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IEET > Rights > ReproRights > J. Hughes

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Cloning As A Valid Reproductive Choice

J. Hughes
By J. Hughes
Hartford Courant

Posted: Oct 21, 2002

Reproductive cloning should be a legal reproductive option once it is safe, even if the right to clone is not a very important right.

This past spring, the Bush administration and pro-life Republicans in the United States Congress killed legislation that would have banned reproductive cloning - cloning to make babies - by insisting that the bills also ban cloning for research purposes. Now the Bush administration, the Vatican and bloc of Catholic countries have killed a treaty at the United Nations to ban reproductive cloning. Again, the Bush and his fundamentalist allies want the treaty to go further to include banning any use of embryo cloning, which the Franco-German U.N. committee will not agree to.

Although I don’t agree with the Bush and Vatican reasons for opposing the cloning bans, I welcome the fact that they are a roadblock in this silly stampede.

To be sure, reproductive cloning is not currently safe, and any group or doctor offering it to desperate couples should be barred from doing so. But once research has perfected reproductive cloning, there are no sound ethical reasons to forbid its use by would-be parents. The timing and kind of children we bear are some of the most personal and life-changing decisions we can make, which is why our reproductive freedoms are so important. The right to use cloning, once safe, should be another reproductive choice to be protected along with contraception and abortion.

Not long ago, bad science fiction movies and religious dogmas were arrayed against “test-tube babies.” Today in-vitro fertilization is an accepted, mundane, widely used tool. Just as with in-vitro fertilization, opponents of reproductive cloning deploy a dozen
tenuous, hypothetical scenarios in which society or the clones would be harmed by cloning. But none of these makeshift reasons are weighty enough to deny people the right to control their own reproduction.

Francis Fukuyama, of the President’s Council on Bioethics, warns that fathers will lust after daughters cloned from their mothers, since they will resemble the mother as a young girl. Yet this is really an argument for adoption, because many girls resemble their mothers.

Opponents worry about a “brave new world” or “designer babies” and the supposed slippery slope to totalitarianism. But the problem with reproduction in the novel “Brave New World” was precisely that control over baby-making had been taken away from parents and given to the state. There is no slippery slope from parents freely choosing to use cloning to totalitarianism, and dictators don’t need to clone armies when they can build them more cheaply and quickly the old way.

Opponents also fret that clones will face inordinate expectations from their parents. But if clones are harmed by their parents’ expectations, especially the expectation that kids have the same tastes, values and abilities as their parents, then very few people should have children at all.

Some oppose cloning on the grounds that it will only be available to the wealthy and is a waste of resources that could be better used. But that is also true of fertility treatments in general. The way to give more people more access to quality health care is by creating a national health insurance system, not by banning elective, out-of-pocket services.

Finally, some argue that people will be harmed by not being biologically unique. Of course, no one’s DNA should be used without permission. But where does the harm come from in having a twin? Most twins appear to value their closeness. As annoyed as we can be by our similarities to our parents, they are also important to the parent-child bond. Clones will simply be delayed twins and beloved children, with all the rights and burdens of any child.

The right to have a cloned child, like the right to wear a red hat, is not an important right in the scheme of things. But if we take away this right because of irrational fears, we will have lost a small measure of our freedom for no gain. Until the global hysteria about cloning settles, here is one small cheer for the Bush administration’s inadvertent obstruction of efforts to ban it altogether.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)
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