amended in October 1975, October
1983, September 1989, October 1996, and October 2000. Back
- Belmont Report. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects
of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The Belmont Report: Ethical
Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research.
Bethesda, MD: Government Printing Office, 1978. Back
- See, for instance, Chapter
Four of the present report, as well as Chapter 3 of the NAS Report.
Back to Text
- These issues are discussed in the NAS Report (3-2) as well as in Wilmut, I.,
Roslin Institute, Scotland. "Application of animal cloning data to human
cloning," paper presented at Workshop: Scientific and Medical Aspects
of Human Cloning, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
August 7, 2001; and Hill, J., Cornell University. "Placental defects
in nuclear transfer (cloned) animals," paper presented at Workshop:
Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Cloning, National Academy of
Sciences, Washington, DC, August 7, 2001. Back
- See, for instance, Chapter 3 of the NAS Report, and Kolata, G. "In Cloning,
Failure Far Exceeds Success" New York Times, December 11, 2001,
p. D1. Back
- See, for instance, Rimington, M., et al. "Counseling patients undergoing ovarian
stimulation about the risks of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome."
Human Reproduction, 14: 2921-2922, 1999; and Wakeley, K., and
E. Grendys. "Reproductive technologies and risk of ovarian cancer."
Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 12: 43-47, 2000.
Back to Text
- These issues are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3 of the NAS Report.
Back to Text
- Hill J.R., et al. "Clinical and pathologic features of cloned transgenic calves
and fetuses (13 case studies)" Theriogenology 8: 1451-1465,
- NAS Report, p. 3-2. Back
- NAS Report, Figure 3. Back
- See for instance the NAS Report, Appendix B, tables 1, 3, and 4. Back
- Consider the following analogy: We would not allow a rare sympathetic case
for brother-sister marriage-where, say, the two children were separated
at birth and later fell in love, ignorant of their kinship-to overturn
the taboo on incest. Whatever their merit, the goals of well-being and
health do not outweigh the moral and social harms that cloning would
- It is of course true that there is always uncertainty about moving from animal
to human experimentation or therapy. But in the usual case, what justifies
the assumption of this added unknown risk is that the experimental subject
is a likely beneficiary of the research, either directly or indirectly.
And where this is not the case, risk may be assumed if there is informed
and voluntary consent. Neither of these conditions applies for the child-to-be
in human cloning experiments. Back
- Surprisingly, there has been very little systematic study of the offspring
of in vitro fertilization. One recently published study has suggested
that IVF (and especially intracytoplasmic sperm injection [ICSI]) may
not be as benign as we had thought (Hansen, M., et al., "The Risk of
Major Birth Defects after Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection and In Vitro
Fertilization," New Eng. J. Med. 346: 725-730, 2002). Back
- The argument made in this paragraph is not unique to cloning. There may be
other circumstances in which prospective parents, about to impose great
risk of harm on a prospective child-to-be, might bear a comparable burden.
Back to Text
- Such improvements in technique could result in part from the practice
of cloning-for-biomedical-research, were it to be allowed to go forward.
This possibility is one of the issues we shall consider in evaluating
the ethics of cloning-for-biomedical-research in Chapter
- We are, of course, well aware that many children are conceived in casual,
loveless, or even brutal acts of sexual intercourse, including rape
and incest. Back
- According to official Chinese census figures for 2000, more than 116 male
births were recorded for every 100 female births. It is generally believed
that this is the result of the widespread use of prenatal sex selection
and China's one-child policy, though it should be noted that even in
a country such as South Korea, which has no such policy, the use of
prenatal sex selection has skewed the sex ratio in favor of males. Back
- One thinks of certain forms of plastic surgery or recreational uses of euphoriant
drugs, and the uses in athletics and schools of performance-enhancing
drugs, such as anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, and Ritalin. Back
- And there might be special complications in the event of divorce. Does the
child rightfully or more naturally belong to the "genetic parent"? How
would a single parent deal with a child who shares none of her genes
but carries 100 percent of the genes of the person she chose to divorce?
Whether such foreseeable complications would in fact emerge is, of course,
an empirical question that cannot be answered in advance. But knowledge
of the complexities of family life lead us not to want to dismiss them.
Back to Text
- Not surprisingly, some of us feel more strongly than others about this conclusion.
One or two of us might someday be willing to see cloning-to-produce-children
occur in the rare defensible case, but then only if means were available
to confine its use to such cases. Back