Cloning

by Brian on November 18, 2003

For a little project I’m working on I have to write something on cloning, and in particular debates about whether reproductive cloning should be legalised. It isn’t really my area of expertise, so I don’t want to form sweeping judgments too quickly. But at first glance at the literature all of the arguments for banning reproductive cloning look absolutely awful. (With perhaps one exception, which is merely an unsound argument rather than an awful one.) If anyone knows of any good arguments, I’d be rather happy to see them.

One qualification at the start. Like Chris I take it as a given that the default position with respect to any activity is that it should be lawfully permitted. There is no need for an argument in favour of permitting any activity. There is always a need for an argument in favour of banning an activity. So there’s no need to argue in favour of reproductive cloning.

Having said that, I think there’s probably quite a good argument in its favour. It provides, in principle, a chance for some people who are currently incapable of reproduction to reproduce. Since having and raising children is such an important part of what makes life valuable for so many people, even a slim chance of making this possible for even a small segment of the population is a Very Good Thing. So ceteris paribus, reproductive cloning should be permissible.

What are the arguments against? As I said, this is based on a scan of the literature, not a survey, so it might be incomplete, but here’s what I’ve found so far.

Cloning is unnatural
But lots of things that are unnatural, in the sense that they would be impossible without technological innovation, are currently regarded as unproblematically acceptable. The most commonly cited example is IVF, but on the most obvious definition of natural, caeserian sections are unnatural too. They are especially unnatural if they are designed for the mother’s survival. Nobody, I hope, wants to ban them. For that matter, having children with someone who grew up more than 100 miles from where you did is unnatural too in the sense that it would be impossible without technological assistance. Again, I trust we agree that shouldn’t be banned. So this cannot be an argument on its own for banning cloning.

Cloning is abhorrent
As a general rule, what other people find abhorrent should play no role in deciding whether you or I can do it. There’s good reason for that rule. In the good ol’ days many people found mixed race marriages abhorrent, and so banned them. Some people still find them abhorrent, but luckily they no longer stop other people from marrying. If you listen to Christian radio for any length of time you’ll find that lots of people find sex outside marriage abhorrent. I find professional boxing abhorrent, not to mention the Home Shopping Network. But none of these things should be banned, at least not for that reason. (Perhaps boxing should be banned for other reasons, which we’ll get to.) The general point is that under liberalism we shouldn’t let these kinds of feelings influence what is legally acceptable behvaiour.

Clones will lack dignity because they are in some sense ‘identical’ to their parents
Ugh. The clone is clearly not identical to its parent. When it is born it weighs less than one stone, and its parent weighs more than one stone. By Leibniz’s Law, that implies the two are not identical. The premises in that argument are clearly, determinately, fully, beyond a shadow of a doubt true, so the conclusion is clearly, determinately, fully, beyond a shadow of a doubt true. This one is just lousy metaphysics leading to bad law.

Clones will lack dignity because they share their genes with someone else
The hidden premise here is that sharing genes reduces dignity. But this implies that identical twins have less dignity than everyone else. Some days watching Mark Waugh play cricket I thought “You know, he does have less dignity than everyone out there”. Then I realised that was just jealousy at not being able to play cricket like Mark Waugh. The position that identical twins are in some way lacking in essential human dignity doesn’t pass the laugh test, but it (or at least a premise that entails it) seems to be very influential in some quarters.

Cloning is risky, and potentially harmful
There’s two arguments here. The first is the potential harm to the adult participants. But that’s not an argument for banning cloning, as much as for making sure that adult participants are fully informed of the risks. Once that happens, it would be an unjustified violation of autonomy to prevent them going ahead.

The other issue is the potential harm to the child. Given the medical problems that plagued Dolly, these might be non-trivial. This is more serious, since the child obviously is not in a position to provide informed consent. But the child is hardly in a position to complain, since without the cloning she would not exist. That last step is a little dubious, and actually the arguments here may have some bite. In particular there may, in the short term, be an argument for restricting reproductive cloning to those who could not reproduce any other way. (There are, or at least have been, similar restrictions on IVF.) Roughly the point is that sometimes you don’t want to compare what happens to the (currently non-existent) child to what that child would have been like without cloning, but to what a child in its place may have been like without cloning. But if we restrict cloning to the otherwise incapable of childbearing, there is no such child to put in its place. (This is the argument that may not be absolutely awful, since there is a bit of philosophical work to be done in blocking it. Perhaps for that reason, it doesn’t seem to be that widely stressed in the literature, especially compared to the arguments that really are awful.)

Cloning diminishes bio-diversity
If everyone cloned, the gene pool would lose some of its characteristic diversity and luster. But I take it this is a very remote risk. Even if we allow cloning for everyone, non-cloning reproduction involves having sex, and casual observation suggests that many, perhaps most, people prefer ceteris paribus courses of action that involve having sex to those that don’t. (The last premise is slightly less certain than 0=0, but probably more certain than the premises in Descartes’ cogito.) So I think there will still be plenty of diversity to go around even with cloning.

Cloning is against God’s will
I don’t know – I think if He didn’t want clones he wouldn’t have invented scientists. Slightly less frivilously, we’re meant to be fighting wars with people who base legal codes on religious documents, not imitating them. Somewhat more seriously, when someone proposes banning the consumption of shellfish, I’ll take seriously their “God’s will” arguments about other things. But right now we have better evidence that God doesn’t want you to eat shellfish than that He doesn’t approve of reproductive cloning. So I think it’s very hard to motivate a religously based ban on cloning but not shellfish eating. (Could one argue that perhaps shellfish eating is more important to human values than reproduction, so we are justified overriding God’s wishes on that point? I somehow doubt it.)

I’ve probably missed some argument, and I know I’ve skimmed by some of the points here, but as far as I can tell the moral evidence is firmly in favour of legalising reproductive cloning. Indeed, the ban itself strikes me as profoundly immoral, a potentially serious violation of autonomy. If I’ve missed something really important here though, I’d be happy to hear about it.

{ 59 comments }

1

Cosma 11.18.03 at 7:16 am

Not that I disagree with anything you’re saying, but I was a bit
puzzled by this bit:
> For that matter, having children
> with someone who grew up more
> than 100 miles from where you did
> is unnatural too in the sense
> that it would be impossible
> without technological assistance.
I mean, I’m a complete slob, but I’ve hiked 25 miles in a day, could certainly have done so for four days in a row, and don’t see why I would necessarily arrive sterile.

