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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Reproductive Cloning

In this post I mentioned that I am in support of reproductive cloning, and was asked in the comments to explain why. So here goes. The primary reason of course is that I hope to someday build a clone army and conquer the galaxy. In all seriousness though, when it boils down to it, I support reproductive cloning because I cannot see any reason not to. There are dangers in having too many clones of a single person. For example, if half of the populous was a clone of Angelina Jolie, while it would be visually appealing and dramatically increase my chances of dating her, if it turned out that she has a genetic flaw such as a predisposition toward a certain illness, the results could be catastrophic. That said, I doubt that result is very likely to occur. If reproductive cloning were allowed it is unlikely that clones would ever make up a large percentage of the population and even if there were thousands of clones of a single individual (unlikely) they would not measurable effect the genetic diversity of humanity. This danger is much more likely to happen as a result of genetic engineering (which I also support) than it is to happen from cloning. Nonetheless, as reproductive cloning could represent a radical change, it is well to examine thoroughly the arguments against it. This President's Council on Bioethics paper provides and extensive list of arguments against this. The first argument the paper raises is health concerns given the current state of the technology. I will freely admit to these, but as the paper itself mentions these are probably temporary in nature and not a reason to reject reproductive cloning in principle. It would be analogous to the government rejecting powered flight because the Wright Flyer was not stable and capable of extended flying. The next point they raise is one of consent. First, the need to get consent from the person being created (an impossibility as the paper admits.) I will agree to this provision if it is also agreed that all parents must gain the consent of their unconcieved child before conception. After all, the child might not like their parents, or may feel that life is too hard and would rather avoid it and it is unfair for us to force life upon them. This is of course a ridiculous argument and not even worthy of discussing further. The second point made about consent is that people might be cloned without their permission. I certainly agree that we should decide on property rights for DNA as well as criminal penalties for taking property without that right. There are various ramifications of how this could play out. Nonetheless, while important to consider it doesn't seem to be in any way an argument against reproductive cloning itself. Using the airplane example again, it is like outlawing powered flight in 1900 because someone could someday hijack an airliner. The third point is on Eugenics and Genetic enhancement. Once again, this is only very tangentially related to human cloning, and their attempts to connect the two are pretty weak. I support both, so perhaps another post on why I support Genetics Enhancement would be in order, but I won't go into all the arguments in this post. Even if I found their arguments against Genetic enhancement convincing, I still don't see any viable reasons based upon them to not allow cloning. There best argument for linking the two is this:

In the future, if techniques for precise genetic engineering become available, cloning could be useful for perpetuating the enhanced traits created by such techniques, and for keeping the "superior" man-made genotype free of the flaws that sexual reproduction might otherwise introduce.
However, it seems obvious that if we can engineer the superior genotype, then we have absolutely no need for either cloned or sexual reproduction to maintain it. I think it safe to consider this particular point irrelevant. The next point made is respect for nature. The President's Council invokes the environmentalist precautionary principle. The idea that nothing can be done unless we know for certain no negatives will result means an end to all human technological progress. It means we must abandon science. If our ancestors had practiced this principle we would still be living in caves and eating raw meat (actually, we would probably be extinct.) Nature is neither wise nor kind. It just is. It kills off far more species than it lets lives. The real argument here of course is not respect for Nature, but respect for God, and fear of using our God given talents in ways that may displease him. I don't claim to speak for God, but I think any God worth the name rejoiced when we learn more, when we gain more control over nature. That is what humans are best at after all, and is why we are the dominate species on the planet even though Nature has left us weak and slow and with dull senses compared to other animals. If God wanted us to fly he would have given us wings was the old argument. I believe it is effectively countered by the idea that God gave us a brain sufficient to understand and apply the principles of aerodynamics. The same arguments can hold true for human cloning. Point 5 of the paper is Manufacture and Commodification. Again, most of this argument seems to be far more related to genetic engineering than cloning in and of itself. However, it is probably worthwhile refuting some of the specific arguments in this point. The paper says:
In natural procreation, two individuals come together to give life to a new individual as a consequence of their own being and their own connection with one another, rather than merely of their will. They do not design the final product, they give rise to the child of their embodied selves, and they therefore do not exert control over the process or the resulting child. They beget something that is in essence like themselves; they do not make something that is in essence their own. The product of this process, therefore, stands beside them fully as a fellow human being, and not beneath them as a thing made by them with only their own purposes in mind. A manufactured thing can never stand beside its human maker as an equal, but a begotten child does stand equally beside its parents. The natural procreative process allows human beings -- through the union of male and female -- to make way for fellow human beings, to whom they give rise, but whom they do not make. It thus endows each new generation with the dignity and freedom enjoyed by all that came before it.
