Human cloning is here. After years of effort, scientists manufactured human life using the same process that created Dolly the sheep. There is no way around it: The age of human cloning is here—unless we act now to prevent it.
Why outlaw human cloning? As the United Nations General Assembly decided in a nearly 3-1 vote in 2005, each country in the world should “prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.”
Some countries do outlaw human cloning. Germany is a good example. But most—like the USA—have done nothing to address this technology legally.
That’s a problem: That which is not illegal, is legal. Hence, human cloning—including the creation of the cloned embryo and gestating it through to birth are currently legal acts.
They shouldn’t be. Here’s a short list of why human cloning should be against the law:
Cloning Manufactures Human Life: SCNT cloning is easy to describe, but, in humans, still difficult to do. The nucleus of a human egg is removed and replaced by a cell nucleus from the person being cloned. The genetically modified cell is stimulated and the properties of the egg transform it into an embryo—just as occurs when an egg is fertilized. At that point, a new human life has come into existence asexually (meaning without sperm joining with egg).
After that, there is no more cloning. The question thus becomes what to do with the life that has been manufactured via the cloning process. If it is to be destroyed in research it is sometimes called “therapeutic” or “research cloning.” If it will eventually be gestated to birth, it is sometimes called “reproductive cloning.” Both are misnomers. The act of cloning creates life—intentionally manufactured to have the specific genome of the person whose DNA was used in the process. That turns human life into a manufactured object instead of a subject—whether the clone will be used in research or brought to birth.
Research Cloning Destroys Human Life: Many apologists for the cloning enterprise slickly assure a wary public that cloning will “only” be used for experiments into disease treatments or understanding human biology. Although that may be true in the short run because of technical hurdles that have to be overcome before a human cloned baby can be gestated successfully, there is no reason to think such a line would ever hold. Indeed, the very research proposed is exactly what is required to make reproductive cloning doable.
But even more importantly, creating human life for the purpose of destroying it crosses a very serious ethical line, transforming the value of human life into that of a corn crop.
Reproductive Cloning is Replication: Reproductive cloning would result in viewing cloned babies as “human products” that would be “made to order,” by “their producers or progenitors.” As the President’s Council on Bioethics noted in determining that reproductive cloning is never justified, “manufactured objects become commodities in the marketplace, and their manufacture comes to be guided by market principles and financial concerns.”
Women Will be Exploited for Their Eggs: If you have seen the CBC’s important documentary, Eggsploitation, you know how harmful egg supplying can be to women’s health. The potential side effects include infection, loss of fertility, stroke, and in rare cases death.
That film primarily discussed this important issue in the context of IVF. But cloning would dramatically multiply the demand for supply, profoundly exacerbating the threat to women’s health.
Moreover, it turns out that not just any eggs will do for human cloning. The papers describing the cloning successes have also noted that successful, “SCNT reprogramming is dependent on human oocyte [egg]quality.”
Yikes. Not only will cloning encourage treating women’s reproductive assets as marketable commodities, but a concentrated search may soon be launched for women who can produce prime cloning-quality eggs—furthering the objectification of female biological processes.
Cloning is essential to a New Eugenics: Ultimately, cloning would be the key that opens the door to countless other brave new world technologies. For example, one possible future procedure is already termed “fetal farming,” whereby cloned fetuses would be matured in artificial wombs as sources of organs for transplant patients or other uses.
Cloning is also the essential technology to learning how to genetically engineer human life. As the Princeton biologist Lee Silver, a cloning and human enhancement enthusiast, wrote in Remaking Eden: “Without cloning, genetic engineering is simply science fiction. But with cloning, genetic engineering moves into the realm of reality.”
Beware Phony Cloning Bans: Pro-cloning politicians often propose so-called cloning bans that are actually legalization schemes. For example, legislation may falsely define the term “cloning” from its scientific meaning—the act of SCNT, for example—into a political definition—say, implanting a cloned embryo into a uterus. But implanting is no more cloning, than it is fertilization in the IVF context.
Other “bans” would outlaw reproductive cloning but permit therapeutic cloning. Again, that would be to explicitly create a license to engage in human cloning since, as we have seen, that is the process by which a cloned embryo is created asexually.
In some ways, such a phony ban would be worse than no ban at all. In our confused moral times, the law not only reflects our values but tells us right from wrong. Legalizing therapeutic cloning would send the message that human cloning is right. After that, there would be scant intellectual defense against further developments of the technology as scientists gained expertise.
Human cloning presents humanity with one of its most profound moral challenges. Yet, even though human cloning is here, the question of what—if anything—to do about it isn’t even being discussed.
But as the old saying goes, time and tide wait for no man. Today, scientists are busily cloning away. Unless the nations of the world do something about that soon, cloning will be legalized by the world’s current lethargy.
Reprinted with permission from the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network.