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Cloning Essay Examples


cloning, is it right?:  The successful cloning of an adult sheep,
announced in Scotland this past February, is one of the most
dramatic recent examples of a scientific discovery becoming a public issue.
During the last few months,
various commentators — scientists and theologians, physicians and legal
experts, talk-radio hosts and
editorial writers — have been busily responding to the news, some calming
fears, other raising alarms
about the prospect of cloning a human being.

The successful cloning of an adult sheep, announced in Scotland this past
February, is one of the most
dramatic recent examples of a scientific discovery becoming a public issue.
During the last few months,
various commentators — scientists and theologians, physicians and legal
experts, talk-radio hosts and
editorial writers — have been busily responding to the news, some calming
fears, other raising alarms
about the prospect of cloning a human being. At the request of the President,
the National Bioethics
Advisory Commission (NBAC) held hearings and prepared a report on the
religious, ethical, and legal
issues surrounding human cloning. While declining to call for a permanent ban
on the practice, the
Commission recommended a moratorium on efforts to clone human beings, and
emphasized the
importance of further public deliberation on the subject.
An interesting tension is at work in the NBAC report. Commission members were
well aware of “the
widespread public discomfort, even revulsion, about cloning human
beings.” Perhaps recalling the images
of Dolly the ewe that were featured on the covers of national news magazines,
they noted that “the impact
of these most recent developments on our national psyche has been quite
remarkable.” Accordingly, they
felt that one of their tasks was to articulate, as fully and sympathetically
as possible, the range of concerns
that the prospect of human cloning had elicited.
Yet it seems clear that some of these concerns, at least, are based on false
beliefs about genetic influence
and the nature of the individuals that would be produced through cloning.
Consider, for instance, the fear
that a clone would not be an “individual” but merely a “carbon
copy” of someone else — an automaton of
the sort familiar from science fiction. As many scientists have pointed out,
a clone would not in fact be an
identical copy, but more like a delayed identical twin. And just as identical
twins are two separate people
— biologically, psychologically, morally and legally, though not genetically
— so, too, a clone would be a
separate person from her non-contemporaneous twin. To think otherwise is to
embrace a belief in genetic
determinism — the view that genes determine everything about us, and that
environmental factors or the
random events in human development are insignificant.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that genetic determinism is false.
In coming to understand the
ways in which genes operate, biologists have also become aware of the myriad
ways in which the
environment affects their “expression.” The genetic contribution to
the simplest physical traits, such as
height and hair color, is significantly mediated by environmental factors
(and possibly by stochastic events
as well). And the genetic contribution to the traits we value most deeply,
from intelligence to compassion,
is conceded by even the most enthusiastic genetic researchers to be limited
and indirect.
It is difficult to gauge the extent to which “repugnance” toward
cloning generally rests on a belief in
genetic determinism. Hoping to account for the fact that people
“instinctively recoil” from the prospect of
cloning, James Q. Wilson wrote, “There is a natural sentiment that is
offended by the mental picture of
identical babies being produced in some biological factory.” Which
raises the question: once people learn
that this picture is mere science fiction, does the offense that cloning
presents to “natural sentiment”
attenuate, or even disappear? Jean Bethke Elshtain cited the nightmare
scenarios of “the man and woman
on the street,” who imagine a future populated by “a veritable army
of Hitlers, ruthless and remorseless
bigots who kept reproducing themselves until they had finished what the
historic Hitler failed to do:
annihilate us.” What happens, though, to the “pity and terror”
evoked by the topic of cloning when such
scenarios are deprived (as they deserve to be) of all credibility?
Richard Lewontin has argued that the critics’ fears — or at least, those
fears that merit consideration in
formulating public policy — dissolve once genetic determinism is refuted. He
criticizes the NBAC report
for excessive deference to opponents of human cloning, and calls for greater
public education on the
scientific issues. (The Commission in fact makes the same recommendation, but
Lewontin seems
unimpressed.) Yet even if a public education campaign succeeded in
eliminating the most egregious
misconceptions about genetic influence, that wouldn=t settle the matter.
People might continue to express
concerns about the interests and rights of human clones, about the social and
moral consequences of the
cloning process, and about the possible motivations for creating children in
this way.
Interests and Rights
One set of ethical concerns about human clones involves the risks and
uncertainties associated with the
current state of cloning technology. This technology has not yet been tested
with human subjects, and
scientists cannot rule out the possibility of mutation or other biological
damage. Accordingly, the NBAC
report concluded that “at this time, it is morally unacceptable for
anyone in the public or private sector,
whether in a research or clinical setting, to attempt to create a child using
somatic cell nuclear transfer
cloning.” Such efforts, it said, would pose “unacceptable risks to
the fetus and/or potential child.”