2

Doug 11.18.03 at 8:18 am

The technical aspects are a serious issue, as is the success rate. At present, it takes a lot of tries to get a live clone of a higher mammal. Some people in the field say that because we know more about human reproductive medicine than we know about any other species, this might not be a problem. Other well-informed people think that this is an inherent problem with transferring adult DNA into an egg and will be very difficult to overcome.

None of the evidence speaks for a ban based on first principles, but it does argue that reproductive cloning would be very arduous and fraught with unknown risks. The German government had a conference on the topic in May, and while efforts at instituting a ban were a foregone political conclusion, the debate itself was both fair and wide-ranging. You should be able to find details on the English-language part of the Ministry for Education and Research’s web site. http://www.bmbf.de

3

Keith M Ellis 11.18.03 at 9:25 am

The “risky procedure” argument is practical, not theoretical. I think it’s sort of beside the point in this context. However, I think the assessment is correct, and will continue to be for some time.

The only argument that carries weight for me is the “reduction of the gene pool” argument. It is not an irrefutable argument, and perhaps it is only because the others are so weak that I feel that it has significant merit.

I do think you’re underestimating the impact of reduced genetic diversity, assuming that the benefit of genetic diversity scales linearly, which it very well may not. And I also think you’re perhaps underestimating its (cloning) potential prevalence.

All told, however, I don’t think there’s a very strong argument to be made against cloning. It freaks people out, that’s true. But unless you’re Leon Kass, that’s not a sufficient argument.

Well, okay, for most people that’s a sufficient argument. It shouldn’t be.

4

Keith M Ellis 11.18.03 at 9:27 am

I phrased one sentence ambiguously. I meant to say that I think you’re assuming, incorrectly, that the benefits of genetic diversity in a population scales linearly, and thus a small reduction in diversity would only reduce in a small reduction of benefit.

5

markus 11.18.03 at 10:19 am

to me the point is a variant of Clones will lack dignity because they share their genes with someone else in that we’d on purpose force someone else to share his genes with the donor. Identical twins are a good counter, but AFAIK they’re essentially accidents of nature and again AFAIK it often does cause them problems to be identical twins so we might want to think twice about doing it on purpose.

you’ve missed:
- having an identical twin with dying of cronic and probalby genetic illness must be pretty bad. Knowing when your older copy died and of what natural cause must be worse IMO.
- psychologically it’s harder to compete against an older copy (unlike twins, were you can diversify and each tries how far they can get) since he/she has been through a lot of stuff you’ll go through (the ultimate Über-parent)
- can parents be trusted to raise a replica of themselves? The desire for extending one’s life is already part of the desire for children, and I for one wouldn’t want to further this particular pathology.
- the desire for Einsteins will end society as we know it

btw: I’m actually pro-cloning

6

Jack 11.18.03 at 10:31 am

It isn’t clear that it is correct to divide this into either right or wrong. There is also, for instance allowed or disallowed temporarily which ought to require a different standard of proof. It seems likely that this is relevant in this case.

It is also not clear that the answers to questions on the likes of the impact on biodiversity are known at the moment. In that case an assessment of the different possible answers must be taken into account and an assessment of their relative likelihood.

What about the impact on rationing of resources. Will cloning be available on the NHS? How many clones can we get on the NHS? Will parent/siblings of clones receive child support? Could Larry Ellison/Roman Abramovich/Kim Jong Il produce ten thousand clones of themselves?

Currently to have a child you need the active cooperation of another individual. That cooperation might depend upon the approbation of many other people. Cloning might reduce that to money.

What is the status of an argument that establishes something as right despite mass revulsion but fails to reduce that revulsion? Doesn’t revolting millions of people count in the negative or are we not supposed to care? Judging the worth of mass revulsion as a guide by a few edge cases may not produce an accurate assessment of its worth and is in any case somewhat circular. How can we tell that human sacrifice is wrong? Because it would inevitably involve the deprivation of one human’s rights? But that cost is small compared to the right of the masses to a good harvest.

Shorter version:
It’s a big assumption that introduces an unclear standard that anything which does no short term physical harm is permissable.

Even allowing that it may not be known if the action passes that test.

While not necessarily a trump card, revolting people is not necessarily a good thing.

In any case satisfying a small group of philosophically educated libertarians that it is OK is not really an interesting goal. You need the currently revolted masses to have a well functioning attitude to these issues That may require an understanding of the revulsion that the revolted may not be able to express and different assumptions.

7

Kieran Healy 11.18.03 at 10:34 am

As a sociologist I’m all in favor of cloning because clones will finally, finally make it clear to people how goddamn important the environment is in shaping phenotypical outcomes. After a few thousand people successfully clone their dogs, children and grannies, and yet completely fail in their intentions to duplicate them, they might catch on.

8

Rory 11.18.03 at 10:51 am

markus – But clones wouldn’t even be as similar to their genetic parents as identical twins are to each other. A lot of characteristics are shaped during our time in our mother’s womb – by her hormones, her diet, or whether she drinks or smokes during pregnancy. For identical twins those factors are the same; for clones, they won’t even be in the same womb. And of course they’ll be raised in a completely different environment. Depending what they eat, they might end up taller, shorter, heavier or lighter than their genetic parent; while identical twins would share pretty much the same diet during childhood, assuming they’re raised under the same roof.

Even if parents go into it thinking they’re raising a copy of themselves, they’ll probably be disavowed of that notion by the time the kid’s five.

9

Thomas Dent 11.18.03 at 11:15 am

A condensed version of my TAR comment: Referring to the “cloning is risky/ harmful” argument, we have to answer the question:

“Which is preferable, conceiving a child in the knowledge that there is a high risk of harm (compared to a normal conception) or not conceiving a child at all?”.

Medical ethics and common sense would say, don’t conceive, adopt. Even if adoption weren’t possible, don’t conceive. I can’t imagine parents living with the responsibility that their decision to clone resulted in a severely disabled child (for example).

10

Chris Bertram 11.18.03 at 12:20 pm

You probably know this already, but if not you’ll want to look at Justine Burley (ed) “The Genetic Revolution and Human Rights”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0192862014/junius-20 , especially the piece by Harris.

11

theCoach 11.18.03 at 1:12 pm

Makes Leon Kass feel creepy.

12

david 11.18.03 at 1:37 pm

What Kieran said. The dogs are really going to freak people out.

On the other hand: “But the child is hardly in a position to complain, since without the cloning she would not exist. That last step is a little dubious, and actually the arguments here may have some bite.”

That last step is way dubious, and I think it suggest a lack of human imagination so profound that we wouldn’t really be able to argue about cloning at all if it were true.

