Everybody Must Get Cloned
Ideological objections do not hold up
by David J. Triggle
The following article is from Free
Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 1.
In contrast to the Dylan original, “Everybody Must
Get Cloned” seems unlikely to serve as a national anthem for this
decade. This failure reflects yet another triumph for metaphoric morality
over significant science and human health.
In reality, the human cloning debate has less to do
with a race of look-alikes, a team of super-athletes, or even replacement
cells and genes than it does with the far broader clash of cultures that,
particularly in the United States, includes abortion, assisted suicide,
birth control and family planning, evolution, religion in public spaces,
and sex education. On one side, James D. Watson, Nobel laureate and author
of The Double Helix, asks, “If we could make better human beings by
knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”1
On the other side, Leon Kass, head of the President’s Council on
Bioethics, claims that “We can see all too clearly where the train is
headed, and we do not like its destination.”2
Both Kass and Francis Fukuyama subscribe to a thesis
that “there is a natural functioning to the whole organism that has been
determined by the requirements of the species’ evolutionary history, one
that is not simply an arbitrary social construction.”3
On first reading this thesis appears plausible, even resonant, but it is
transparently false. Humankind has been interfering with its evolutionary
history ever since striding out of Africa: antibiotics, artificial
insemination, Caesarian birth, contraception, in vitro fertilization,
radiation therapy, sanitation and clean water, and surgery are just a
handful of the roadblocks that we have thrown in the way of “natural
functioning.” Presumably, neither Kass nor Fukuyama want to ban all of
these now widely accepted and publicly demanded practices . . . or do
Indeed, according to physicist Stephen Hawking, we
may need extensive genetic modification simply to stay competitive with
emerging intelligent machines and computers. “We must follow this road
if we want biological systems to remain superior to electronic ones.”4
Cloning and its attendant issues deserve a hearing
independent of any argument that the technology and its uses are, no
matter what the apparent benefit or value, the final “slippery slope”
for humankind. But this is not the hearing provided by the Kass-led
President’s Council on Bioethics, whose report is now available.5
The commission argued unanimously to ban reproductive cloning, but split
sharply on research cloning, where a majority favored a four-year
moratorium while expressing support in principle for cloning for purposes
of biomedical research. Cynics may say this decision was politically
crafted so as to follow—or at least not directly contradict—the views
of Kass and President Bush, who have announced their opposition to any
form of cloning.6,7
To be sure, there are excellent scientific and
technological reasons not to practice reproductive cloning at this time.
It is inefficient; it is likely (and perhaps even certain at the present
state of the technology) to be dangerous to the clone, with the production
of physical abnormalities and/or a shortened life span associated with
aberrant gene expression and regulation8;
finally, the use of any clone for “spare parts” is likely not to meet
with approval by the clone. In any event, the Brave New World scenario of
creating defined worker groups, usually of the militant or menial classes,
through cloning is much more readily achieved through societal
conditioning and programming. For example, fundamentalist religions have
no difficulty in producing religious zealots and suicide bombers; the
United States has been extremely successful in creating a new underclass
through the application of punitive drug laws directed almost exclusively
against urban minorities. As for asexual reproduction, it is no fun;
furthermore, Muller’s ratchet hypothesis argues that sex purges the
system of deleterious mutations.9 However, if
gene loss from the Y chromosome continues at its historic rate, men will
become extinct over the next five to ten million years: asexual cloning
may then become necessary.10 Ironically, this
consideration should commend cloning to the fundamentalist religions that
see sex as a dirty, sinful, and nasty prerequisite for procreation.
Meanwhile, the only arguments that can be advanced
against research cloning are blatantly ideological. One extreme position
holds that all embryonic stem cell research or use involves the
destruction of human life, and thus must be banned because it sacrifices
one individual for the sake of the treatment of another individual’s
disease. Clearly, such a position would also ban abortion under any
circumstance including rape and incest. Others argue that the use of
“spare” embryos left over from fertility clinics is appropriate, but
refuse to countenance the deliberate construction of embryos solely for
research purposes. This is the same moral trap President Bush walked into
on August 9, 2001, when he stated, “I have concluded that we should
allow federal funds to be allowed for research on these existing stem cell
lines, where the life and death decision has already been made.” If it
is immoral to create the stem cells in the first place, then surely it
must be immoral to use them no matter how laudable the purpose.
Additionally, why the distinction between the two kinds of embryos? As
Michael Sandel, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics,
observed, “Opponents of research cloning cannot have it both ways. They
cannot endorse the creation and use of excess embryos from fertility
clinics and at the same time complain that creating embryos for
regenerative medicine is exploitative.”11
Another argument holds that only federal funds should
be withheld from research cloning programs. If it is immoral for federal
funds to be used to develop new cell lines, why is it moral for private
funds to be used? Nothing in recent months suggests that the private
sector is more moral than the public sector.
