Cloning (3)

by Brian on November 23, 2003

One of the neat things about the cloning debate is that it’s one of very few places where you’ll hear Christian conservatives saying that sex is good. Normally one hears that sex is at best a mortal sin and at worst the cause of all that’s wrong with modern society. But give us a chance to make babies any other way, and all of a sudden it’s sweetness and light. I mean, which of the following two kinds of activities looks to you like a ‘repugnant’ way to originate life?

  1. The kind of activity that goes on in nightclub bathrooms and on the sets of porn movies and between teenagers in the backseats of their parents’ cars.
  2. The kind of activity that goes on when people who have dedicated their lives to understanding a particular natural mystery try to carefully apply their knowledge in order to improve the lot of their fellow humans.

If you picked option 2, then you too can be Leon Kass’s friend. More seriously, I wonder how much my own support for cloning comes from somewhat different feelings of repugnance to Kass’s.

This isn’t to say, as might be hinted, that I find option 1 particularly repugnant. If I were a good Thomist I could quite imagine that I would think that. Maybe I would think something like the following:

Cloning gives us the chance for the goodness of life without the badness of sex, so it looks like a Godsend. Sad to say, some people think Godsends are only announced by people in white gowns, not people in white coats, so they don’t recognise what a miracle this is. Imagine all the people, living lives unstained by sex.

[Update, 4 hours later: It’s been pointed out to me that as a statement of Thomistic doctrine this is about as mistaken as it is logically possible to be. There’s a lesson in this – never take history lessons from me. My apologies for the screw-up.]

Maybe it’s the worry a second virgin birth would undermine the importance of the first one?

Returning to the subject at hand, I think it’s very natural to be completely opposed to restrictions on reproductive rights. Here’s a quote from Gregory Pence’s Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? (I borrowed the point that Christian attitudes to sex are in a little tension here from Pence’s book, though he didn’t put it quite that way.)

There are people in medical genetics and medicine with much stronger views than the one expressed here, people who have all their professional lives seen the terrible results of genetic disease. For example, respected genetic researcher Marjery Shaw once suggested that deliberately giving birth to a child with the gene for Huntington’s disease should be a criminal offence. [Footnote: Shaw’s suggestion is in “Conditional Prospective Rights of the Fetus”, Journal of Legal Medicine 63 (1984) 99.]

My initial reaction to Shaw’s suggestion is that it is simply abhorrent. Criminalising conception and birth is not something we should be in the business of, even if we can quite properly make judgments about the morality of different acts of conception and birth. Now this isn’t much of an argument, which just goes to show we all have to rest on a moral intuition somewhere.

Pence’s book by the way is reasonably good, but it’s a bit long for what is really covered (despite being only 170 pages) and he doesn’t address some of the arguments that have arisen in the comments threads here. (I don’t know whether this is because (a) he missed those arguments in the literature, or (b) those arguments weren’t in circulation when he wrote his book in 1998 but are now, or© the arguments are new to these threads. I suspect not (a), but I don’t know about the (b)/(c) split.)

There is one very worthwhile point running through Pence’s book. He stresses that as well as the risks that are raise by cloning, there are many other risks that are diminished. For example, he notes that we can be confident the cloned child will not have a genetic disease that causes early death. So he thinks we can reach a stage where cloning is (as far as we will know) no more dangerous than traditional breeding. He thinks this is the standard that should be reached before cloning is permissible. (I’ve been defending a somewhat weaker standard here, and I might write a later post on the differences between our views.)

Still, it would be nice to have a response to the more recent arguments. For future reference, here’s a list of the interesting arguments that have arisen in the previous threads, as well as my responses to them. (Actually I should say ‘our’ response, because many of these are from the paper I’m co-writing with Sarah McGrath.)