13

dsquared 11.18.03 at 2:40 pm

Cloning is a new technology with potential to profoundly alter social, economic and political relationships, and therefore on egalitarian principles, should remain illegal for general use until it is economically viable to provide it to the population equally.

14

EKR 11.18.03 at 3:19 pm

The risk issue is the only one that I think has any force at all. Unfortunately, it also takes us into the difficult territory of talking about people who’s lives are not worth living–or perhaps just barely worth living–which, as Parfitt has pointed out, makes things get messy pretty fast.

I don’t think Daniel’s argument has much force, for two reasons:

(1) This argument could have applied to any number of prior technologies: computers, washing machines, cars. Are you really saying that we should never have offered them if they weren’t available to everyone? Heck, we *still* don’t provide computers to the population equally. Should they be illegal?

(2) This all-or-nothing criterion acts as a strong disincentive to development because it means there’s no market for them. That doesn’t seem to be a good thing, even for the unlucky ones who would get the technology later, since now they may get it MUCH later or not at all.

15

Ophelia Benson 11.18.03 at 3:20 pm

(Just parenthetically [she said parenthetically], there’s a game at B&W that is based on the way we think about this kind of thing –

Taboo

There is an essay that goes with it called ‘The Yuk Factor’ that talks about Leon Kass and feeling creepy.)

16

carlin 11.18.03 at 3:35 pm

“In particular there may, in the short term, be an argument for restricting reproductive cloning to those who could not reproduce any other way.”

What would be an instance of this? If there were fertile women but no sperm banks or live fertile men?

The gut-level horror comes in part from the belief that other forms of reproduction are available, so that anyone seeking a clone in particular must really be looking for, e.g. a future organ donor or psychological second-chance.

It’s pessimism about human nature that you’ll have to overcome, but your reply can be pessimism about the real motives of the ban-fans.

17

carlin 11.18.03 at 3:40 pm

Have you considered comparing cloning with a more radical suggestion? For example, using similar techniques to IVF and cloning to merge the genetic material of eggs from two women (or sperm from two men and one donor egg sans nucleus)?

That would avoid the Dolly-style complications from using adult nuclear material for an embryo. Presumably, of course, it would have a host of other complications, but perhaps easier to overcome.

This would provoke at least as much horror in the mass public, but would rob the ban-advocates of what you call their strongest argument.

18

Ssuma 11.18.03 at 3:42 pm

This is only partially relevant, but cloning is also expensive, and I think it would be bad public policy to subsidize it. On the moral question this is of course irrelevant, but in practice it might be important. If it is legal at least in some circumstances the state should be paying for it. Most nations have systems for paying for necessary or desired medical procedures for those who can’t afford them. (I think this is a good thing.) Cloning is not necessary, but you could argue that it is as much desired as IVF or plastic surgery for accident victims. I suppose my argument boils down to “let’s not open that can of worms,” which is not a moral argument. On the other hand, it does cause me to be less irate about the successes of the anti-cloning forces than I might be. If you are going to analyze the politics of this I think it is important. Depending on what the piece is for you might want to open the can of worms and poke around a bit as well.

19

Andrew Reeves 11.18.03 at 3:44 pm

As others have mentioned, the technical aspects of cloning are probably the best argument against. The argument that a cloned person, even if chronically unhealthy is better off existing than not existing seems to me to be approaching the realm of “to exist in reality is greater than to merely exist in the understanding.” :P All kidding aside and bearing in mind that I have almost no philosophical training, I would still say that it is ethically wrong to create a child that you know with a fair degree of certainty is going to have a great deal of medical problems and will probably die early.

20

harry 11.18.03 at 3:46 pm

I don’t think your main reason for cloning is very compelling, because I don’t see why people have a compelling interest in having children who are biologically related to them. There’s a plentiful supply of children available for adoption, and I don’t see why, while that supply lasts, people should be allowed to spend lots of their own or other people’s money begetting biological relations.

There’s general problem with making it easier for people to have children non-naturally which is that it may lead people to delay having children on the assumption that they will ‘be able to’ later. This may lead people who would rather have had children ‘naturally’ to end up needing to use reproductive technology (which people don’t like — and won’t until it works much better and is much less intrusive)
It also may have a distorting effect on the arc of our lives. To name two:

1)delaying engagement in prospectively permanent romantic relationships until one’s personality is too ‘set’ to evolve within the relationship

2)having delayed having children oursleves, and our children having delayed too, we don’t get to have grandchildren.

These are costs that making reporductive technology available have generally — they’re not peculiar to cloning.

21

Chris Bertram 11.18.03 at 4:09 pm

Just to register an unhappiness with what Harry says (no more than that here though I’d like to develop an argument in extenso at some point).

Surely we don’t generally want to say that rights to phi require the identification of significant interests in phi-ing as Harry’s post seems to presuppose. Rather the default for any type of action should be that people should have the right to perform it unless good cause can be shown why they shouldn’t. Typically good cause is going to involve demonstrable harm or risk thereof.

You might want to argue, I suppose, that the granting the right to clone harms the unadopted. But that’s going to depend on some argument to the effect that failing to make the world go better for someone than it actually does amounts to harming them (ok, there are variations on this) and that looks like too easy a conception of harm.

22

harry 11.18.03 at 4:31 pm

OK Chris, I agree, and didn’t mean to say there isn’t a right (but I’m not saying there is), just that I didn’t want to put much weight on the positive side that Brian drew out.

The harm issue: I think this is quite difficult, because we need to think of the dynamic effects of the policy (which I guess is what I’m trying to figure out some of in my earlier comment). One problem with a harm standard is that many of those people who come into existence wouldn’t have absent the policy, and some people would have come into existence without the policy who don’t because of it (in particular the children who would have been born to people who would have had children naturally earlier had they not been misled by the availability of reproductive technology into waiting).

I think, by the way, that in our society there is a very serious problem here, in that women are quite shocked by the intrustiveness and unreliability of the technology when they confront it, and are in their earlier years not as aware as they might be of how rapidly fertility declines.

23

Jeremy Osner` 11.18.03 at 4:33 pm

More of an echo than a comment, but Harry (and earlier, Thomas Dent) captured my reaction very well. I mean I hear what Chris is saying in his response to Harry, but asserting a right to clone seems to me just bizarre.

The correct response to this is of course, “that’s just what right-wingers say about asserting the right to abortion, and you don’t want to be like them, do you?” — Somehow it doesn’t work for me though. I think I must not be a libertarian at heart.

