Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cells
- Last Updated: 12 April 2015
- Published: 14 January 2010
- Written by David Swanton
A rebuttal of arguments against human cloning
1. The arguments against human cloning, such as those presented in the Andrews Report, are weak, except for the safety issue. The arguments can either be applied with equal force to other ethical situations that are not prohibited, or are inconsistent with the three principles listed above. It is a simple matter to rebut these arguments, which seem to have influenced the clauses in the PHC Act.
2. The Andrews Report lists some arguments against human cloning.
(a) Cloning would be unsafe.
(b) There is no medical need for cloning.
(c) Cloning would constitute an infringement of human dignity, that is a cloned child could be a means to an end.
(d) Cloning for reproductive purposes would have a negative effect on the family and personal relationships, that is it is inappropriate to bring a child into the world outside the usual social setting of a family involving a mother or father.
(e) Cloning would undermine individuality and identity.
(f) Cloning would potentially pose a threat to human diversity and cause a reduction in genetic diversity.
3. It is undisputed that cloning is currently an untested technology. Safety is the only valid argument against human cloning. If any technology is unsafe, it should not be permitted until the safety risks are managed. For reproductive cloning, this could mean being as safe as IVF technology for example. However, the question that ought to be asked is what the ethical status of human reproductive cloning should be if the technology were accepted to be as safe, for example, as IVF technology. If human cloning were accepted to be safe next year, why should it then not be permitted? What disasters will befall us?
4.2 Medical need
4. The Andrews Report refers to Professors Trounson and Williamson arguing that there is no medical reason for reproductive cloning. There are no medical reasons for eating chocolates, driving cars, using IVF technology or adopting children, but none of these are prohibited. There are biological and social reasons, other than medical reasons, for human cloning. Childless couples would be able to use cloning technology, and for many of them this may be preferable to IVF or surrogacy arrangements. IVF with sperm donors is not for everyone, but it is nonetheless permitted for those who want it. That there may not be any medical reasons for reproductive cloning is in essence irrelevant.
4.3 Human dignity
5. According to the Andrews Report, the ‘most common reason for regarding human cloning for reproductive purposes as unethical was that it would be “contrary to human dignity”’. As Professor Savulescu so neatly counters, ‘to say that creating a clone is an affront to human dignity is like saying that deliberately creating a black person, or a woman, affronts human dignity. The statement itself affronts the dignity of cloned people’.
6. Identical twins are natural clones. Identical twins have the same mitochondrial DNA, and thus will be more ‘identical’ than clones produced through cloning technology (with different mothers). Identical twins should be prohibited if this dignity argument has any merit, but there have been no moves in modern times to prohibit twins.
7. The human dignity argument seems to be premised on the concept of genetic determinism, that people are equated to their genes. However, genetic determinism is false, many factors combine to determine who a person is.
8. As a hypothetical situation, imagine a couple who had two embryos preserved after an IVF procedure. They had these embryos tested, and genomes checked. One embryo had an extremely severe genetic defect and the other had the identical genome to an existing person (this is of course extremely improbable in reality). Would anybody actually propose that the genetically damaged embryo be grown to full term, rather than cloning the existing person? If cloning an existing person is acceptable here, this counterexample shows there is no valid dignity argument against cloning.
9. UNESCO produced a paper, ‘Reproductive Human Cloning: Ethical Questions’, that quoted the Pontifical Academy for Life, which stated in 1997 that ‘At the level of human rights, the possibility of human cloning represents a violation of the two fundamental principles on which all human rights are based: the principle of equality among human beings and the principle of non-discrimination.’ But clones would be people, and all people are equal (Principle 1 and 2). And clones should not be discriminated against (Principle 2). So there is no problem with human cloning, unless one has preconceived intentions to discriminate against it.
10. Some would argue that a cloned child is a means to an end. Everybody who intentionally conceives a child does so for a reason, whether it is to raise a child to love and nurture, propagate their genes, support themselves in their old age, bear a child on a significant date (for example 1 January 2000), conform to peer or parental pressure, or mistakenly help save a marriage. Two points should be made. It is biased to apply the ‘means to an end’ argument against human clones when it can be applied with equal force to other similar child-raising scenarios. When a child is born, the child is an end, not a means to an end. Every person is an autonomous being worthy of respect, and children do not exist for the benefit of parents.
4.4 Negative effect on family and personal relationships
11. That a human clone might distort some people’s views of human relationships is a flawed argument, just as it was when arguments were first raised against IVF technology. A cloned child could actually enhance the family relationship for otherwise childless couples.
12. An adopted person, or one produced through IVF technology (if produced using donor sperm or eggs), or through a surrogacy agreement, is also not a biological descendent of its parents. But we do not prohibit children who are adopted or produced through IVF technology or consider them unethical.
13. It really is not difficult to understand how a clone fits into a family. The re are many instances of unusual family relationships. As an example, consider if a widowed mother were to marry her late-husband’s brother and have children with him. Stepsiblings would then also be cousins (the normal understanding of siblings has changed), but that this might be unusual and confound some people does not compel us to seek to prohibit such a scenario.
14. If this is all too confusing for some people, education rather than regulation is the appropriate response.
15. The identity argument contends that a clone would potentially have diminished individuality and identity problems as a consequence of having been cloned. It is well established that behavioural and phenotypic characteristics of clones are not identical to their alter ego, so this argument against human clones has no basis in science. It would be extremely unlikely that a clone of Beethoven could compose a tenthsymphony. Identical twins, as natural clones, don’t seem to have identity problems, and if they did, a ban on them is not the answer.
16. That a clone could be compared to its alter ego is not an argument against cloning. The argument suggests that unnecessary pressure might be placed, for example, on a clone of a successful person to follow in the footsteps of that person. Expectations would be high, but misguided. Pressure might sometimes be placed on the sexual offspring of two people, who might be successful scientists, artists, sportspeople, actors, politicians, etc. The identity argument is not an argument against cloning; rather it is an argument against placing unnecessary and unwarranted pressure on an individual, regardless of how they were conceived.
4.6 Cloning is a threat to human diversity
17. Arguments against reproductive cloning on the basis that it reduces genetic diversity are flawed. Identical twins are more identical than clones, but we have not made efforts to reduce the incidence of identical twins as a result of this argument. Without delving into the mathematics of population diversity, if a couple were to clone a child, who would not otherwise have existed, and that child when mature reproduces sexually, there would be an increase in genetic diversity—another person with a unique genome would have been created. In general, notions that the cloning of individuals, possibly at the same rate as for IVF, would decrease genetic diversity in a global population of six billion people, is an exaggerated and spurious claim.