The ethical issues of greatest importance in the cloning debate, however, do
not involve possible failures
of cloning technology, but rather the consequences of its success. Assuming
that scientists were able to
clone human beings without incurring the risks mentioned above, what concerns
might there be about the
welfare of clones?
Some opponents of cloning believe that such individuals would be wronged in
morally significant ways.
Many of these wrongs involve the denial of what Joel Feinberg has called
“the right to an open future.”
For example, a child might be constantly compared to the adult from whom he
was cloned, and thereby
burdened with oppressive expectations. Even worse, the parents might actually
limit the child’s
opportunities for growth and development: a child cloned from a basketball
player, for instance, might be
denied any educational opportunities that were not in line with a career in
basketball. Finally, regardless
of his parents’ conduct or attitudes, a child might be burdened by the
thought that he is a copy and not an
“original.” The child’s sense of self-worth or individuality or
dignity, so some have argued, would thus be
difficult to sustain.
How should we respond to these concerns? On the one hand, the existence of a
right to an open future has
a strong intuitive appeal. We are troubled by parents who radically constrict
their children’s possibilities
for growth and development. Obviously, we would condemn a cloning parent for
crushing a child with
oppressive expectations, just as we might condemn fundamentalist parents for
utterly isolating their
children from the modern world, or the parents of twins for inflicting
matching wardrobes and rhyming
names. But this is not enough to sustain an objection to cloning itself.
Unless the claim is that cloned
parents cannot help but be oppressive, we would have cause to say they had
wronged their children only
because of their subsequent, and avoidable, sins of bad parenting — not
because they had chosen to create
the child in the first place. (The possible reasons for making this choice
will be discussed below.)
We must also remember that children are often born in the midst of all sorts
of hopes and expectations;
the idea that there is a special burden associated with the thought
“There is someone who is genetically
just like me” is necessarily speculative. Moreover, given the falsity of
genetic determinism, any
conclusions a child might draw from observing the person from whom he was
cloned would be uncertain
at best. His knowledge of his future would differ only in degree from what
many children already know
once they begin to learn parts of their family’s (medical) history. Some of
us knew that we would be bald,
or to what diseases we might be susceptible. To be sure, the cloned
individual might know more about
what he or she could become. But because our knowledge of the effect of
environment on development is
so incomplete, the clone would certainly be in for some surprises.
Finally, even if we were convinced that clones are likely to suffer
particular burdens, that would not be
enough to show that it is wrong to create them. The child of a poor family
can be expected to suffer
specific hardships and burdens, but we don’t thereby conclude that such
children shouldn’t be born.
Despite the hardships, poor children can experience parental love and many of
the joys of being alive: the
deprivations of poverty, however painful, are not decisive. More generally,
no one’s life is entirely free of
some difficulties or burdens. In order for these considerations to have
decisive weight, we have to be able
to say that life doesn’t offer any compensating benefits. Concerns expressed
about the welfare of human
clones do not appear to justify such a bleak assessment. Most such children
can be expected to have lives
well worth living; many of the imagined harms are no worse than those faced
by children acceptably
produced by more conventional means. If there is something deeply
objectionable about cloning, it is more
likely to be found by examining implications of the cloning process itself,
or the reasons people might
have for availing themselves of it.
Concerns about Process
Human cloning falls conceptually between two other technologies. At one end
we have the assisted
reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, whose primary
purpose is to enable couples to
produce a child with whom they have a biological connection. At the other end
we have the emerging
technologies of genetic engineering — specifically, gene transplantation
technologies — whose primary
purpose is to produce a child that has certain traits. Many proponents of
cloning see it as part of the first
technology: cloning is just another way of providing a couple with a
biological child they might otherwise
be unable to have. Since this goal and these other technologies are
acceptable, cloning should be
acceptable as well. On the other hand, many opponents of cloning see it as
part of the second technology:
even though cloning is a transplantation of an entire nucleus and not of
specific genes, it is nevertheless
an attempt to produce a child with certain traits. The deep misgivings we may
have about the genetic
manipulation of offspring should apply to cloning as well.
The debate cannot be resolved, however, simply by determining which
technology to assimilate cloning to.
For example, some opponents of human cloning see it as continuous with
assisted reproductive
technologies; but since they find those technologies objectionable as well,
the assimilation does not
indicate approval. Rather than argue for grouping cloning with one technology
or another, I wish to
suggest that we can best understand the significance of the cloning process
by comparing it with these
other technologies, and thus broadening the debate.
To see what can be learned from such a comparative approach, let us consider
a central argument that has
been made against cloning — that it undermines the structure of the family
by making identities and
lineages unclear. On the one hand, the relationship between an adult and the
child cloned from her could
be described as that between a parent and offspring. Indeed, some
commentators have called cloning
“asexual reproduction,” which clearly suggests that cloning is a
way of generating descendants. The clone,
on this view, has only one biological parent. On the other hand, from the
point of view of genetics, the
clone is a sibling, so that cloning is more accurately described as
“delayed twinning” rather than as
asexual reproduction. The clone, on this view, has two biological parents,
not one — they are the same
parents as those of the person from whom that individual was cloned.