24

Jonathan Ichikawa 11.18.03 at 4:44 pm

The other issue is the potential harm to the child. … But the child is hardly in a position to complain, since without the cloning she would not exist. That last step is a little dubious, and actually the arguments here may have some bite.

That last step is way more than a little dubious. It commits you to the view that existing is always better than (or at least no worse than) never having been born. If we took this step seriously, it would justify breeding of human farms for any purpose whatsoever — we could make organ factories, or a race of slaves. They couldn’t complain; after all, we’ve given them the gift of life!

25

Josh Narins 11.18.03 at 4:48 pm

Of course we should be able to clone humans. I propose A.D. 2700 for the first legal date of trials.

26

pathos 11.18.03 at 4:51 pm

Legal conundra will multiply (I don’t know if that’s a point for or against, though):

If a brother and sister both clone themselves, will their “children” be allowed to marry their “first cousins” in a state that permits first-cousin marriages?

As between my clone, my “natural” child, and my spouse, who is entitled to inherit my property if I die intestate?

Does the “father” have any legal rights to his wife’s clone? Could he win her in a custody dispute? If he does not adopt her, could he proceed to marry her when his first wife dies?

Can abortions of clones be criminalized under the state’s suicide statute?

________________________________

Questions of status, having long since moved from how many wives you can afford to how many possessions you can afford, will now move to how many YOUs you can afford. (“How sad, since his business failed, he can only afford three of himself.”)

27

paul 11.18.03 at 4:56 pm

I think that by implictly restricting the argument to cloning as a reproductive technique for people who can’t otherwise have genetically related offpsring you may be missing a long list of cases where people would want clones as means rather than ends. Wouldn’t it be nice for a Murdoch, for example, to have a copy of _all_ of his genes rather than just half to put at the helm of subsidiary businesses?

At a more pragmatic level, there have already been controversies about people having children the normal (!) way with the intent that the child serve (nonlethally) as a donor of bone marrow or other parts. The temptation to birth a few spares in a family where kidneys or livers are known to fail could, I think, be overwhelming. (And of course you could have guardians appointed for such children at birth to make sure that their parents didn’t act against their interests or indoctrinate them into acting ditto, but between the psychological impact and the administrative oversight you’d clearly be creating a subspecies of second-class citizens.)

Interestingly enough, much of the human cloning that medical researchers are talking about doing is for replacement parts, done in a way that eliminates (it is believed) the issue of the clone’s personhood. Or that sharpens it.

28

cafl 11.18.03 at 5:02 pm

To Ophelia Benson: Google and I were unable to find the article “The Yuk Factor” at either butterfliesandwheels.com or

philosophers.co.uk

Could you supply a pointer?

29

no-name 11.18.03 at 5:05 pm

As someone said above, cloning will almost certainly involve the cooperation of significant swaths of society, most notably health services. In addition to requiring significant research to make it happen at all, it will require significant intervention to bring about individual success, and significant allocation of medical and social resources for people who are likely to face serious medical disabilities — analyzing cloning solely through the prism of an individual’s right to obtain happiness through parenthood seems misguided. As a firsthand recipient of complex reproductive technologies, the truth is that cloning is virtually unnecessary as an enhancement to reproduction even if you rule out adoption, unless you accept that reproduction is truly about genetic relatedness and not much else. I don’t know that I want to lend assistance to people who think that way. It’s not necessary, and there’s a risk of negative consequences (how high we don’t know, but that’s hardly a point in its favor). At a minimum, I’d let animal cloning play out more than it has before I’d make cloning humans legal.

30

Brian Weatherson 11.18.03 at 5:21 pm

I think Daniel’s suggestion (that seems to already be the subject of a flame) is potentially a pretty interesting argument. (Which I take it is exactly what he intended it to be.)

Some days I’m a fairly committed equal-opportunity egalitarian, so my first reaction was that there’s a technical way out. Once we figure out how cloning works, we restrict its usage to govt sanctioned bodies (I’d do that anyway because I’m a socialist about health-care generally) then we have a lottery to see who gets to use the service.

At some level this is an egalitarian solution – everyone at least has equal access. But what makes Daniel’s argument interesting is that it doesn’t obviously feel like much of a solution. If cloning really changes how we live our lives that much, having some people be lucky enough to use it and others not still feels like a potentially dangerous position. Now I have to decide whether (a) I believe the antecedent of that conditional, and (b) whether I should be more of an equal-outcome egalitarian than I currently am. I think the answers are (a) no and (b) yes, but it’s a nice argument to think about.

On Jonathan’s point, I think that there’s a couple of things to say about the farms. First, I was tacitly assuming that cloned children are (reasonably expected to be) better off being born than not being born. Some people have doubted that, and maybe it isn’t true. That would be an argument against cloning. Second, it’s possible that the only choice for these individuals is between a risk of serious disease, and not living at all. For the farmed humans, I take it that once they are alive there is a very serious alternative option, namely freedom. That seems to make the cases not on a par.

I think I agree with both Harry and Chris in that interchange. I don’t think there needs to be a positive argument in favour of legalising cloning if there are no arguments against it. But Harry’s right, this potentially messes with quite a few aspects of reproduction, so the ringing cry that all signs point towards this being a great advance for autonomy is somewhat overstated.

One last, not entirely flippant point:

delaying engagement in prospectively permanent romantic relationships until one’s personality is too ‘set’ to evolve within the relationship

Not that I want to sound too much like I’m speaking from experience here, but it’s kind of plausible that the structure of academic life nowadays has just the same ‘distorting’ effect. Maybe we should start a campaign that everyone can be tenured and settled by an early enough age that they can be in evolving relationships. Tenure at 30 for everyone!

31

harry 11.18.03 at 5:45 pm

Brian,
to add to Chris’s reading suggestion — if you haven’t looked at From Chance to Choice by Wikler, Buchanan, Daniels, and Brock, you probably should — it is supposed to be the canonical medical ethics text on the human genome project, and is at least very interesting.

On the equality issue: I’m more of a prioritarian these days, so am less moved by Daniel’s precise point than I might have been. But the problem will be that allowing the wealthy to clone themselves makes others — those competing with the off-spring — worse off than they would otherwise have been. So it does not make the disadvantaged adults in the parents generation worse off — but it does make their children worse off. This assumes (not implausibly) that cloned children of ‘successful’ adults are competitively better endowed (other things being equal) than uncloned children of ‘successful’ adults. Of course, the problem is much clearer concerning the use of genetic intervention to genetically *enhance* the children of the successful.

32

Alex 11.18.03 at 5:50 pm

I had this conversation with my family last year.

