To clone or not to clone? Having successfully cloned animals, should we clone human beings or should we ban human cloning? This paper explores some ethical concerns brought on by the possibility of human cloning. The cloning specifically referred to here is the asexual reproduction of a human by somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Five concerns are discussed. The first is genetic equivalence and identity. The second is genetic history and individual autonomy. The third is asexual reproduction. The fourth is experimentation risks. The fifth is cloning rights.
Genetic-Cloning not Person-Cloning
One main objection to human cloning arises from equating genetic reproduction with person reproduction. Because the clone derives his genes from the cloned, it is feared that cloning will make carbon copies of people. Although genetic reproduction will produce clones that resemble the cloned biologically, the two are different persons just as monozygotic twins are. External factors such as the environment, experiences and culture also shape a person. Human cloning will not call back the dead nor immortalise the living. It is in fact genetic cloning but never person cloning. It is not achievement cloning nor virtue cloning. The objection is based on genetic reductionism.
Genes with a History
Human cloning is sometimes equated with producing monozygotic twins. However the two are not the same because of the significant age difference between the clone and its cloned. Although identical twins share the same genes, their development is an unknown and full of possibilities as is the case for all newborn. Their future is open because their genetic make-up is, practically speaking, unique. However, in the case of the clone, its genes have a known history. The pre-existence of the genes will assert itself on the clone in one way or another. In the first place, the clone's corning into existence was not 'spontaneous' nor 'open' as in newborn by birth. It cannot claim as other humans can: "I am me." The clone is created in the image of the cloned and inevitably lives in its shadow. Its identity is being infringed upon by the history of its genes.
The pre-existence of the genes also constitutes a violation of the privacy of the clone. Because the cloned has lived before it, the secrets of the clone's genes are opened for all to see. The clone of Stephen Hawking would thus lose its genetic confidentially if he had cloned himself at the age of twenty before knowing his genetic problem. His clone will be what he is twenty years later.
The pre-existence of the genes also renders possible their commodification or commercialisation.
In nature's way, the inception of a new life occurs in the embrace and sexual union of man and woman, which is the culmination of the love between them. The new life is conceived and born out of an I-Thou relationship of love and commitment. The clone in an asexual reproduction is a product of technology rather than a gift within personal union. It is deprived of its right to having a biological father and a biological mother.
Moreover, cloning also assaults the traditional concept of parenthood and radically threatens the stability of family.
The high failure rate in cloning Dolly indicates clearly the much higher risks involved in human cloning. Malformed embryos will be produced and destroyed under current practice.
Malformed embryos have been inadequately justified by the proponents of human cloning on three grounds: that there are always unavoidable experimentation failures, that there are also risks in normal pregnancies and that the embryos have no moral rights before coming into existence. These justifications are found to be wanting. Moreover, to many who advocate respect for Iife, including the life of embryos, it is morally wrong to destroy embryos.
Furthermore there is the risk of malformed clones even though its can be reduced by the destruction of malformed embryos. The defects number of cloning are not fully known until years later or even a generation later. In the early stage of cloning development the clones remain objects of experiment throughout their entire lives. They have to live always under the threat of some possible adverse effect of cloning. This is morally unacceptable.
The issue of cloning rights can be complicated. Who has the right to cloning? Do parents have the right to clone a child? Will they only be able to exercise the right jointly or can they do so seperately? What happens when they are divorced? Will they forfeit this right when the child comes of age? Who owns the frozen embryo cloned earlier? Will the parents' right be an infringement on the person's right? Can they stop her from cloning herself? Can one clone more than a dozen of oneself? Does the right to clone entail patent right? Is the right to clone transferable or tradable?
It has often been assumed that the decision of cloning is entirely the parents' as the clone before coming into existence has no moral status. However in the case of cloning a child, is it necessary to have the consent of the child even though she is a minor? Are the parents guardians or pirates of her genome?
To Clone or Not to Clone
One must also bear in mind that the concept of reproductive right used by the proponents is very much a western concept and is at best a negative right which should not be placed above the right of the clone.
The answer to the question "To clone or not to clone?" is not a straight forward one. Human cloning will pose challenges in the realms of technology, law, society, morality, philosophy and religion. The most pressing question is not whether there is a case that can be justified for human cloning. It is rather whether our society has enough moral wisdom, courage and strength to guide the development and application of advancing science and technology including the possibility of human cloning. Before we can come to grips with the issues facing us, we should proceed with great care.