  • Cloned children would know too much about what will happen as they develop.
    This is a bit unclear, but the thought is that it’s good for humans to not know too much about how they will develop. Even if some kind of determinist thesis is true, there is a value in having an epistemically open future. I agree this is a value, but I don’t think cloning significantly undermines it. In most cases the connection between genes and life history is so weak that all the child could know is that she is more likely to have this rather than that kind of life. But of course knowing that your parents are world-class violinists, or that early grey hair or heart disease runs in your family, already provides this kind of probabilistic knowledge, so clones aren’t any worse off than bredders. The only exception is if a child is deliberately cloned from a person with a genetic disease. While this is a possibility, it is really rather unlikely. It would be a rather monstrous parent who would do such a thing. And it’s bad public policy to ban a technology because monstrous people could do monstrous things with it.
  • Would-be parents of clones should adopt rather than clone.
    Let’s agree that it would make the world a better place for such parents to adopt rather than clone. I’m not sure that’s right (the two possible worlds seem incomparable in important respects to me) but let’s just stipulate it. We don’t normally legally require that people do whatever they can to improve the world. If a person faces a choice between an action that will improve the world and one that will further one of their most deeply held values, we normally let them act on their values provided they do not thereby harm others. (The pitiful amount we tax people to pay for humanitarian aid is a small exception, but note the individual values that don’t get to be expressed because of such taxation are less central than the value in having genetic descendants.) So even if parents could do better for the world by adopting, I don’t see why this is the kind of moral choice the state should require them to make. And let’s not forget how much people do value having genetic descendants. For most women it would be much more convenient to adopt a child than to go through the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth, but the vast majority of women think those costs are worthwhile because they will have a child that is biologically related to them at the end. When people have such a strong value, whatever we may think of its merits, the state should not prevent its expression.
  • Cloning will reinforce inequality in society.
    Pence does discuss this, and basically dismisses it. He says there’s no more reason to ban cloning on this ground than to ban yachts or any other luxury good. I don’t think this is a good enough response. If cloning does fundamentally alter society, then it should be equitabbly distributed. Put another way, the fact that cloning allows for the expression of a widespread important human value makes it different to yachting. (Not that yachting isn’t of fundamental importance to some, I guess.) I think the right response to this is to stress that cloning isn’t that different to things we already accept. For one thing, it only involves replication of genes, not replication of a person in any broader sense. For another, it doesn’t even involve complete replication of genes unless the egg is supplied by the person being cloned. For yet another, unless the child gestates in the womb the person being cloned gestated in, the person will be different in some ways practically from day 1. There’s more to be said here, but I think there are plenty of reasons to treat cloning as just another technique of reproductive assistance, and there’s no reason that it need add to inequality in society. (I also think it should, ideally, be distributed through a needs-based or lottery-based system within a socialised health care system. But I don’t think we need that to respond to the inequality argument.)
  • There could be involuntary cloning.
    It’s not clear whether this will be technologically possible, but one fear is that people could be cloned against their will from stray cells they leave around. Of course this practice should be illegal, but if it were widespread and laws against it were unenforceable because it was too hard to detect violations, the prevalence of the practice might undermine a right I think is very important, the right to decide when and how one reproduces. (I think this right, and not the right to bodily autonomy, is the basis of the best pro-choice argument.) Provided the cloning industry is well-regulated though, this danger seems fairly remote. One fact that looks like it won’t change any time soon is that, unlike breeding, cloning is not something you can simply do in your own backyard. (I guess breeding in your backyard might be illegal in some jurisdictions unless you have fairly high fences.) It should be possible to regulate cloning centres heavily enough that they have the fear of God (or at least the fear of heavy fines and potentially prison sentences) put in them in order to ensure they do not clone a person without their consent.

There’s still a pile of anti-cloning papers on my reading stack, but I’m not being tempted to move far from my original position that cloning should be legally available, though I have been convinced there are several reasons to heavily regulate it.



markus 11.23.03 at 11:59 pm

But of course knowing that your parents are world-class violinists, or that early grey hair or heart disease runs in your family, already provides this kind of probabilistic knowledge, so clones aren’t any worse off than bredders.
The crucial word here is “parents”. With these, you never know what card’s you’re dealt because of shuffling. With cloning you do.