Once I pointed out that the “Boys from Brazil” scenario was completely different and that Hitler couldn’t get cloned, they were still against it, but the best argument they could come up with was “why do you want to clone? can’t you adopt and use IVF? cloning should be banned!”

A very emotional kneejerk response really.

Now, as for other technology that will really change the world — what happens when we can have the capability of gestating a human baby outside the mother? (In a cow, in a vat, whatever). What happens when pregnancy means nothing more than having sex, having an operation, and 9 months later picking up a baby at the hospital?

(And yes, couple that with cloning and you can make an army! …. of newborn babies).

33

Jeremy Osner` 11.18.03 at 6:08 pm

Alex — Bill Cosby had a monologue back in the day that envisioned a similar outcome, except his technology of choice was the polaroid camera — “Kiss your wife, wait 5 minutes, pop! out comes the baby. Don’t like it? That’s ok, don’t dip it in the developing solution, it fades and you can try again.” (paraphrase from memory, the original was funnier.)

34

Ophelia Benson 11.18.03 at 6:12 pm

cafl,

Sure, sorry. The essay shows up after one plays the game.

The Yuk-Factor

35

Ophelia Benson 11.18.03 at 6:20 pm

I haven’t seen anyone address the possibility that people will have cloned children for bizarre reasons. Curiosity, for example. Wanting to see a [sort of] replica of oneself. Yes, everyone will tell everyone, No, it won’t really be you. But people will want to anyway. That’s probably not a very good reason to have a child – could result in some really bad, irresponsible parents. No?

36

Barbara 11.18.03 at 6:52 pm

People already are so likely to have children for unfathomable reasons that I doubt if this really adds much. So long as they still have to carry the baby, and so long as newborns are still helpless (I forget what that instinct to protect little helpless things with big heads is called), I don’t think it will add appreciably to the confusion of the human race. And as with all ART, the first limiting factor on its use should be need — most people don’t need any kind of intervention, or certainly, they need much less radical intervention, to succeed at this enterprise. But there could be all sorts of interesting dilemmas to resolve, I guess.

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micah 11.18.03 at 7:05 pm

Habermas has an article called “An Argument against Human Cloning,” which is reprinted as the last chapter of The Postnational Constellation. If I remember right, his argument is that cloning destroys a “presupposition” of moral responsibility because it allows clones to shift their responsibility to those who cloned them. Essentially, his point is that clones may (reasonably?) blame those who made them for their own moral condition. Habermas sees this as fundamentally altering our moral relations. I don’t know what I think about this argument, but it’s different–and I think more complicated–than some of the objections mentioned above.

Another discussion worth reading is Dworkin’s chapter on cloning in Sovereign Virtue (ch. 13), which also argues that eliminating the choice/chance distinction will dramatically change our understanding of moral responsibility.

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Mr TeK 11.18.03 at 7:12 pm

Hey, seems like the real arguments have only been touched on by a couple of posts.

1) There are already disputes about custody, parental rights, etc. if eggs or sperm are frozen and then the relationship terminates. We already cannot determine who has legal authority over the stored genetic material.
2) Some one is virtually guaranteed to make the claim that since the clone is a “copy” of them, that it is not a “person”, but property.
3) A clone would clearly have the same DNA as the donor, and I suspect the same fingerprints. Forensics could have a wonderful time determining the individual responsible for crimes, paternity, and other similar issues.
4) Would a clone or her donor have some sort of “super” claim on inheritance, guardianship issues, power of attorney, custody, medical decisions in the case of minors, or incapacity, petitions to declare incapacity, and all of the other wonderful legal issues of modern life.
5) Assuming the claim in #2 is made, would the donor be accountable for the actions and even crimes of the clone, or even worse, could the clone be accountable for the donor.

Setting here talking about these issues in the abstract, I suspect we would all pretty quickly reach some sort of agreement on these issues, but get lawyers involved, (as they would inevitably be) and our legal system may need hundreds of years to even evolve enough to TRY to sort these issues out rationally.

Not to say that these issues are automatic disqualifications for the idea of cloning, but if any one wants to even consider the moral issues involved, these facets had better be at the forefront of the discussion.

Not a legal person, but these questions would HAVE to be addressed, in public policy BEFORE cloning starts, or they WILL be decided by the legal system shortly thereafter, and not by people that care much about the moral or ethical implications of those decisions.

Just the thoughts of one person…

Mr TeK

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Joshua W. Burton 11.18.03 at 7:16 pm

I’d like to very briefly sketch out an argument against, through guilt by association. If nobody in our town can chop down trees, but there is a load of axes due to arrive shortly, the gang loitering around near the train station whacking telephone poles with baseball bats is of regulatory concern to the park service. (There is a school of animal rights theory that leans heavily on this principle, under which it might make sense to grant more protection to stuffed teddy bears than to live trout. Intentions count.)

In the present case the concern is that moral reasoning about modifying the biological substrate upon which we practice moral reasoning is problematic. C. S. Lewis coined the vivid phrase “Men Without Chests” to describe utopians with heads to decide but no hearts (conventional moral evaluations maintained by traditions of civic virtue) to guide. His conclusion, a plausible one in my view, is that such men are correct to reason that only their bellies are left to provide the postulates of moral reasoning.

Whither cloning, then? At present, we have several mechanisms by which mortal humans can indulge their desire to control the future: they can write to it, or they can knock it down, or they can colonize it under the conventional restraints (meiosis and child protection law). Cloning offers the promise of (not decisively, but intriguingly) more weight in the dead hand. Advances foreseen as long ago as Wells, Haldane and Huxley (in eugenics, brain physiology, pharmacology) may follow, and perhaps there will come a generation in the unending succession who command the power to literally enslave all those who come after. And (watch for the unsupported innuendo) people who covet that power may be expected cluster at the forefront of available technology that tends toward its achievement.

There may never be any single unambiguously good time to draw a line.

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Jack 11.18.03 at 7:25 pm

Who would we have the right to clone? Ourselves? Our relatives? Somoene whose hair we pulled out on the bus? David Beckham or Michael Jordan?

Are the revulsed just wrong?

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dop 11.18.03 at 7:32 pm

I think, for me, one of the most persuasive arguments I’ve seen against cloning humans goes somewhere close to the “Yuk Factor” argument.

As I noticed someone above say,

…can parents be trusted to raise a replica of themselves? The desire for extending one’s life is already part of the desire for children, and I for one wouldn’t want to further this particular pathology.

