Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Why We Should Ban the Cloning of Human Beings

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Why We Should Ban the Cloning of Human Beings

Article excerpt

"To clone or not to clone a human being" is no longer a fanciful question. Success in cloning first sheep, then cows, and most recently, great success in cloning mice makes it perfectly clear that a fateful decision is now at hand: should we welcome or even tolerate the cloning of human beings?

We dare not be complacent about what is at issue, for the stakes are very high indeed. Human cloning, though partly continuous with previous reproductive technologies, is also something radically new, both in itself and in its easily foreseeable consequences. I exaggerate, but in the direction of truth: we are compelled to decide nothing less than whether human procreation is going to remain human, whether children are going to be made rather than begotten, and whether we wish to say yes in principle to the road that leads to the dehumanized hell of Brave New World.

I address this subject at greater length in a new book coauthored with James Q. Wilson, The Ethics of Human Cloning.1 My goal here is to begin to persuade the reader, first that cloning is a serious evil, both in itself and in what it leads to, and second, that we ought to try to stop it by legislative prohibition. But before doing so I will offer a brief synopsis of the state of the art.

What is cloning? Cloning, or asexual reproduction, is the production of individuals who are genetically identical to an already existing individual. The procedure's name is fancy-- somatic cell nuclear transfer-but its concept is simple. Take a mature but unfertilized egg; remove its nucleus; replace it with a nucleus obtained from a specialized (i.e., somatic) cell of an adult organism. Since almost all the hereditary material of a cell is contained within its nucleus, the re-nucleated egg and the individual into which it develops are genetically identical to the organism that was the source of the transferred nucleus. An unlimited number of genetically identical individuals-clones-- could be produced by nuclear transfer. In principle, any person, male or female, newborn or adult, could be cloned, and in any quantity; and, because stored cells can outlive their sources, one may even clone the dead. How soon someone will succeed in cloning a human being is anybody's guess, but an attempt to do so using this technique could be made today.

Some possible misconceptions need to be avoided. First, cloning is not copying. The clone of Mel Gibson, though his genetic double, would enter the world hairless, toothless, and peeing in his diapers, like any other human infant. But neither is cloning just like natural twinning. With cloning, the twin will be identical to an existing adult, will arise not by chance but by deliberate design, and the entire genetic make-up will be preselected by the parents and/or scientists. Further, the success rate, at least at first, will probably not be very high. The Scots transferred 277 adult nuclei into sheep eggs and implanted 29 clonal embryos, but achieved the birth of only one live lamb clone. For this reason, among others, it is unlikely that, at least for now, the practice would be very popular, and there is no immediate worry of mass-scale production of multicopies. Still, for the tens of thousands of people who sustain over three hundred assisted-reproduction clinics in the United States and already avail themselves of in vitro fertilization and other techniques, cloning would be an option with virtually no added fuss. If commercial interests develop in "nucleus-banking," as they have in sperm-banking and egg-harvesting, if famous athletes or other celebrities decide to market their DNA the way they now market their autographs and nearly everything else, and if techniques of embryo and germline genetic testing and manipulation arrive as anticipated, increasing the use of laboratory-assistance in order to obtain "better" babies-then cloning, if permitted, could become more than a marginal practice simply on the basis of free reproductive choice. …

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