Your other arguments hinge on comparisons _you_ think apt, and opinions _you_ have, but there’s no reason (AFAIK) anyone should agree: e.g. on the impact to society, you argue the clone will be different. However, it will be less different than a regular child, and that is precisely the point. Saying you don’t see a difference isn’t an argument one way or the other IMO. I think you might need some data at this point.
Same with the involuntary cloning. The danger does not seem grave to you, but that’s not really an argument. Besides, I’m 100 percent certain the military _does_ want the “super-soldier”*, and once cloning is around, how long before military necessity** requires research into that area.
I’m with you on the adoption angle though, here cloning does not differ from techniques already in use.

* they’re handing out dangerous drugs to pilots already
** Invasion of the Chinese Mutant Army


Reg 11.24.03 at 12:24 am

“Maybe it’s the worry a second virgin birth would undermine the importance of the first one?”

What a stupid comment, even for snark.


JC 11.24.03 at 1:14 am

Markus, is one twin less a regular child than the other? What about triplets? Which one is the “regular” child?

As to shuffling the genes in the human way being the difference, well kinda. First, there’s the little problem with the fact that we can’t just enumerate the entire sequence of a random human being. So the fact that we can clone doesn’t mean we know all the words we’re cloning. Clones aren’t at an advantage here.

Also, when all this shuffling is happening, we have very little choice as to the shuffling or whether there was any shuffling at all.

Clones and bredders are in the same boat in that respect.


coder 11.24.03 at 2:13 am

I think that a lot of people think of futuristic dysotopia when they hear cloning. Lets all keep a few facts in mind when debating this:

1) We aren’t talking about babies growing in vats. A woman still has to carry the foetus to term.

2) It will inevitably (and rightly) be tightly regulated. The details are a matter for debate.

3) This is not genetic engineering, per se. Altering an embryo’s genetic makeup is just as hard (or easy) regardless of how it is made.

4) A clone will _not_ be the same as its parent! As Brian says, they will be more different than identical twins are. Probably a lot more different. This is testable, by the way. Well before reproductive human cloning becomes viable, we will have lots of studies on cloned mice, or what-have-you, some of which will undoubtedly look at personality traits.

5) They will be normal human beings in every way. Clones will not be Midwich Cuckoos or zombies. They will be 100% normal and totally indistinguishable from anyone else.

6) Throwing up entertaining scenarios like cloning Hitler is all well and good in fiction, but is not a useful guide to policy in the real world. The use of cloning to perpetuate a line of God-Emperors in some putative futuristic techno-fascist dictatorship is not something we really need to address at this point. Even if it were an immediate concern, it really does not have any bearing whatsoever on whether cloning should be available on the NHS.

My position on it is favourable, with tight regulation (I would say somewhere between IVF and adoption is appropriate.) But then I’m pretty much signed up to the full transhumanist agenda. Bring on the cloned, genetically engineered super-babies with cybernetic implants! :)

Markus: I find your comment regarding the military to be utterly bizarre. For cloning to be of use in creating a super-soldier, we would have to live in a society where the military not only makes reproductive decisions on people’s behalf, but also effectively ‘owns’ the resulting offspring. If we ever get close to that sort of scenario, clones will be the least of our worries. And the military have always used drugs. Historically it was mostly alcohol. More recently a lot more interesting and useful ones have been developed. Check out the amount of amphetamines handed out during WWII some time. Or if you want to really freak about military super-soldiers, check this out:

Reg: I dunno, I thought it was quite funny myself. Maybe because I think that this is _exactly_ the sort of ‘logic’ that some religous weirdos adhere to?


