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Cloning is an affront to human dignity

18 May 2005
By Professor David Oderberg
Department of Philosophy, University of Reading
Appeared in BioNews 309
Professors David Oderberg and Julian Savulescu recently discussed the ethical issues surrounding human cloningin a London debate, entitled 'Severino Antinori should not be condemned for pushing back the boundaries of parents' right to choose'. Here, Professor David Oderberg puts forward his arguments against all forms of cloning:

'I would agree with Professor Savulescu that the arrival of the first cloned baby is virtually inevitable. The pressures for reproductive cloning are already with us. These pressures are symptomatic of a malaise at the heart of our modern society, making human life an already marketable commodity. Humans are mass produced in fertility treatments, are created for their spare parts, and are subject to mass storage and mass destruction. Society finds it acceptable to allow nearly 200,000 abortions in the UK each year, to manufacture babies in Petri dishes and to allow the excess embryos to be used in experiments. Thousands of embryos are currently kept in indefinite cold storage, their survival dependent on the whim of others. One could almost question why cloning should be seen as any more of an additional perversity, in the context of the current technologies.

But cloning does hold unique dangers. Women carrying cloned fetuses will be putting their health seriously at risk. The very many women who will need to supply their eggs to enable the creation of cloned embryos will be subject to a dangerous and painful egg collection procedure in doing so. There is already an international trade in eggs, in which women in poor countries are offered financial inducements to provide the eggs that the biotech industry badly needs. Such exploitation can only get worse.

Aside from the momentous physical risks to the cloned child, there are the identity and familial problems that cloning would bring. People's mistaken beliefs that replacing their dead family pet with its genetic twin can somehow 'resurrect' their lost animal has led to the successful cloning of domestic cats. Bereaved parents have been reported in the media as saying they would like a clone to replace a child they have lost. But what unbearable pressures might these expectations bring for the cloned child? And what about the confusion of the child's knowledge that she had been born as her mother's identical twin, or perhaps even her grandmother's?

Scientists involved in cloning research are seemingly guided by only one ultimate value, the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake. Any imposition of restraint by the state is in their view a totalitarian imposition of 'anti-science', transient social values. Protests against this work are met by assertions that the government is not supporting scientific research, or that the regulators are inserting themselves unjustifiably into the doctor-patient relationship. The current dominant mindset - of unashamed utilitarianism - within bioethics finds the potential harms of clone production to be outweighed by the specious potential benefits to society.

The belief, sometimes trumpeted by pro-cloners, in 'procreative autonomy' involves a complacent advocacy of parents' freedom to choose whether or not to clone their children, whatever the cost to the child or to society. Notwithstanding these currents of opinion in the UK and other countries, the world's governments must act together soon to curb the biotechnology industry and prevent the affront to human dignity of cloning, whether 'therapeutic' (i.e. experimental) or 'reproductive' (i.e. to birth).

Julian Savulescu's view that we should not discriminate against the cloned person when they eventually arrive in our society misses the point. It is not discrimination against clones that is the issue, but the fundamental objection is to cloning as a practice. It is this practice which is an affront to human dignity, turning human life into a marketable commodity.

Moreover, if we ever get to the stage of producing a born cloned person, we will with equal inevitability have discarded thousands of embryos along the way, because they are 'malformed' or 'surplus to requirements'. We will end up necessarily producing a whole generation of babies as experimental products. We cannot even begin to predict the physical and mental damage that cloning might produce. It may not be Severino Antinori himself who enters the history books as the winner of the race to produce a cloned baby, but frighteningly, the future is on his side'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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