Human Exceptionalism

Preview of Coming Attractions: The Push to Permit Reproductive Cloning

The big secret that the media rarely address is that many bioethicists and bioscientists actually support reproductive cloning. Yes, yes, I know: Most scientific organizations, such as the NAS, and big-name bioethicists currently oppose permitting a cloned embryo to be implanted and gestated to birth. But this opposition isn’t generally based on principled moral objections to cloning as a form of reproduction (replication). To the contrary: Many believe there is a fundamental right to reproduce by any means desired or necessary. Thus, objections among this camp are based on safety concerns. Currently, animal cloning is very inefficient, also leading to many miscarriages, birth defects, and the deaths of birth mothers.

Still, even now there are calls in some quarters to damn the safety concerns and go full speed ahead with permitting reproductive cloning. One such advocacy piece, “Let’s Legalize Cloning,” appeared in the July 18 New Scientist (no link available). Written by Glasgow Caledonian University bioethicist Hugh McLachlan, we are told that even safety should cause us little concern. He writes:

We know from animal cloning studies that the risks to the mother and the baby are likely to be very high, although they may diminish as the technique is perfected. Yet in other areas of reproduction (or life in general) safety alone is not seen as sufficient grounds to make something illegal. The risks should be explained to the prospective mother, and she should then have the right to decide for herself, as with any other medical procedure, whether to accept them.

The potential baby, of course, cannot give consent. There may be an increased risk of miscarriage or being born with a deformity, but for people born as a result of cloning, it is their only chance of life. Cloning is therefore not a risk but an opportunity. If you could only have been born as a clone, with the risks that entails, would you have wanted your life to have been prevented? I would say loudly: no.

The idea that cloning presents an “opportunity” for the nonexistent to become existent seems close to some religious doctrines about married couples having a duty to bring babies into the world. That point aside, non-existent beings have no right to come into existence, and if they don’t, they will never know it, because there will never be a “they” to know that they don’t exist.


Moreover, notice the sheer indifference to the pain and suffering that would be caused, miscarriages, abortions, and human experimentation that would be involved in such an endeavor. To make cloning “safe” would require repeated creation of cloned embryos to study why gene expression is defective. It would require implantation and abortion to learn why some cloned fetuses develop with defects or in such a way as to endanger the birth mother. And it would require the surviving babies to be studied throughout their lives to determine whether they exhibit later resulting health or developmental difficulties. In other words, it would be to treat some people as experiments.

But when one’s philosophy denies the intrinsic value of human life–and the primary impetus in “ethics” becomes anything goes to fulfill wants and desires–advocacy such as McLachlan’s is entirely logical. This is why I don’t view him as a fringe rider, but merely a candid harbinger of things to come.