Barry 11.24.03 at 2:38 am

Reg is projecting again, I imagine.


markus 11.24.03 at 3:25 am

coder, thanks for the sanity check. However, I’d hold that my arguments are on Brian’s level of analysis (not sure though) while your responses address more practical concerns. I’d say we need to consider both, since to me being pro-cloning is inseparably tied to the implementation. By analogy (sorry) IMO Brian is arguing for “spreading democracy”, I pointed out some flaws in the concept, you supplied a possible target. We’ve been through that one.
Stepping back from the analogy, I’d say being pro-cloning is generally a good thing (with caveats), but I’d refuse any attempt to turn my pro-cloning stance into a commitment to this or that measure, simply because I’m generally pro-cloning. I did however have the impression, Brian was trying to do just that, by glossing over finer details, taking stuff for granted that’s merely likely and so on.


markus 11.24.03 at 3:34 am

and coder, thanks for the link, though I knew about that one. Take it from a psychologist, trans-cranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) won’t do the job, in fact I’d wager nothing will.


Matt McIrvin 11.24.03 at 4:18 am

I think that the possibility of deliberately cloning somebody with a genetic disorder is not so far-fetched– or rather I think it depends on what is defined as a disorder.

Consider the eternally-raging controversies in and around the deaf community about how deafness should be regarded and how or even whether it should be treated. There are people who see the possibility of eliminating deafness not as a medical advance but as the elimination of a culture; there are the usual comparisons to genocide. It certainly would put an end to a rich literary and linguistic culture. A few couples have attempted to deliberately have deaf children through screening of gamete donors.

Similarly, I know a person with albinism who, while he has the usual severe visual problems and light sensitivity associated with albinism, is nevertheless a bit melancholy about the possibility of people like him being eliminated from future generations by genetic science.


Ayjay 11.24.03 at 2:28 pm

I’d be interested to know who these “Christian conservatives” are who think sex is bad. All the Christian conservatives I know believe (and say over and over again, ad nauseam in fact) that sex is a gift from God — but one properly used only within marriage. Perhaps Brian thinks this an unnecessarily subtle distinction and therefore not worthy of notice. Or perhaps he has no idea what Christian conservatives really think and is just using them as convenient straw men.

One could also infer from Brian’s post that Leon Kass is one of those conservative Christians, but for the record, Kass is Jewish and (as he notes in his recent book on Genesis) has no religious commitments at all, though he seems to be moving in the direction of theism. Kass’s objections to cloning are not grounded in the same set of beliefs as the objections of conservative Christians (though there is some overlap with Christians who like natural law arguments).


harry 11.24.03 at 3:21 pm

Ayjay is right about sex and Christians in my experience too –there’s now a substantial Christian self-help literature on the joys of sex within marriage, and as long as it is within marriage many if not most evangelical protetants think that recreational sex is fine and indeed some woulld say sacred. Unlike the RCs for example.

*The only exception is if a child is deliberately cloned from a person with a genetic disease. While this is a possibility, it is really rather unlikely. It would be a rather monstrous parent who would do such a thing*

Doesn’t anyone remember the case a year or so ago of a profoundly deaf lesbian couple (in the US) who did everything they could to ensure that the biological child of one of them would also be profoundly deaf — and succeeded? I was living in the UK at the time, and there was huge publicity about it. Baroness Emma Nicholson (herself deaf) weighed in particularly strongly, saying that the child should be able to bring a wrongful life suit against the parents, implying (it seemd to me) that the child would have been better off never to have been born. It is an interesting case because, while I think Nicholson was wrong, I think there is a case for thinking that deliberately trying to conceive children with particular genetic impairments is wrong — and perhaps that it should be illegal; just as I think that there’s a case for trying to prevent pregnant women from recklessly damaging the fetus they carry and, for that matter, for prohibiting various kinds of abuse and neglect of (born) children. (That (born) is not supposed to imply that there are any children who are unborn — its just a clarification). Am I contadicting your suggestion that:

*Criminalising conception and birth is not something we should be in the business of, even if we can quite properly make judgments about the morality of different acts of conception and birth.*?

