The sheep Doly was successfully cloned in a laboratory by a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer. This success significantly increases the possibility of human cloning. The moral and legal debates around the cloning of humans surfaced again. This essay does not intend to address moral considerations primarily based upon technical concerns. For instance, the US National Bioethics Advisory Commission concludes that at this time it is morally unacceptable to attempt to create a child using somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning because this technique is not safe to use in humans at this time. Instead, this essay wants to explore a basic issue of moral principle: Does human cloning violate human dignity?
The first section argues that attempt to using state power to enforce an official, particular doctrine of human dignity upon every person in a pluralist society cannot be justified by rational moral argument. Many have asserted that human cloning is against human dignity; therefore, for them, human cloning should be prohibited in society. For example, UNESCO claims that "practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted." Many seem to assume that human dignity is a self-evident notion and all people have a consensus on its basic implications.
This essay illustrates that the concept of human dignity is ambiguous. People hold entirely different understandings of where human dignity lies. Distinct religions, traditions, and ideologies developed concrete and incommensurable theories regarding human dignity, based upon their respective metaphysical and moral premises. Among others, Immanuel Kant, the great Enlightenment philosopher, tried through rational philosophical argument to establish a universal doctrine of human dignity for human persons as such, independent of any particular religious and/or traditional understanding. However, Kant's efforts failed. His ethics of dignity falls into a dilemma. When it is universal, it is pure formalism. It cannot offer concrete moral guidance, such as an answer as to whether the practice of human cloning violates human dignity. When it offers concrete moral guidance, it already assumes certain particular moral premises that are not accepted by all individuals or moral communities; therefore, it becomes a type of dogmatism.
The failure of Kant's ethics of dignity is heuristic. We are not able to justify one particular understanding of human dignity through rational philosophical argument without begging the question. In the contemporary pluralist world, people hold different concrete conceptions of human dignity in general and their particular implications for the issue of human cloning in particular. While a devout Christian argues that the cloning of humans is contrary to God's normal design for human life and procreation, an atheist homosexual sees human cloning as a useful tool for his reproduction and thereby constitute a valuable way of preserving his human dignity. Since no one is able to establish a particular doctrine of human dignity as canonical without begging the question, it would be immoral to use state force to impose it upon everyone. Accordingly, it is morally inevitable to move to a self-choice-based individual ethics of human dignity from state-coercion-based official ethics of human dignity.
The second section of this essay argues that it is also morally inevitable to move to a communitarian ethics of human dignity from individual ethics of human dignity. Individual ethics of human dignity emphasizes individual determination. It states that there is something inviolable in the human individual. However, as to the question of what this inviolable thing is, individual ethics of human dignity can only tell us that it should be determined by individual choice and decision. It cannot tell us, however, what substantive standards we can use to make such decisions. In short, it sets up a formal concept of human dignity based on self-determination.
One cannot be satisfied with a formal concept of human dignity. When one obtains freedom to make choices in society, one wants to have substantive standards to guide his choice and shape his content-full notion of human dignity. Such standards can only be found in particular moral communities. Only within a concrete moral community can people share enough fundamental moral premises and/or recognize the same moral authority, so that they can form a content-full moral perspective, including a vision of human dignity. From such a perspective, one can easily know what choices he should make, what obligations he should assume, and what kind of virtues he should nurture. And only from such a perspective, can he secure a profound understanding of human nature and human reproduction, and thereby be able to deal with the issue of whether the cloning of humans is against human dignity in a morally coherent way.
Evidently, different moral communities hold different and often conflicting religious faiths, metaphysical convictions, and moral understandings regarding human nature and human dignity. In order to make an in-depth exploration of the moral issues of human cloning, one must come to terms with concrete notions and principles embraced by a particular moral community. The third section of this essay explores the Confucian understanding of human dignity and its implications for the moral issue of human cloning. As a long-standing moral tradition, Confucianism has profoundly influenced the moral lives of the East Asian people. This section argues that a comprehensive Confucian view of human dignity includes a normative requirement on the natural relationships between man and woman as well as parent and child. Such natural relationships, for Confucians, underlie the moral significance of human dignity. Any action that violates such natural relationships is contrary to human dignity.
From the Confucian understanding, human dignity, as well as human nature, is what Heaven imparts to human. "Heaven and earth existing, all things then got their existence. All things having existence, there came male and female. From the existence of male and female there came husband and wife. From husband and wife there came parent and child. From parent and child there came ruler and minister. From ruler and minister there came high and low. When [the distinction of] high and low had existence, there came the rules of propriety and righteousness" (I Ching: Xu Gua Zhuan). We should not take this saying as merely the Confucian vision of the natural genealogy of human society. Rather, this genealogy contains internal norms for the moral significance of human lives. For Confucians, it is through the good manifestation of the Dao of Heaven that every human is born to their parents. Although a blood tie between parent and child is not a necessary requirement for such a good manifestation, the relation of parent and child underlies the Confucian moral perspective over human society. Accordingly, any action or scientific innovation that jeopardizes the relation of parent and child violates human dignity. From the Confucian view, the cloning of humans destroys the relation of parent and child. Accordingly, it is morally unacceptable for Confucians to practice human cloning.
The essay concludes that it depends upon the content-full moral views of particular moral communities to answer the question of whether human cloning violates human dignity. It is morally inevitable to move to voluntarily-committed communitarian ethics of human dignity from state-coerced official ethics of human dignity. The state does not have moral authority to impose one particular view of human dignity on everyone. It ought only to maintain a social order in which members of particular moral communities can live concrete moral lives as they see appropriate. For Confucians, the cloning of humans is against their view of human dignity. They should not be tempted to involve in the practice of human cloning. At the same time, they should not try to make their views become the orthodox ideology of a state to be impose upon others who do not accept it. The Confucian moral community should be one of many flourishing moral communities in the contemporary pluralist world.