There should be no moral objections to human cloning or the creation of embryos for life-saving stem cells.by Kenan Malik / May 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
The daily telegraph considers them “criminals.” The Pope condemns their work as “abhorrent.” Jeremy Rifkin warns that they are striking a “Faustian bargain” which could pave the way to a “commercial eugenics civilisation.” The object of this hostility is two doctors, the US-based Panayiotis Zavos and the Italian Severino Antinori who, in March, declared their intention of helping infertile couples conceive through the use of cloning techniques.
From Aldous Huxley’s picture of human production lines in Brave New World to Michael Marshall Smith’s description in his novel Spares of farms where the rich keep clones of themselves so that their organs can be “harvested” for transplants, cloning has been a metaphor for the creation of an immoral, inhuman world. The birth in February 1997 of Dolly the sheep transformed such visions from the realms of science fiction to science fact. It seemed only a matter of time before humans could also be duplicated, a prospect greeted with almost universal condemnation. Even Ian Wilmut, Dolly’s creator, believes that we should “reject this proposed use of cloning.”
I want to argue that the current debate about cloning turns the ethical issues on their head. There are no reasons to regard the cloning of humans as unethical. There is, on the other hand, something deeply immoral about a campaign that seeks to block the advancement, not just of reproductive technology, but also of other medical techniques based on cloning methods which could save countless lives.
There are three main objections to cloning: that it undermines human dignity and personal identity; that it uses people as objects; and that it is unnatural. Opponents argue that it is immoral to create exact copies of people. According to the bioethicist Leon Klass, “the cloned individual will be saddled with a genotype that has already lived. He will not be fully a surprise to the world.” Others worry that unethical governments, or even corporations, may institute a programme to create production line people, perhaps even a race of Adolf Hitlers.
Such arguments misunderstand both the character of cloning and the nature of human beings. To clone an organism-whether Dolly or Adolf Hitler-scientists take an egg and remove its nucleus, the part that includes, among other things, the bulk of the DNA. Next, they remove the nucleus from a cell belonging to the adult that is to be cloned and insert it into the egg. The reconstructed…