One other clarification — profound deafness seems quite different to me form all other genetically-caused impariments, so I don’t mean to apply my tentative principle to the particular case of this couple. (I can go into reasons why deafness is different if you want, but it doesn’t seem germane to your argument here).


Keith M Ellis 11.24.03 at 3:23 pm

I’d be interested to know who these ‘Christian conservatives’ are who think sex is bad.


There is substantial difference of opinion on this; but within Paul’s writings there’s much to be found of this attitude.


Chris Bertram 11.24.03 at 3:50 pm

bq. _Cloning gives us the chance for the goodness of life without the badness of sex…._

That’s something close to the theme of Michel Houellebecq’s _Les Particules Elementaires_ !


enthymeme 11.24.03 at 4:02 pm

Markus, Western armed forces have “super soldiers” eh? While China has a freako “mutant” army eh?



Brian Weatherson 11.24.03 at 4:15 pm

A few points on Harry’s nice post.

First, I really should remember that while getting it wrong is OK, and being insulting is OK, getting it wrong while being insulting is not OK. My apologies, again.

Having criminal liability for this kind of act is contrary to the proposal I’m running with. That’s a tough case though, and maybe I should qualify my stance. Since, as I noted in the post, I really am getting close to my own form of ‘repugnance argument’ it’s a bit hard to be sure where I really want to stand.

Let me make one distinction though that could be valuable. What I find most disturbing about the case Harry mentions is not bringing up a child that one knows will be deaf. It is rather the conscious effort to make a child be born deaf, when this isn’t necessary at all for the bringing up of the child.

What I really believe is some combination of the following two principles.

Right To Bear – Everyone (and perhaps every couple) has a legal (and perhaps moral) right to bear children, where this is biologically possible and it is reasonably certain that the resultant child will have a life worth living. This includes a right to bear children that are not genetically or biologically related to a third party.

Responsibility to Bear Decently – Everyone who exercises the first right has a moral (and perhaps legal) obligation to bring about the best child they can, within reasonable expectations.

Right to Bear doesn’t entail right to assistance in bearing, though I think in most cases involving exercise of the right, providing assistance is legally (and perhaps morally) permissible.

Here’s how those two principles would judge certain important cases.

First case – lesbian couple want to have child produced by cloning from a cell from one partner, and the egg of the other, with the egg donor gestating the child. This would be acceptable, provided cloning was well enough understood that we could be reasonably certain that the child will have a life worth living. (I don’t think we’re at that stage yet, and we might not be for a long time, but I think we could reach it in the near future.)

Second case – the case Harry raises. The couple would violate ‘Responsibility’ and hence could be liable for damages.

Third case – The Non-Identity cases raised by Parfit, Kavka, Dworkin, Brock and others. Again the behaviour in question violates ‘Resposibility’ and so is immoral and possibly illegal.

Fourth case – X and Y have a genetic disease that means that any child they have will have some disability that is severe, but not so severe as to prevent the child from having a life worth living. In that case having the best child they could have would be allowed under Right, even if the child suffered just the same disabilities as the children in the second and third cases.

I’m splitting hairs here, and by backing Responsibility, I am backing down from the purity of the reproductive rights absolutism I was toying with earlier. But at least as legal judgments I think all four cases turn out the right way here.

By the way, I’d interpret Responsibility in such a way that it didn’t put any requirements on ordinary prospective mothers that are not met by the overwhelming bulk of mothers nowadays. So moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy, even if it led to a sub-optimal child, would be (legally) acceptable, while sustained excessive consumption might not be. As a rule I’m very hesitant to be a male putting down rules on what women can and can’t do during pregnancy, so I’d want to draw this one very carefully. But I think planning to make your child deaf is a clear violation of Responsibility even if that is construed very weakly.


