Human Cloning Isn’t as Scary as It SoundsThe recent news of the successful cloning of an adult sheepin which the sheep’s DNA was inserted into an unfertilized sheep egg to producea lamb with identical DNAhas generated an outpouring of ethical concerns. Theseconcerns are not about Dolly, the now famous sheep, nor even about theconsiderable impact cloning may have on the animal breeding industry, but ratherabout the possibility of cloning humans.
For the most part, however, the ethicalconcerns being raised are exaggerated and misplaced, because they are based onerroneous views about what genes are and what they can do. The danger, therefore,lies not in the power of the technology, but in the misunderstanding of itssignificance.Producing a clone of a human being would not amount to creating a “carbon copy”an automaton of the sort familiar from science fiction. It would be more likeproducing a delayed identical twin. And just as identical twins are two separatepeoplebiologically, psychologically, morally and legally, though notgeneticallyso a clone is a separate person from his or her non-contemporaneoustwin. To think otherwise is to embrace a belief in genetic determinismthe viewthat genes determine everything about us, and that environmental factors or therandom events in human development are utterly insignificant.
The overwhelmingconsensus among geneticists is that genetic determinism is false.As geneticists have come to understand the ways in which genes operate, theyhave also become aware of the myriad ways in which the environment affects their”expression.” The genetic contribution to the simplest physical traits, such asheight and hair color, is significantly mediated by environmental factors. Andthe genetic contribution to the traits we value most deeply, from intelligenceto compassion, is conceded by even the most enthusiastic genetic researchers tobe limited and indirect. Indeed, we need only appeal to our ordinary experiencewith identical twinsthat they are different people despite their similaritiesto appreciate that genetic determinism is false.Furthermore, because of the extra steps involved, cloning will probably alwaysbe riskierthat is, less likely to result in a live birththan in vitrofertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer. (It took more than 275 attempts beforethe researchers were able to obtain a successful sheep clone.
While cloningmethods may improve, we should note that even standard IVF techniques typicallyhave a success rate of less than 20 percent.) So why would anyone go to thetrouble of cloning?There are, of course, a few reasons people might go to the trouble, and so it’sworth pondering what they think they might accomplish, and what sort of ethicalquandaries they might engender. Consider the hypothetical example of the couplewho wants to replace a child who has died. The couple doesn’t seek to haveanother child the ordinary way because they feel that cloning would enable themto reproduce, as it were, the lost child. But the unavoidable truth is that theywould be producing an entirely different person, a delayed identical twin ofthat child. Once they understood that, it is unlikely they would persist.
But suppose they were to persist? Of course we can’t deny that possibility. Buta couple so persistent in refusing to acknowledge the genetic facts is notlikely to be daunted by ethical considerations or legal restrictions either. Ifour fear is that there could be many couples with that sort of psychology, thenwe have a great deal more than cloning to worry about.Another disturbing possibility is the person who wants a clone in order to haveacceptable “spare parts” in case he or she needs an organ transplant later inlife.
But regardless of the reason that someone has a clone produced, the resultwould nevertheless be a human being with all the rights and protections thataccompany that status. It truly would be a disaster if the results of humancloning were seen as less than fully human. But there is certainly no moraljustification for and little social danger of that happening; after all, we donot accord lesser status to children who have been created through IVF or embryotransfer.There are other possibilities we could spin out. Suppose a couple wants a”designer child”a clone of Cindy Crawford or Elizabeth Taylorbecause they wanta daughter who will grow up to be as attractive as those women. Indeed, supposesomeone wants a clone, never mind of whom, simply to enjoy the notoriety ofhaving one. We cannot rule out such cases as