The Issue of Human Cloning

Composition II Telecourse
January 20, 1999

With the recent discovery of the ability to clone an adult sheep, ignites numerous
questions concerning the ethical and moral issues in light of eventually cloning a human
being. The controversity surrounding the eventual possibility of cloning humans. For the
most part, however, the ethical concerns being raised
are exaggerated and misplaced, because they are based on erroneous
views about what genes are and what they can do. The danger,
therefore, lies not in the power of the technology, but in the
misunderstanding of its significance.

Producing a clone of a human being would not amount to
creating a "carbon copy"-an automaton of the sort familiar from
science fiction. It would be more like producing a delayed identical
twin. And just as identical twins are two separate
people-biologically, psychologically, morally and legally, though not
genetically-so a clone is a separate person from his or her
non-contemporaneous twin. To think otherwise is to embrace a belief in
genetic determinism-the view that genes determine everything about us,
and that environmental factors or the random events in human
development are utterly insignificant. The overwhelming consensus
among geneticists is that genetic determinism is false.

As geneticists have come to understand the ways in which genes
operate, they have also become aware of the myriad ways in which the
environment affects their "expression." The genetic contribution to
the simplest physical traits, such as height and hair color, is
significantly mediated by environmental factors. And the genetic
contribution to the traits we value most deeply, from intelligence to
compassion, is conceded by even the most enthusiastic genetic
researchers to be limited and indirect. Indeed, we need only appeal to
our ordinary experience with identical twins-that they are different
people despite their similarities-to appreciate that genetic
determinism is false.

Furthermore, because of the extra steps involved, cloning will
probably always be riskier-that is, less likely to result in a live
birth-than in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer. (It took
more than 275 attempts before the researchers were able to obtain a
successful sheep clone. While cloning methods may improve, we should
note that even standard IVF techniques typically have a success rate
of less than 20 percent.) So why would anyone go to the trouble of

There are, of course, a few reasons people might go to the
trouble, and so it\'s worth pondering what they think they might
accomplish, and what sort of ethical quandaries they might engender.
Consider the hypothetical example of the couple who wants to replace a
child who has died. The couple doesn\'t seek to have another child the
ordinary way because they feel that cloning would enable them to
reproduce, as it were, the lost child. But the unavoidable truth is
that they would be producing an entirely different person, a delayed
identical twin of that child. Once they understood that, it is
unlikely they would persist.

But suppose they were to persist? Of course we can\'t deny that
possibility. But a couple so persistent in refusing to acknowledge the
genetic facts is not likely to be daunted by ethical considerations or
legal restrictions either. If our fear is that there could be many
couples with that sort of psychology, then we have a great deal more
than cloning to worry about.

Another disturbing possibility is the person who wants a clone
in order to have acceptable "spare parts" in case he or she needs an
organ transplant later in life. But regardless of the reason that
someone has a clone produced, the result would nevertheless be a human
being with all the rights and protections that accompany that status.
It truly would be a disaster if the results of human cloning were seen
as less than fully human. But there is certainly no moral
justification for and little social danger of that happening; after
all, we do not accord lesser status to children who have been created
through IVF or embryo transfer.

There are other possibilities we could spin out. Suppose a
couple wants a "designer child"-a clone of Cindy Crawford or Elizabeth
Taylor-because they want a daughter who will grow up to be as
attractive as those women. Indeed, suppose someone wants a clone,
never mind of whom, simply to enjoy the notoriety of having one. We
cannot rule