Ayjay 11.24.03 at 5:04 pm

Regarding Keith’s comment about Paul: rather than get into the exegetical questions, which, as Keith suggests, are quite interesting, I will just note that we haven’t heard a lot from Paul in the recent arguments over cloning. One could also cite St. Jerome, and (in most of his moods) St. Augustine among those Christians deeply suspicious of sex, but in his post Brian was clearly referring to people engaged in today’s debates, as was I in my response.


Antoni Jaume 11.24.03 at 6:36 pm

I still think that cloning is only interesting if one subscribes to racist values.



harry 11.24.03 at 7:55 pm

First thing: the deaf are unusual in a very specific way. There is masive disagreement among the profoundly deaf concerning the appropriateness of various medical intervenetions desinged to allwo their children to hear. This sometimes gets reported as a debate about ‘culture’ (the parents claiming a right, which I deny any parent has, to impose their culture on their child). But in fact that’s a misreporting — these interventions have only modest prospects of success, and there’s an opportunity cost in terms of the children’s ability to learn how to sign. The deaf are the only impaired group among whom many realy and apparently sincerely say that they would rather have their impairment than not other things being equal. So, here’s an argument the lesbian couple could make: 1) the child will be raised by us, and will have a closer more intimate relationship with us if deaf than if not deaf, so in that way his life will be a better one and 2) given that so many of the deaf embrace deafness as the first best state we don’t think his life will be worse in other respects.
I’m not endorsing the argument, and find the issue perplexing, but offer it so as to steer you away from the deaf example and toward more straightforward ones.

Second: I would modify Responsibility. Your interpretation of it ‘in such a way that it didn’t put any requirements on ordinary prospective mothers that are not met by the overwhelming bulk of mothers nowadays’ is already a modification of the way you state it earlier I think; people favour their own interests over those of their propsective fetuses and children in all sorts of ways (and that’s ok, in my view — could send you my paper arguing this vis-a-vis born children if you like) — but in doing so they are (legitimately) refraining from ‘bring(ing) about the best child they can’. Furthermore, in refraining from, for example, seeking ante-natal care that would maximise their child’s chances for high lifetime expected earnings, or whatever, parents are not doing anything wrong — because there is, in fact, a moral prohibition on seeking to maximise your child’s prospects for competitive benefits (which is why, among other things, its ok to prohibit elite private schools). I sort of think you want to modify it to something like the following:

Responsibility to Bear Decently – Everyone who exercises the first right has a moral (and perhaps legal) obligation to refrain from activities either in pursuit of conception or after conception that have a reasonably high probability that the resultant child will suffer serious physical or cognitive impairments.

This, I think, allows for the deaf parents to do what they did IF we regard deafness as not being a serious impairment; but rules out many other things.

OK, I’ve looked at it again, and my rendering of it is not quite right. What I am aiming for (on your behalf) is some sort of adequacy constraint — one is required to pursue the conception of a child with propsects for an adequately good life (which might be quite a bit better than a life merely worth living).


Keith M Ellis 11.24.03 at 8:09 pm

I would urge anyone interested in the issue of Deaf culture, cochlear implants, and all related to read Oliver Sacks’s, Seeing Voices, before they comment. Most people are profoundly ignorant on this topic, in my experience.


Brian Weatherson 11.24.03 at 8:43 pm


That’s right that I contradicted myself in the earlier post. The problem was that I was trying to do two things at once, and as usual I managed to do neither well.

1. It’s OK to have children who will be badly off, even I think below the standard for an adequately good life, if it’s simply a biological necessity that any child you have will be that badly off.
2. It’s not OK to make otherwise well off children badly off.

To get what I want I could just have a disjunctive category:

Responsibility – Having decided to exercise Right, the prospective parents have a duty to maximise the probability that the child has either (a) an adequately good life or (b) the best life possible for a child of that person/couple, whichever is the lower.