Beyond that, humans being what they are, my mind wonders to what an aging man would do with a 15 year-old clone of the woman he married in the house who is, for all realistic intents and purpose, not genetically related to him (I’m not saying it would be different should the genders be reversed, either).

It’s not pleasant to think about the situations that could arise. And it seems compounded, to me, by the frequency of divorce and remarriage. While the original parent might feel more parently, I’m not sure a step parent would experience great confusion.

I’m sure it would would only be a matter of 20 years before some guy/gal was on Jerry Springer with his cloned daughter-wife/son-husband saying, “Well she’s/he’s not really my daughter/son anyhow, is she? There’s none of my genetic material in there at all, so it’s not really incest!”

Yuck.

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Keith M Ellis 11.18.03 at 8:18 pm

“suspect the same fingerprints”

No. Identical twins do not have identical fingerprints. I think this false supposition is exemplary of a majority of the anti-cloning arguments, at least of this type.

Identical twins are clones of each other, almost certainly moreso than a laboratory clone would be of its original. The law everwhere already sees twins as dinstinct individuals, as completely distinct human beings. There would be more, not less basis for doing so in the case of laboratory cloning. We are already grappling with our notion of identity as it relates to our genotype—these questions and the related social shocks are going to come fast and furious with or without cloning. As Keiran says above, cloning will almost certainly demonstrate that we are not completely determined by out genetics. On the other hand, genetics strongly influences us—more strongly than we, or likely Kieran, would like—but we’re being forced to confront that anyway, without cloning. Cloning would clarify this.

I’m astonished at what seems to me to be some naivete from some commenters here. Ms. Benson worries that people will have cloned children out of narcissistic or other self-serving motives. As Barbara points out, that’s alrady the case. I sometimes wonder if it’s the rule and not the exception.

Likewise concerns such as dop raises. These unfortunate realities are already extent in non-cloning situations.

Several people here worry about vanity cloning, people wanting to protect their wealthy legacy. Excuse me? Does Bush ring a bell? The wealthy are already doing that. Those that are motivated to act in this way already are, they already see their children as extensions of themselves. The technology of cloning may seem to satisfy that urge more directly, but it’s not clear to me that society or the children would be worse off than they are with the present situation.

Most anti-cloning arguments I see are conclusions scrounging around for a rationale.

Besides, cloning would make parthenogenesis possible, thus perhaps eventually making men extinct. I think we can all agree that that’s a desirable outcome.

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Antoni Jaume 11.18.03 at 9:30 pm

Well, since racism still exists, cloning is it ideal way of reproduction.

DSW

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Ophelia Benson 11.18.03 at 10:24 pm

Isn’t that interesting. I knew who had written the post that included this bit while I was reading it, before seeing the name.

“I’m astonished at what seems to me to be some naivete from some commenters here. Ms. Benson worries that people will have cloned children out of narcissistic or other self-serving motives.”

I’m astonished at a lot of things. The chief of which is inability to discuss subjects without making personal comments.

Let me be blunt. Keith M Ellis – this is the third time you’ve done this to me on CT. I get that I irritate you. I don’t care. I like this blog, and I would like to be able to go on commenting here occasionally. But if you keep this crap up, I won’t. So. Knock it off. Stop with the personal remarks, the comments on the character of people posting; just deal with the damn posts and what they say. At least as applies to me. If other people don’t mind your snide attacks, fine, but I’m sick of them.

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Brett Bellmore 11.18.03 at 11:12 pm

I’m dubious that cloning will have significant social impact. First, it’s unlikely to be widely practiced, being expensive, and not nearly so much fun as sex. Second, it only results in individuals with pre-existing genetic patterns, no novelty there.

The “yuk” factor will vanish when that first cute little baby is born, just like happened with IVF. That’s why the “bioethicists” are always so hot to ban things before they’re tried, because it’s easier to scare people about things that haven’t happened yet.

The REAL significance of human cloning is that it’s a necessary step in producing genetically altered humans. You can change the cell before causing it to develop. That’s where your social impact comes in.

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aa 11.19.03 at 12:41 am

A clone would clearly have the same DNA as the donor.

Wouldn’t they typically have different mitochondrial DNA (and thus be less genetically similar than identical twins)?

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msg 11.19.03 at 3:53 am

The arguments against human cloning that get presented are usually that puerile I guess. But that bit about ‘God wouldn’t approve’, that’s an indication of something else, isn’t it?
I came into my majority at the precise moment in recent cultural history when ‘natural’ began to be held up as a banner, and as a signpost for an alternate route.
There was a lot of specious babble around the term then as well. On both sides.
Science and religion are presented here and virtually everywhere as two separate expressions of human recognition of the world. That’s a false dichotomy. And it produces what you’d expect, world-views that are incomplete, unsatisfying, and dangerously inaccurate.
Consistently, the rationale for these post-modern Promethean experiments is the lives that will be saved, the illnesses that will be cured, the crippling defects soon made whole. And nowhere is it ever mentioned even in passing that the human race is about to suffocate under its own obese bulk. I don’t believe the relief of suffering is anything more than a by-product, something which makes good p.r. and masks the truer, grotesquely selfish motive.
There is no reverence in the science presented, just as there’s no sustainable logic in the religion referred to.
The idea that there are meta-systems of organized being here, a biology of systems larger than the organisms we recognize as such, has been presented by far more brilliant minds than mine, but it hasn’t stuck, and it isn’t capable by itself of answering these questions, and I think ultimately it won’t ever be. Because at heart it’s a matter of what you care about, and whether you care at all. Where your allegiance truly lies.
‘Natural’ was and is a euphemism for something still not clearly defined. Harmony with nature sounds like a breakfast cereal’s advertising copy.
But something came with us all the way from the beginning of life on earth. An unbroken chain of biological truth that can be preserved or broken just as any other living thing can.
A child whose life is stopped before reproduction takes place represents a potential genetic modification of the distant future that is exponentially immense, yes; and the Maya, in the laboratories of their fields altered maize forever. Yes.
And heartless logic can disassemble any moral code it’s applied to but one, the imposed law of will. Brute force trumps logic every time.
So that it seems now the arc of human evolution, risen from bestial unknowing to the fragile architecture of social cohesion, is poised to slam back into the muck, or at best end in a buzzing hive of insects. Something is being lost, there’s no rational argument against that statement. What it is that’s being lost may well be beyond our ability to recognize, and by that go unnamed.
The moral argument that without good reason against it any action, most especially greed-driven tinkering with the source code of organic life, is and should be permissible is beyond specious.
This is the stance of an adolescent denied the family car on a Saturday night.
Only now there’s no parental authority to withold the keys.

