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.