Cloning thus results in ambiguities. Is the clone an offspring or a sibling?
Does the clone have one
biological parent or two? The moral significance of these ambiguities lies in
the fact that in many
societies, including our own, lineage identifies responsibilities. Typically,
the parent, not the sibling, is
responsible for the child. But if no one is unambiguously the parent, so the
worry might go, who is
responsible for the clone? Insofar as social identity is based on biological
ties, won’t this identity be
blurred or confounded?
Some assisted reproductive technologies have raised similar questions about
lineage and identity. An
anonymous sperm donor is thought to have no parental obligations towards his
biological child. A
surrogate mother may be required to relinquish all parental claims to the
child she bears. In these cases,
the social and legal determination of “who is the parent” may
appear to proceed in defiance of profound
biological facts, and to subvert attachments that we as a society are
ordinarily committed to upholding.
Thus, while the aim of assisted reproductive technologies is to allow people
to produce or raise a child to
whom they are biologically connected, such technologies may also involve the
creation of social ties that
are permitted to override biological ones.
In the case of cloning, however, ambiguous lineages would seem to be less
problematic, precisely because
no one is being asked to relinquish a claim on a child to whom he or she
might otherwise acknowledge a
biological connection. What, then, are the critics afraid of? It does not
seem plausible that someone would
have herself cloned and then hand the child over to her parents, saying,
“You take care of her! She’s your
daughter!” Nor is it likely that, if the cloned individual did raise the
child, she would suddenly refuse to
pay for college on the grounds that this was not a sister’s responsibility.
Of course, policymakers should
address any confusion in the social or legal assignment of responsibility
resulting from cloning. But there
are reasons to think that this would be less difficult than in the case of
other reproductive technologies.
Similarly, when we compare cloning with genetic engineering, cloning may
prove to be the less troubling
of the two technologies. This is true even though the dark futures to which
they are often alleged to lead
are broadly alike. For example, a recent Washington Post article examined
fears that the development of
genetic enhancement technologies might “create a market in preferred
physical traits.” The reporter asked,
“Might it lead to a society of DNA haves and have-nots, and the creation
of a new underclass of people
unable to keep up with the genetically fortified Joneses?” Similarly, a
member of the National Bioethics
Advisory Commission expressed concern that cloning might become “almost
a preferred practice,” taking
its place “on the continuum of providing the best for your child.”
As a consequence, parents who chose to
“play the lottery of old-fashioned reproduction would be considered
Such fears, however, seem more warranted with respect to genetic engineering
than to cloning. By
offering some people — in all probability, members of the upper classes —
the opportunity to acquire
desired traits through genetic manipulation, genetic engineering could bring
about a biological
reinforcement (or accentuation) of existing social divisions. It is hard
enough already for disadvantaged
children to compete with their more affluent counterparts, given the material
resources and intellectual
opportunities that are often available only to children of privilege. This
unfairness would almost certainly
be compounded if genetic manipulation came into the picture. In contrast,
cloning does not bring about
“improvements” in the genome: it is, rather, a way of duplicating
the genome — with all its imperfections.
It wouldn’t enable certain groups of people to keep getting better and better
along some valued dimension.
To some critics, admittedly, this difference will not seem terribly
important. Theologian Gilbert
Meilaender, Jr., objects to cloning on the grounds that children created
through this technology would be
“designed as a product” rather than “welcomed as a gift.”
The fact that the design process would be more
selective and nuanced in the case of genetic engineering would, from this
perspective, have no moral
significance. To the extent that this objection reflects a concern about the
commodification of human life,
we can address it in part when we consider people=s reasons for engaging in
Reasons for Cloning
This final area of contention in the cloning debate is as much psychological
as it is scientific or
philosophical. If human cloning technology were safe and widely available,
what use would people make
of it? What reasons would they have to engage in cloning?
In its report to the President, the Commission imagined a few situations in
which people might avail
themselves of cloning. In one scenario, a husband and wife who wish to have
children are both carriers of
a lethal recessive gene:
Rather than risk the one in four chance of conceiving a child who will suffer
a short and
painful existence, the couple considers the alternatives: to forgo rearing
children; to
adopt; to use prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion; to use donor gametes
free of the
recessive trait; or to use the cells of one of the adults and attempt to
clone a child. To
avoid donor gametes and selective abortion, while maintaining a genetic tie
to their
child, they opt for cloning.