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 5:20 am

You’re over-sensitive, Ms. Benson. Perhaps I should have seperated with a paragraph break the “naivete” sentence from the sentence mentioning you particularly. I think there is naivete on display here about the current unfortunate clone-free state of affairs regarding parents and their children…your comment is an example. Saying so isn’t a personal attack, unless one has very, very thin skin, which perhaps some do.

In any event, you’ll notice that I referred to many writers by name when responding to their arguments. It may surprise you to know that I do so out of respect.

At any rate, in the future I urge that you email me with similar complaints, as personal grudge matches are incredibly boring to everyone but those involved. My email is always available via the link on my name, but for reference it is kmellis@io.com.

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 5:27 am

“Wouldn’t they typically have different mitochondrial DNA (and thus be less genetically similar than identical twins)?”

Is mDNA considered part of one’s genetic makeup? Well, of course it is, but in the sense that you mean? In any case, unless there’s a specific effort to also duplicate the mDNA, then you’re correct.

However, I’m not sure how important this is relative to some other factors that are also not being duplicated, namely the cellular millieu of the original. Current research about the non-identity and failure of clones is focusing on this area, I believe.

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Thomas Dent 11.19.03 at 9:46 am

“…the arc of human evolution, risen from bestial unknowing to the fragile architecture of social cohesion, is poised to slam back into the muck, or at best end in a buzzing hive of insects. Something is being lost, there’s no rational argument against that statement.”

What, has Peggy Noonan arrived in the comments section? We’re all about to turn into muck or buzzing insects because of the mere possibility of human cloning or genetic therapy? Scientists working on human genetics are “greed-driven” are “grotesquely selfish”? Their science “lacks reverence” and will wreck the “unbroken arc of biological truth” (whatever this might be)?

Truly, someone in this debate has “no rational argument”. But it ain’t Brian Weatherson.

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Ken 11.19.03 at 3:14 pm

“There’s a plentiful supply of children available for adoption, and I don’t see why, while that supply lasts, people should be allowed to spend lots of their own or other people’s money begetting biological relations.”

There is not a plentiful supply of babies available for adoption, which is what people in the market for IVF, cloning, whatever would be looking for.

“But the problem will be that allowing the wealthy to clone themselves makes others — those competing with the off-spring — worse off than they would otherwise have been. So it does not make the disadvantaged adults in the parents generation worse off — but it does make their children worse off.”

No it doesn’t. The wealthy (usually) don’t get that way by stealing; they get that way by enriching their fellow-citizens in return.

More people with an unusual talent for doing so will benefit their fellow citizens, not harm them.

“Beyond that, humans being what they are, my mind wonders to what an aging man would do with a 15 year-old clone of the woman he married in the house who is, for all realistic intents and purpose, not genetically related to him (I’m not saying it would be different should the genders be reversed, either).

It’s not pleasant to think about the situations that could arise. And it seems compounded, to me, by the frequency of divorce and remarriage. While the original parent might feel more parently, I’m not sure a step parent would experience great confusion.”

Well, step-parents, by definition, are already living with children that are not biologically related to them – the fact that they’re clones doesn’t really change that.

A 15 year old clone would be off-limits the way a 15 year old non-clone would be.

What about an 18 year old clone? My inclination is to not worry about it – the original justification for incest bans is the risk of genetic damage, which is not present here, and once the guardian relationship ended at age 18, it’s not worth worrying about.

Anyway, how many divorced guys do you know who would willingly marry a younger version of their ex-wives?

“The moral argument that without good reason against it any action, most especially greed-driven tinkering with the source code of organic life, is and should be permissible is beyond specious.
This is the stance of an adolescent denied the family car on a Saturday night.”

Adolescents are denied lots of things. Adults should not be, without good reason.

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dop 11.19.03 at 3:59 pm

Something else that comes to mind are the errors in cloning.

As we age, it is errors in the reproduction of our cells that causes the actual aging bit of it — it’s why our hair gets grey, why our skin becomes less smooth and more imperfect, and so on.

If a 25 year old woman decides to have a child by cloning herself, are not those cells starting with 25 years of mistakes already in them? It would seem a undue burden to place on a child.

Not that that is any reason to prohibit it — after all, we don’t prohibit parents with congenital diseases from having children despite how “abhorrent” some may view it.

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 4:14 pm

“Anyway, how many divorced guys do you know who would willingly marry a younger version of their ex-wives?”

None that I’m aware of. And my ex-wife was very young went we married, so I can’t use myself as an example. But it seems to me that this might be a larger number of people than you might expect. Perhaps much larger.

But…who cares? I don’t.

“If a 25 year old woman decides to have a child by cloning herself, are not those cells starting with 25 years of mistakes already in them? It would seem a undue burden to place on a child.”

This is the traditional argument against the viability of clones. Isn’t it the case that all (or at least most) of the successful clones of mammals have been made from something like fetal-aged genetic material? I could be wrong about that.

But this was the answer I got from a close friend, a distinguished molecular biologist, when I asked him years ago.

However, it seems to me that eventually technology will have an answer to this. Given a large enough sample of genetic material from a person, you could statistically determine the pristine sequence, then artifically recreate it. This is light years beyond what’s being done today, but will probably be possible sooner than we think. (Just having access to a corrected genetic code, and unlocking the key to stem cells, could have profound therapeutic implications.)

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 4:57 pm

I’d like to revisit Kieran’s earliest comment and its implications.

Many of the objections to cloning are centered on the presumption of something near to an essential identity between clones. Assuming this identity, then the arguments trace out various social difficulties and ills that would follow.

But Kieran doesn’t accept this identity. In Kieran’s nurturist view, a clone is a very different person from his/her original and thus those arguments don’t apply.

But isn’t it interesting that so many people are inclined to start with a naturist assumption in this particular argument when, otherwise, they’re nurturists?

It seems to me that given the results of solid and replicated twin studies, there’s a great deal of evidence that genotype plays a larger role in a great number of aspects of personality than we’ve previously believed. Few people are very comfortable with this; I know that I’m not.

On the other hand, twin studies show that even twins raised in identical conditions are not, in fact, identical people. In some ways, some times, they can differ profoundly. The fingerprints example, I think, should serve as a reminder that there’s a great deal of important development that goes on in and out of the womb that is the product of microcosmic chance, some of it no doubt leading to macro consequences.