For anti-cloning ideologues, the debate ultimately
turns upon our definitions of life and its value. President Bush himself
observed, “I also believe that life is a sacred gift from
our creator. I worry about a culture that devalues
life. . . .” Religious leaders have not been reticent in sharing God’s
views on life and its meaning. Georgetown University professor Edmund
Pellegrino sums up the position of many conservative Protestant and
Catholic groups in these words: “Upon conception, the biological and
ontological individuality of a human being is established.”12
Reasonable as the proposed four-year moratorium on
research cloning may appear at first reading, since the opposition to
cloning is dominantly if not exclusively theologically based, nothing is
likely to change during the moratorium period. Hence, the moratorium
serves little useful purpose: no secular-religious compromise is likely
ever to be reached on this subject, since by definition dogma does not
change. Furthermore, any decision to ban the use of federal funds for
these purposes is foolish, since it will leave this critical area solely
in the hands of for-profit fertility clinics13
and the private biotechnology industry.14
This, of all the new technologies, is not one to leave to Adam Smith’s
invisible hand. Those who favor doing so as a “market approach” cannot
have read Adam Smith: had they done so they, would not have missed his
observation, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for
merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in some conspiracy
against the public. . . .”15 Far better
that we have a governmental statutory authority, along the lines of
Britain’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, set the tone.16
In setting proper standards for cloning research, the
non-dogmatic, non-ideological criterion should be to protect sentient life
expressed in a suitably complex multicellular structure. The small
collection of cells constituting the blastocyst is clearly not sentient.
Therefore, ideological considerations aside, there should be no principled
objection to the continued study of research cloning with human embryonic
stem cells. Of course, patients are the ultimate bottom line. Daniel Perry
estimates that as many as 12.5 million Americans suffer diseases or
disorders that might be aided by stem cell research.17
This number is likely to increase with our aging population. They will not
be a silent majority.
1. J.D. Watson, in “Engineering The
Human Germline, A Symposium” (www.ess.ucla.edu/huge),
published as Engineering the Human Germline: An Exploration of the Science
and Ethics of Altering the Genes We Pass to Our Children, G. Stock and J.
Campbell, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
2. Leon R. Kass, “Preventing a
Brave New World: Why We Should Ban Human Cloning Now,” The New Republic,
May 17, 2001; “The Wisdom of Repugnance,” The New Republic, June 2,
1997, pp. 17–26.
3. Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman
Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar,
Strauss, and Giroux, 2001).
4. N.P. Walsh, “Alter Our DNA or
Robots Will Take Over, Warns Hawking,” The Observer (London), September
6. Ironically, at the very time that
the Commission was announcing its proposed moratorium, two very important
papers concerning therapeutic applications of clonal technology appeared.
The first is J.-H. Kim, J.M. Auerbach, J. A. Rodriguez-Gomez et al.,
“Dopamine Neurons Derived from Embryonic Stem Cells Function in an
Animal Model of Parkinson’s Disease,” Nature 418 (2002): 50–56.
7. The second: Y. Jang, B.N.
Jahagirdar, R.L. Reinhardt et al., “Pluripotency of Mesenchymal Stem
Cells Derived from Adult Marrow,” Nature 418 (2002): 41–49.
8. D. Humphereys, K. Eggan, H. Akutsu,
et al. “Abnormal Gene Expression in Cloned Mice Derived from Embryonic
Stem Cell and Cumulus Cell Nuclei,” Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences of the USA 99 (2002): 12889–12894.
9. H.J. Muller, Mutation Research 1:
2–9, 1964. See also discussion in Olivia Judson, Dr. Tatiana’s Sex
Advice to All Creation (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2002).
10. D. Fox, “The Descent of
Man,” New Scientist, August 24, 2002: 28–33.
11. M.J. Sandel, “The Anti-Cloning
Conundrum,” New York Times, May 28, 2002.
12. E.D. Pellegrino, National
Bioethics Advisory Commission, Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research,
volume 3, Religious Perspectives, 2000.
13. Ronald Green, The Human Embryo
Research Debates: Bioethics in the Vortex of Controversy (Oxford, U.K.:
Oxford University Press, 2001).
14. D.J. Triggle, “Stemming the
Tide,” Pharmaceutical News 8 (2001):1 (from which portions of this
article have been adapted ).
15. Adam Smith, The Wealth of
Nations, ed. E. Cannan (New York: Modern Library, 1994), orig. ed. 1776.
16. The Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority, http://www.hfea.gov.uk
17. D. Perry, “Patients’ Voices:
the Powerful Sound in the Stem Cell Debate,” Science 287 (1999): 1423.