Human Exceptionalism

Professor Hugh McLachlan Responds to My Critical Post

I heard today from Professor McLaclan, whose support for reproductive cloning I criticized here at SHS. Rather than put his comment to me in the comments section to the original post, where it might be missed, in fairness, I thought it best to present it here. Professor McLachlan writes:

Dear Wesley J Smith,

I was flattered to see that you comment on an article of mine in New Scientist on Human Cloning. I tried unsuccessfully to add the following comments onto your blog.

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.’

I do not think that married couples (or other ones) have a moral duty to have children. My point is this. It is one thing to do something that might risk causing injury to someone who might otherwise be healthy. It is something else to produce by cloning people who might be injured by the process but who would otherwise not be born. In this sense cloning is an opportunity not a risk for the clones involved.

….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.’

No one has a right to be born. When we are born, we are born out of good fortune. Life is a gift from God in my view.

‘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.’

I am far from indifferent to pain and suffering. My point is that the fact the clones might suffer is not a reason for making cloning illegal. We do not normally say that it should be illegal to have children if there is a risk (or even a certainty) that they will be unhealthy or deformed. Why should we say so in the case of cloning? For the sake of the clones? We could say this only if it is better not to be born than to be born deformed or unhealthy. People who are, in the normal way, born deformed or unhealthy do not generally say that they wish they had not been born.

I am not a materialist- far from it. I am not an advocate of human cloning. However, I do not think that the reasons put forward for making it a criminal offence are good reasons. Cloning will happen. It is better that it happens legally than illegally.

I am a bioethicist at Glasgow Caledonian University, not Glasgow University.

Best wishes,

Professor Hugh McLachlan

Centre for Ethics in Public Policy

Glasgow Caledonian University

I thank Professor McLachlan for his correspondence. I checked, and I didn’t accuse him of being a materialist. I wrote that he seemed not to accept the intrinsic value of human life, a conclusion I drew from what remains his indifference to the life and death consequences that would flow from attempting human reproductive cloning. Life may or not be a “gift from God,” but with cloning, it is a matter of human manufacture.

I have written extensively elsewhere as to why reproductive cloning should be outlawed. I subscribe to the points made by the President’s Council on Bioethics’ first publication Human Cloning and Human Dignity, which found unanimously that not only should reproductive cloning be prohibited, but also efforts toward learning how to do it safely as unethical human experimentation. It is noteworthy that while the Council was deeply divided over therapeutic cloning in that report, it was in total agreement about reproductive cloning.

I do not subscribe to the idea that it can’t be stopped so it might as well be legalized. That seems an abdication to me. Besides, I believe reproductive cloning can be stopped. Learning how to clone efficiently will take many billions of dollars and tremendous effort on the part of the biotech sector, and even more to bring a cloned embryo to birth. Preventing all human cloning by law will inhibit the funds from being spent and serve as a powerful insensitive for the most talented scientists to make better use of their talents. Continuing to scorn reproductive cloning, I believe, will serve the same purpose, perhaps even more efficiently. I have noticed that with the exception of a few outriders, most scientists care very much about what their peers think of them, and the field as a whole is almost hypersensitive to criticism from the general public.