Some parents of course treat their children as equal in human dignity, others do not. Regardless, we legally remove all rights of a parent over their child at the age of 18. I don't see any reason why this would be different for a cloned being. I also take issue with the statement that a "manufacture thing can never stand beside it's human maker as an equal." This is detailed further slightly farther down the paper:
Things made by man stand subservient to the man who made them. Manufactured goods are always understood to have been made to serve a purpose, not to exist independently and freely. Scientists who clone (or even merely breed) animals make no secret of the instrumental purposes behind their actions -- they act with specific instrumental ends in mind, and the resulting animals are means to that preexisting end. Human cloning threatens to introduce the same approach and the same attitudes into human procreation.
This is a false argument. Manufactured goods are properly considered less than human because we have not been able to manufacture our equals, not because the very fact of them being manufactured changes their nature. One can clearly see this in the cloned animals argument. The paper explicitly acknowledges that even breeding animals has a purpose, and the animals are considered less than human. Indeed, we consider animals that we do not specifically breed to also be less than human and most of us feel there is nothing wrong with hunting a deer, for example. The point is clear, animals are considered less than human because they are animals, regardless of whether or not they are cloned. Humans should, and I certainly believe would, be considered humans regardless of whether they are cloned as well. Even if we never embrace reproductive cloning or genetic engineering we still may have to deal with this issue though. If we develop artificial intelligence is it ethical to automatically consider such an intelligence to be 'less than human' because it was made, not born? I submit that a better guide for what sort of beings deserve rights must be developed than whether or not we make them. Regardless, cloning is a very simple thing to deal with in this debate, as it is quite clear that a clone would possess the basic attributes (and hence should be considered to have the same basic rights) as the individual it was cloned from. The fact that slave owners bred slaves with certain attributes in mind (hence they manufactured them) does not change the fact that owning those bred slaves was wrong. This section also contains worry about egg donors becoming a commodity and being treated like a natural resource. The entire argument here seems very silly to me. First off, I highly doubt that reproductive cloning will ever be as popular as artificial fertilization. Even if it were to eclipse it however, I still don't see the harm. They seem concerned that this will somehow lead to the exploitation of women. That concern, at least in relation to this topic, seems incredibly far-fetched to me. The paper also says:
"Reproductive" cloning presents us with the potential for a market in clones of particular outstanding individuals (as in some sense already occurs with existing techniques when potential parents seek egg or sperm donors with high IQs or deep blue eyes); or more generally for the further encroachment of market principles and profit motive into the realm of human procreation. Present techniques already point the way toward a world of celebrity cell auctions and rent-a-womb agencies, and the widespread use of human "reproductive" cloning might very well get us there.
There are perhaps some valid ethical questions here, but they don't seem to connect all that strongly to reproductive cloning. Is it ok, or not ok, to seek out specific qualities in a mate based upon qualities you want you child to have? It is ok, or not ok, to pay for them? Certainly Rich men have been able to acquire beautiful women (and hence more attractive children) for a long time now. Womb rental seems only slightly more desirable with reproductive cloning than without it. Are we pleased or sad that modern medicine, and OBGYNs have connected 'market principles and profit motive' to the process of giving birth, and lowered the infant mortality rate and chances of a women dying in child birth greatly at the same time? We can, and should decide such things. The decisions I believe should be the same, with or without human reproductive cloning. The next section is about Identity and Individuality. This section is about concern for the mental well being of a cloned individual. Here is the heart of that argument:
Our genetic uniqueness, manifested externally in our looks and our fingerprints and internally in our immune systems, is one source of our sense of freedom and independence. It symbolizes our autonomy and it endows us with a sense of possibility. Each of us knows that no one has ever had our unique combination of natural characteristics before. We know that no one knows all the potentialities contained within that combination. A cloned child, however, will live out a life shaped by a genotype that has already lived. However much or little this may actually mean in terms of hard scientific fact, it could mean a great deal to that individual's experience of life. He or she may be constantly held up to the model of the source of his or her cloned genotype, or may (consciously and unconsciously) hold himself or herself up to that model. He or she would be denied the opportunity to live a life that in all respects has never been lived before, and (perhaps more importantly) might know things about his or her own genetic destiny that may constrain his or her range of options and sense of freedom.