In another scenario, the parents of a terminally ill child are told that only
a bone marrow transplant can
save the child’s life. “With no other donor available, the parents
attempt to clone a human being from the
cells of the dying child. If successful, the new child will be a perfect
match for bone marrow transplant,
and can be used as a donor without significant risk or discomfort. The net
result: two healthy children,
loved by their parents, who happen [sic] to be identical twins of different
The Commission was particularly impressed by the second example. That
scenario, said the NBAC report,
“makes what is probably the strongest possible case for cloning a human
being, as it demonstrates how
this technology could be used for lifesaving purposes.” Indeed, the
report suggests that it would be a
“tragedy” to allow “the sick child to die because of a moral
or political objection to such cloning.”
Nevertheless, we should note that many people would be morally uneasy about
the use of a minor as a
donor, regardless of whether the child were a result of cloning. Even if this
unease is justifiably
overridden by other concerns, the “transplant scenario” may not
present a more compelling case for
cloning than that of the infertile couple desperately seeking a biological
Most critics, in fact, decline to engage the specifics of such tragic (and
presumably rare) situations.
Instead, they bolster their case by imagining very different scenarios.
Potential users of the technology,
they suggest, are narcissists or control freaks — people who will regard
their children not as free, original
selves but as products intended to meet more or less rigid specifications.
Even if such people are not
genetic determinists, their recourse to cloning will indicate a desire to
exert all possible influence over the
“kind” of child they produce.
The critics’ alarm at this prospect has in part to do, as we have seen, with
concerns about the
psychological burdens such a desire would impose on the clone. But it also
reflects a broader concern
about the values expressed, and promoted, by a society’s reproductive
policies. Critics argue that a society
that enables people to clone themselves thereby endorses the most
narcissistic reason for having children
— to perpetuate oneself through a genetic encore. The demonstrable falsity
of genetic determinism may
detract little, if at all, from the strength of this motive. Whether or not
clones will have a grievance
against their parents for producing them with this motivation, the societal
indulgence of that motivation is
improper and harmful.
It can be argued, however, that the critics have simply misunderstood the
social meaning of a policy that
would permit people to clone themselves even in the absence of the
heartrending exigencies described in
the NBAC report. This country has developed a strong commitment to
reproductive autonomy. (This
commitment emerged in response to the dismal history of eugenics — the very
history that is sometimes
invoked to support restrictions on cloning.) With the exception of practices
that risk coercion and
exploitation — notably baby-selling and commercial surrogacy — we do not
interfere with people’s freedom
to create and acquire children by almost any means, for almost any reason.
This policy does not reflect a
dogmatic libertarianism. Rather, it recognizes the extraordinary personal
importance and private character
of reproductive decisions, even those with significant social repercussions.
Our willingness to sustain such a policy also reflects a recognition of the
moral complexities of parenting.
For example, we know that the motives people have for bringing a child into
the world do not necessarily
determine the manner in which they raise him. Even when parents start out as
narcissists, the experience
of childrearing will sometimes transform their initial impulses, making them
caring, respectful, and even
self-sacrificing. Seeing their child grow and develop, they learn that she is
not merely an extension of
themselves. Of course, some parents never make this discovery; others, having
done so, never forgive their
children for it. The pace and extent of moral development among parents (no
less than among children) is
infinitely variable. Still, we are justified in saying that those who engage
in cloning will not, by virtue of
this fact, be immune to the transformative effects of parenthood — even if
it is the case (and it won’t
always be) that they begin with more problematic motives than those of
parents who engage in the
“genetic lottery.”
Moreover, the nature of parental motivation is itself more complex than the
critics often allow. Though we
can agree that narcissism is a vice not to be encouraged, we lack a clear
notion of where pride in one’s
children ends and narcissism begins. When, for example, is it unseemly to
bask in the reflected glory of a
child’s achievements? Imagine a champion gymnast who takes delight in her
daughter’s athletic prowess.
Now imagine that the child was actually cloned from one of the gymnast’s
somatic cells. Would we have
to revise our moral assessment of her pleasure in her daughter’s success? Or
suppose a man wanted to be
cloned and to give his child opportunities he himself had never enjoyed. And
suppose that, rightly or
wrongly, the man took the child’s success as a measure of his own untapped
potential — an indication of
the flourishing life he might have had. Is this sentiment blamable? And is it
all that different from what
many natural parents feel?
Until recently, there were few ethical, social, or legal discussions about
human cloning via nuclear
transplantation, since the scientific consensus was that such a procedure was
not biologically possible.
With the appearance of Dolly, the situation has changed. But although it now
seems more likely that
human cloning will become feasible, we may doubt that the practice will come
into widespread use.
I suspect it will not, but my reasons will not offer much comfort to the
critics of cloning. While the
technology for nuclear transplantation advances, other technologies —
notably the technology of genetic
engineering — will be progressing as well. Human genetic engineering will be
applicable to a wide variety
of traits; it will be more powerful than cloning, and hence more attractive
to more people. It will also, as I
have suggested, raise more troubling questions than the prospect of cloning
has thus far.

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