Texas A&M’s “cc” is another example of this. Perhaps some here aren’t aware that cc doesn’t look exactly like her original. Cc is a calico, which means that her coloration, like all calicos’ coloration, is the combination of a semi-dominant gene that causes bicoloration, and the sex-linked gene that causes orange coloration. (This combination is why calicos are almost always female.) In the case of bicoloration, the relevant gene is expressed in the embryonic cells which will become black pigment-producing cells—and those embryonic cells arise on the fetal neural crest, along the back, and migrate outward from there. They don’t reach the entire surface; where they don’t reach results in white cells. This occurs during development and is not deterministic. Similarly, in the case of the latter gene, because of “X chromosome inactivation”, some embryonic pigment cells have the orange pigment activated, and some do not, and remain black…randomly. This is also not deterministic.

So, both processes that determine a calico’s coloration pattern occur non-deterministically during gestation. Calico clones are likely to look quite different from one another. As is the case with cc.

Now imagine how many processes that give rise to personality could be similarly genetically initiated (thus strongly influenced) but not determined.

Clones will give us an opportunity to discover— in some ways better than we have with twins—how much is nature and how much is nurture. And I suspect that those with an enthusiasm for one extreme or the other will be dismayed at the result. But in any event, we don’t think twins are the same person, why would we think clones are the same person? We won’t.

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msg 11.19.03 at 5:51 pm

‘The rich become so by enriching others.’
And bears get fat for winter by eating honey.
It isn’t really about the morality of cloning itself, or genetic modification, or even nuclear weapons for that matter. It’s who’s doing it, who’s going to be doing it, and why.
Everything else is symptom, not cause.
One of the more egregious symptoms still to come is Rupert Murdoch purchasing immortality.
Two strains move in that direction: the return to a bastardized darwinism, now that the mammalian/biological version has been circumvented long enough to give the upper hand to the previously marginal; and the replacement of worn-out organs with, don’t think too hard about how, ‘harvested’ ones.
Clone harvesting.
This is the primary impetus behind cloning research, benefits to the general public are a smokescreen.
Mary Shelley was a prophet.

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 6:31 pm

“…and the replacement of worn-out organs with, don’t think too hard about how, ‘harvested’ ones.
Clone harvesting.”

The wealthy can use their wealth to find and purchase the “generosity” of a suitable donor today for a much lower cost than would be incurred in cloning and waiting for the clone to reach maturity. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be a serious problem. Why not? We worry about it, and it probably does happen occasionally, but the great leverages of wealth have failed in making this a legally and socially acceptable practice. And you don’t seriously believe that children would be allowed to be donors, do you?

Before such a thing would come to pass (though still far in the future), I think it much more likely that cloned organs will be able to be grown in vitro. There would be a huge benefit to everyone from this technology and all it is dependent upon, and it would be much, much less expensive (and slow) than cloning an entire person for their organs, which they are unlikely to be eager to give up.

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Ken 11.19.03 at 6:44 pm

“One of the more egregious symptoms still to come is Rupert Murdoch purchasing immortality.”

A necessary step along the way to all of us being able to purchase immortality (or at least anti-aging treatments).

And I think an anti-aging treatment would rank among the greatest human advances of all time. Faster, please. (Preferably before I turn 50)

“Before such a thing would come to pass (though still far in the future), I think it much more likely that cloned organs will be able to be grown in vitro. There would be a huge benefit to everyone from this technology and all it is dependent upon, and it would be much, much less expensive (and slow) than cloning an entire person for their organs, which they are unlikely to be eager to give up.”

Or better yet, figure out how to grow a complete clone except for the brain and replace your entire body with a 20 year old version. That prospect, all by itself, is a powerful argument in favor of allowing cloning research.

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Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 6:54 pm

Or better yet, figure out how to grow a complete clone except for the brain and replace your entire body with a 20 year old version.”

I doubt that you could induce microencephalitis such that the the clone would be viable (for 20 years!) while satisfying a sufficient portion of the polis that it’s not in any sense a person.

And even if you could achieve essentially zero brain, maintaining essential functions somehow, and incure the enormous expense it would be to keep that body fit for 20 years, I imagine that it would still really hit the “yuck” factor hard for most and likely be socially discouraged if not outright prohibited.

I suspect that many other hypothetical technologies that would achieve nearly a similar result would be much less expensive and much more socially acceptable. And before that happens, I imagine we’ll be able to control to a large degree the aging process.

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msg 11.19.03 at 7:25 pm

thomas dent—
The ‘muck’ in question is ignorance, the darkness against which the accumulated discoveries of human intellect are a bulwark. I am not attacking science or scientists. But it is as naive to think that individual scientists are freely going about their science, like poets going about their poetry, as it is to think that the wealthy become so by devising enterprises that benefit us all.
Scientific research is funded. There are, I’m sure, sources of funding that are as unbiased as a reference librarian’s attention, but they are much much rarer in this world.
Insinuating that most if not virtually all current scientific research is not ‘greed-driven’ is unrealistic, almost willfully so.
The ‘grotesque selfishness’ is not in the labs, it’s in the boardrooms, and in that the parallels with Iraq are virtually note for note. Soldiers on the ground, patriotic or not, doing what’s in their field of view, that their position calls for them to do. ‘Leaders’ hidden away, making life-and-death-for-others decisions with no higher aim than profit and the defense of privilege.
Inasmuch as the word science can also be used to describe a philosophy, a particular approach to inquiry, and an attitude toward the application of results, current science is ‘irreverent’, not just to current religion, which is itself irreverent, but to everything outside the reach of its lenses and its blades.
Anyone who enters anything approaching true wilderness without the protective buzz of technology around them will quickly have to choose between reverence and antagonism. Fear does that. The wilderness is frightening.
You conflate two images in your snide rebuttal. The ‘chain of biological truth’ I’m trying to point to is the deceptively simple physical connection we all have right back through the joined zygotes of our parentage, to the beginnings of organic life. That is an unbroken chain, physically intact all the way.
The ‘arc’ in question is the still airborne, for now, flight of human attainment.
Words like ‘diversity’ become reft of meaning with overuse. And they provide the illusion of known quantity. We not only don’t know what’s in the disappearing forests and seas, we don’t know the patterns of the movement of those things through time, and our place in that movement. To alter them as violently as we have without knowing, or caring, what the result would be, is heedless irreverence. At best.

I haven’t read anything by Ms. Noonan, her speechwriting efforts passed by me at a time I wasn’t listening to much public intercourse, so I’m unable to respond to what I take to be an insult of some kind.
My apologies for the hyperbole and floridity, the level of discourse here is intimidatingly high, and if I’ve been excessive it was in an attempt to meet the standard displayed.

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