The problem with that of course is that it looks completely undermotivated. (It also means that there is a higher standard, in some sense, put on those whose children are at grave risk of not reaching the adequate standard. That’s OK with me, I think.) What I need to do is come up with a smart way of either making that disjunctive condition look natural, or a way to reform my intuitions to match a natural theory.

By the way, the Journal of Medical Ethics edition on cloning (April 1999) has a couple of reasonable papers on why the other harms that have been alleged to go along with cloning (lack of identity, unreasonable expectations etc.) are not really harms. They assume, however, something not in evidence, that we could in principle discover cloning will probably not lead to old-fashioned pain and suffering type harms without having previously done any trials of cloning on humans. If my 1 above is not right, and any child we make has to (be reasonably expected to) reach a certain adequacy standard, it might never to moral to start cloning humans.

I agree by the way that I should stay out of the debates over the deaf. Those are interesting, but not exactly on topic.


Jonthan Goldberg 11.24.03 at 9:07 pm

I might be worthwhile in this context to recall why we have sex in the first place. My (unprofessional) understanding is that it randomizes certain immunological factors, thus conferring increased disease restance.
Microorganisms are constantly evolving new attacks; the randomization provides new defenses once a generation.
This was enough of an evolutionary advantage to offset the obvious advantages of asexual reproduction.
So, we need to consider that, in cloning, we are likely to be inflicting a known genetic disadvantge on the cloned person.
There could be externalities. In the extreme case, where all babies were cloned, disease restance might be compromised in everyone, increasing the chances of plagues or even the extermination of humanity.
This last case may be negligible, but some degree of this effect might occur if cloning becomes widespread. This perhaps brings us into Categorical Imperative territory.


Thomas 11.24.03 at 9:20 pm

So, in a world of cloning and genetic engineering, those who reject cloning and genetic engineering can be legally prohibited from reproducing?

That’s what this means, isn’t it?:

“Having decided to exercise Right, the prospective parents have a duty to maximise the probability that the child has either (a) an adequately good life or (b) the best life possible for a child of that person/couple, whichever is the lower.”

Reproductive rights absolutism? Quite to the contrary, it seems. Perhaps the reproductive rights absolutism was in service of another agenda?


Brian Weatherson 11.24.03 at 10:11 pm

Thomas, why on earth would it mean anything like that? There is literally no technological prospect on the horizon that would give us any reason to think that naturally born children will not be above whatever reasonable threshold for a decent life we put in place in the above. None whatsoever. Certainly cloning isn’t such a proposal, since the only live issue with cloning is how much it will harm the baby. GE is obviously more complicated, but the whole point of having a standard like a decent level (rather than as good as possible, as I mistakenly said) is, as Harry points out, so we quite explicitly don’t require this kind of intervention.


Chris Bertram 11.24.03 at 11:38 pm

Just a public-service announcement:

Brian has also put “this post on his other blog”: and there are some very interesting comments from David Velleman (and replies from Brian).


Thomas 11.24.03 at 11:51 pm

Brian– “It’s OK to have children who will be badly off, even I think below the standard for an adequately good life, if it’s simply a biological necessity that any child you have will be that badly off.” What could that mean, but that in a world of cloning and genetic engineering–i.e., a world where there is no ‘biological necessity that any child ..will be that badly off”–such procedures could be required (or, more precisely, the refusal to use such procedures could limit the Right to Bear)?

The same concept runs through the piece I quoted above. The duty to maximise is constrained only by technology. It’s entirely contingent, as you seem to concede in your response (“no technological prospect on the horizon”). To the extent that technology changes and develops, permitting effective cloning and GE, then such procedures, to the extent they are safe and effective, will undoubtedly change the outcome of the equation you gave. One must maximize the probability of the lower of (a) an adequately good life (a more demanding standard than the ‘life worth living standard’) or (b) the best life possible for a child of that person.

(b) doesn’t have any content in a GE world, does it? It constrains only in a technological sense (the best possible life science can give). The lower of (a) and (b) would always be (a), a demanding standard.

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