Certainly children currently compare themselves to their parents, their siblings, and their friends and perceived failings are a source of dismay. One could argue that a cloned child would have an advantage, not a disadvantage in this. A clone of Michael Jordan has a much better chance of being able to equal (or even exceed) Jordan's accomplishments than a son of Michael Jordan would. Yet Michael Jordan's son would probably experience significant pressure to be a good basketball player regardless. Everyone's life is different, and everyone has pressures placed upon them. Some have more, some less. Clones would probably be no different than the rest of us in this, except that the pressure is more likely to be achievable for them. It is also interesting that the paper makes the point several times that genetics is not destiny. If they so strongly believe this, it seems that widespread cloning would prove this point, and avert the very dangers they see. It would also alleviate the GATTACA scenario, where genetics are thought to be the key everything a person can accomplish. Indeed, if one fears genetics and genetic engineering because it may produce unfounded belief that a persons genes are their destiny, than cloning would be the surest way to combat that danger. If my 3 billion clones of Angelina Jolie were all different, it would show clearly that we are all more than our genes. One can reasonably assume from this that this argument is either a straw man argument, or that the writers of the paper believe the opposite and that genetics is destiny and they fear that outcome. Regardless, we can safely dismiss it here. It is also reasonable to consider that a cloned child might be better off in many other ways than a naturally conceived child. First off, one can be assured that the child was wanted and desired. Even if cloning were to become very cheap, it would never happen by accident. Secondly, if I were to clone myself and raise that child it would be likely that I would be more understanding, not less, of any failings or weaknesses in that child. Whether I believe nature or nurture was predominant, the fault would mostly be in me, not the child. Indeed, I would have to humbly acknowledge that any mistakes the child made were one I might have, under different circumstances, made myself. The paper also tries to make this point:
As discussed above, a begotten child stands in the same relation to the world as his parents; a created child -- any kind of manufactured or designed child -- does not. He stands beneath his parents and others in a way that children generally do not: as a human artifact designed and constructed. This fact of his origins almost cannot help but harm the cloned person's sense of individuality and freedom.
I cannot help but think the opposite. A cloned child would be much more 'equal' to his parent than a naturally conceived child. He will know that his potential is at least as great as what his 'parent' has achieved. I think that this statement says more about the authors of the paper than it does about cloned children. They seem convinced that a clone would be a lesser creature by nature. As I mentioned above, that attitude is troubling. The paper then goes into a prolonged section on how cloning would 'destroy the family' because you would have both parent and sibling, and parents and grandparents in a single relationship. Once again there are lots of mights and maybes without any real reasoning as to hows or whys. I imagine that there would be differences between a clone family and other families. I strongly doubt that it would be more significant than differences between one family and another now. Some families are the traditional nuclear family, with a close relation to extended relatives. Others are single parent families. Still others are grandparents raising grandchildren. Even worse, some are extremely dysfunctional with alcoholic or drug abusing parents and abuse. Even the traditional family has changed in living memory. It was not too long ago that most families remained in close proximity to one another across multiple generations. Grandparents would live with, or near, their children and take an extensive part in raising them. That is much more rare today. Family structure has of course evolved greatly over time, mostly as a result of technological change. This is always a mixed blessing, with good and bad effects, but abandoning technology because a change might have bad components is of course foolish. This bit of the argument I think deserves explicit refutation:
Rather than accept whatever child they turn out to have given rise to, these parents determine in advance what sort of child they will accept. The resulting child is much more the product of these expectations than a child conceived in the natural way would be. Such a cloned child is likely to be regarded more like a possession of its parents, or even an instrument of their will, than a normally conceived child would be. The parents begin their child's life with an overbearing act that must be said to border on despotism. They begin the new child's life by restricting the new child's independence and individuality. The family, in this way, loses something of its character as a nursery of a novel and independent new human generation, and gains something of the character of an instrument of the present generation. This does not mean that the parents are ill-intentioned, but it could very well mean that their children are less free to flourish. The character of families thus changes in ways we may not like.
I don't buy the notion that a cloned child would be more regarded as a possession than a normally conceived child. One might could make the argument that a possessive person would be more likely to want a clone than a non possessive person would be, but even that I find to be unlikely. The most possessive parents don't seem to be those who are successful, but those who are not and strive to make up for their failings with their child. I doubt such a person would be more likely to want a clone of them self, perhaps even less likely than most. A person like that might want to raise a clone of a successful person, but even that seems somewhat unlikely as the clones successes would not be seen to make up for their own failings. I don't see how a clone's parents would begin their "child's life with an overbearing act that must be said to border on despotism." One could say, I suppose, that any parent begins their child’s life with an overbearing act that must be said to border on despotism. No one gets to choose if they are born or not. No one gets to choose who their parents are and what genes they have. One could as easily call making some of these choices, rather than leaving the result up to blind chance, to be an act of love. I grant, that when I build my clone army it will be an act of despotism, but that will be the entire purpose. The last section is titled Impact on Society. I have read it several times, and it does not seem to actually say anything of substance. It makes the point that not prohibiting cloning is permitting it, which is true, but obvious. It explains that we have collective responsibility about the morality of what we permit (and prohibit) which is an equally facile point. What it fails to do is in any way show that cloning would damage society, or that it is wrong with it beyond what has been described previously. It concludes:
A society that produces children through cloning is a society that thinks about children and family and the human condition in a certain way; and we must be given the option, as a society, to decide if that is the way that we wish to think about these most important matters.
