16 May 2005
Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, University of OxfordAppeared in BioNews 308
'The first reproductive clone of a human being will inevitably arrive at some time in the future. The first human clone will be the first 'artificial' human, the first true 'test-tube baby' to be created by science, made in a way utterly different to what God or nature ordained for us.
Reproductive cloning could allow new and important options for people with mitochondrial disease, and couples where the male partner has no viable sperm, to create a child genetically related to themselves. IVF couples producing a small number of embryos could also take cells from their embryos (or fetuses) for cloning, to increase the number of available embryos, in case a pregnancy fails. Cloning could produce an embryo, or help create a child, to be a donor of stem cells for a sick sibling or relative. Cloning will become just another reproductive technique, along with sexual reproduction and IVF.
Of course, many people currently oppose even therapeutic cloning, because of fears of slipping down the slope to reproductive cloning. But what are the reasons to oppose reproductive cloning? When Dolly the sheep was cloned, the German Prime Minister said this would lead to 'xeroxing people'. But the current techniques of cloning could not clone or copy people. They copy a genome, a person's complete DNA sequence. Only a crude genetic determinist could claim that cloning copies people. The DNA of Hitler, Einstein or Mozart in their clones would never produce Hitler, Einstein or Mozart. We are the product of our genes, but also our environment and most importantly, our own free choices.
The European Parliament, UNESCO and WHO all state that reproductive cloning is an 'affront to human dignity'. But identical twins - natural clones - occur at a rate of about 3 per 1000 births. In the past, twins were seen as evil and killed at birth, their existence an affront to human dignity. But today, we see identical twins as ordinary and autonomous individuals. No one is developing drugs to reduce the rate of identical twinning because it is an affront to human dignity, or because it is so terrible to live one's life as a twin.
Some clones would be different to twins, in that the clone might be a copy of a genome of an already-existing person. Accordingly, the European Parliament pronounced that 'the individual has a right to his or her own genetic identity'. But where does a 'right to genetic individuality' come from? It is hard to see the value of 'genetic individuality' especially where an embryo or baby dying very early in life was then cloned. Or, where the person who was cloned is long dead or living in a different country. A clone of that embryo or person being raised by another family would be more like an identical twin being reared apart from its sibling.
But might some clones 'live in the shadow' of the earlier clone, exposed to the expectations and biases people might have from knowing the older clone, closing the new cloned child's future? Oderberg writes of 'identity confusion' and 'unbearable expectations placed on the child's shoulders'. Rather, in my view, what would make clones' lives problematic is the way in which their parents, peers and society might treat them. Negative attitudes towards clones would be a new form of discrimination - clonism - against a group of humans who are different in a non-morally significant way. 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. Misinformed bigotry is not a reason to prevent cloning, rather a reason to drop the attitudes.
Parents already create families for all kinds of private reasons, in a variety of ways, with and without medical assistance. The role of the cloned child's parents would be the same as all of these parents': to love the child and give it a good upbringing. Whether clones have good or bad lives simply depends on society and how we choose to treat them, not on the facts of their DNA. We should not fear cloning technology, but instead should use it rationally and responsibly. And we should continue to treat other people, including clones, when they arrive, with equal concern and respect, making sure others also do the same.
Cloning is currently unsafe and Antinori is playing Russian Roulette. But if reproductive cloning were in future to become safe and successful, or if we attempt cloning by embryo splitting, there would be no moral reason to ban cloning by law. Morality should be about people and their lives - not about any other individual's feelings of repugnance about them. As we speak up for those affected by racism, sexism, homophobia - so we should protect future clones in society. We have nothing to fear from cloning or biological modification of human beings except ourselves'.