I would rebut, that a society that is so paranoid about potential damage individuals with freedom may do to it's structure is one headed for despotism. There are millions of choices we make that can possibly 'harm the family' or damage someone's sense of self worth and individuality. We can analyze who would make 'good' or 'bad' parents and curtail reproductive rights accordingly. All freedom is dangerous in one-way or another to the status quo. It is the essence of freedom to be so. I would also point out that the harms this paper envisions are more, not less, likely if we prohibit cloning. If cloning is not legal, it will be done illegally and there will be no protections in place to limit or control possible abuses. If our nation does not allow cloning, than other nations will, and they will be more, not less, likely to create standards for it that we do not like. If we lead in this, we can develop responsible guidelines for how it is done, how human life, regardless of its genesis should be treated. If we prohibit cloning, we will have nothing to say in that argument, indeed we will be buttressing the concept that a clone is less than a person. The council has also produced this paper with arguments for human cloning. I have not read it yet, but I will after I post this. I prefer to post my own thoughts on this, rather than someone else’s. It is also worth briefly discussing the most likely types of human cloning that could occur and briefly discussing their special ethical considerations. The first is cloning an exceptional or celebrity person. Creating a 1000 Einsteins for example. I think it obvious that any living person should have the sole right to their genetic blueprint. Permission should be required for any cloning of a person and penalties placed upon those who do not follow this. A clone would naturally have rights to his genetic blueprint as well and could, upon reaching the age of majority, grant rights for further cloning (the copy of a copy may be an issue here though, we'll have to see.) A person should also be able to indicate in their will whether they will allow or disallow any clones being created from them after they are dead. I think one can reasonably debate whether the unspecified condition (and this would apply to anyone who has died previously) is to allow or disallow this process. This leads us to the second example, cloning a dead loved one, particularly a child. I am not certain a parent should 'own' the rights to a child’s genetic structure. That seems personal enough that only the child should own it. This procedure would either be allowed or denied, depending on what default condition is assumed for dead people. While there may be certain expectations of similarity between the dead child and the clone, I don't think there is any reason to believe that most families who cared enough to have this done wouldn't adapt just fine to those differences. Identical twins have the same genetic structure and we accept that they will still be different in some ways. It is fair to note though that Identical twins, even when separated at birth, are usually remarkably similar so the parents would probably be able to correctly see a lot of their dead child in the clone. While this might put some pressure on the clone, at the same time knowing that ones parents loved who they were enough to want exactly the same thing again would likely be a source of comfort. As with all families there would be good and bad ones who chose this option. The last is cloning (and raising) oneself. This probably creeps people out the most. As I mentioned above though, one could make a very good case that the clone would be more loved, and the parent more understanding, than with a normal child. To the extent that narcissism is genetic, both the parent and the child may well revel in their similarities. I believe that options and differences are a source of strength, not weakness. Perhaps we will find that clones are all depressed about life and unhappy with their lot, and if we do, we should certainly reassess. Perhaps though, we will find that clones are happier than most and have a better sense of who they are and greater confidence in themselves. To fear the unknowable negatives so strongly that we lose any chance at the positives seems the height of foolishness to me. In my post about morality I advocated a sense of humility toward traditions and how society has evolved in guiding ones moral choices. I hold to that belief, but it does not always apply, and new things are the most significant time when it does not. The Wright Brothers could not look at society to determine if building an airplane was good or bad, it had never been done before. Similarly society has not adapted with reproductive cloning, and it tells us nothing specific about how it should be regarded. History does tell us that the humanity is better off because of technological advancements, and that those who fear change to greatly to adapt are eventually destroyed. I believe our greatest purpose, our most noble calling as a species, is to 'play God.' It should be a goal of humanity to spread life to the stars, to create other intelligent creatures and increase in all ways the bounds of the possible. Cloning is a small step toward this grand goal, but embracing it and doing it responsibly can set a moral tone for all that is to follow. Clones, like so much else in our future, will be our creations. Lets make them equals, not slaves.


Blogger RFTR said...

This is way too freaking long for me to read surreptitiously at work, so I'll look tonight and respond then.

6/09/2005 11:04:00 AM  

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