The poor cloning debate has turned into a thoroughly-beaten dead horse and yet, here I find myself, brandishing a fresh cudgel and eying the rhetorical equestrian corpse for some worthy target. Let me begin by doing something people rarely do when debating issues like this: state what I am actually defending.
I, Kyle Munkittrick, believe that cloning is a method of reproduction that will fall under the rubric of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and current animals produced by cloning show mutations and complications from the genetic level up through basic body shape and size. Based on lessons learned from previous ARTs, such as IVF, standards for deeming cloning a “safe” method of reproduction must be significantly higher and more rigorous before it is an option for human reproduction. Once safe, however, cloning has no ethical complications and should be legal for any parent who wishes to clone their child to be able to do so. Claims of damage to society, to parent-child relations, or to fundamental child psychology are all erroneous, particularly in the context of our current society’s diversity of family structures, methods of reproduction (both natural and ART), and flexible understanding of parenthood.
My response is to Adam Keiper and Ari Schulman of The New Atlantis and its blog Futurisms. Their posts “Clone Knowns and Unknowns” and “Attack of the Cloners” are sufficiently representative to be used as general examples of bioconservative argumentation methods as well as ethical positions. There are arguments that neither Keiper nor Schulman make, such as the Kassian “yuck” factor argument or the concern of “playing God,” which, given the utter baseless nature of those arguments, is understandable. Beginning with Schulman’s post, I will take their arguments point by point.
1. Reproductive Equivalence:
Schulman first quotes my assertion that cloning is merely another means of reproduction. My point in that quotation is that there is nothing unique about cloning ethically per se regarding either genetics or method from current techniques. The huge diversity of family formations and massive changes in parent-child role throughout the 20th century have largely undermined the significance of actual genetic relationship. Schulman attempts to refute the first point with a second quotation in which I challenge the line “But our genetic uniqueness is an important source of our sense of who we are and how we regard ourselves” as authored by the President’s Council on Bioethics. I end my challenge with the question of who still identifies with their genetics in that way. Schulman uses Caplan’s own statement as an answer: “I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share. I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.” Thus, if I’m reading it correctly, Schulman is arguing a) I assert that genetics doesn’t make a difference re: reproduction and that b) we don’t identify with our genetics, but my defense of Caplan is undermined because of c) Caplan identifies with his genetics, therefore arguments A and B are undermined. The clincher is that the threat of cloning as seen by the PCB is that the cloned child would have to live in the shadow of the parent, which Caplan seems to confirm.
Schulman does not actually refute either the point that cloning isn’t significantly different from other ARTs or methods of reproduction in general (therefore I see that as a point in my column) or the point that we do not generally identify with our genetics (I do not twist the PCB’s language and Schulman provides no alternate interpretation). His argument is based on the assumption that Caplan is identifying with his genetics and, therefore, Caplan’s statement provides the evidence necessary to undermine my claim that we don’t identify with genetics, which in turn undermines my claim that cloning is insufficiently different from other ARTs to merit concern.
There are two responses. The first is that Caplan is a genetic determinist and wants to raise his clone to be just like him. In this case, one would merely reply by stating that Caplan’s motives for cloning and his understanding of how genetics work is faulty, but that his statement does not undermine my points A and B; no where in my arguments did I rely on Caplan’s construction or portrayal of cloning, but was in fact defending cloning in general, which would falsify his statement in addition to Keiper and the PCB’s arguments, not my own. However, I do not believe Caplan is a determinist or that his thoughts are to be construed the way Schulman intends. Given that a) Caplan has twin children, he intimately understands genes do not determine an individual b) Caplan at no point says that the sublime bond is due to the child being a result of cloning or that it would be anymore sublime than his bond with his current children and c) the statement “I would love to be raised by me” can apply to any child he has. Furthermore, for anyone who reads Caplan regularly, the tongue-in-cheek nature of point C would be evident.
Schulman’s effort to show contradiction among my own points in defense of cloning as well as with Caplan’s falls apart under scrutiny.
2. A Sober Look at Assisted Reproduction
Schulman first quotes Cheryl Miller’s “Donated Generation” piece which quotes Elizabeth Marquardt’s statements about the child psychology of donor based children. The quotation is meant to make it look like these weird family situations somehow harm the child’s psychological and social development. Susan Golombok, Fiona MacCallum, and Emma Goodman’s research in “The Test Tube Generation: Parent-Child Relationships and the Well-Being of In Vitro Fertilization Children at Adolescence” (Child Development, March 2001, Vol 72.) and “Families with Children Conceived by Donor Insemination: A Follow-Up at Age Twelve” (Child Development, May/June, 2002 Vol. 73) both conclude that though there are changes in family dynamic and understanding of “parents” all the children were psychologically and socially well-adjusted as well as or better than control groups.
Schulman italicizes the final line of Miller’s quotation “If biology matters to parents, Marquardt asks, why wouldn’t it also matter to children?” Schulman extends this logic to Caplan, noting that if Caplan prefers a clone to other methods of reproduction, then genetics must matter. Here I offer no disagreement. Caplan’s reasons don’t make much sense if one looks at things logically. Of course, by logical standards most people should adopt: there are too many orphans, pregnancy is difficult and expensive (more so if ARTs are involved), and it helps society overall. Yet most don’t, because reproduction is an extremely personal decision. Schulman’s attempt at pop-psychology by reading into a single paragraph by Caplan as to the exact reasons for why he wants a clone and, furthermore, what it says about cloning in general and how Caplan runs his family is preposterous.
The suggestion that Caplan would raise the cloned child alone or without his wife’s consent remains unfounded and pointless to debate. Just because Caplan doesn’t say “my wife and I want a clone” and “I would love to be raised by my wife and me” doesn’t mean it isn’t implied. The onus of the assumption is still Schulman and Keiper’s, not Caplan’s.
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Cloning
Schulman, presuming his shoddy argumentation has actually achieved something resembling a point, proceeds to act as if my statements remain in tension with themselves and with Caplan’s argument. Schulman then makes a statement about transhumanist arguments in general that displays his genuine ignorance of how or why this debate is being conducted:
The underlying pattern is to describe the potentially novel good of some new enhancement, but then rebuff potential criticism of that good by claiming that the enhancement actually won’t be very different from anything we already have.
Schulman, prick up your ears my good sir, and listen. The “novel good of some new enhancement” is a qualitative improvement in a person’s life or in a particular activity – such as being able to prevent a disease, improve relationships, or create another option for reproduction – while the “claiming that the enhancement actually won’t be different from anything we already have” is regarding its ethical relationship to the status quo. A condom is ethically no different than birth control or a vasectomy, but all three of those have qualitative differences. If I introduced a new method of birth control that was qualitatively better in all ways than these three combined, it would be a “novel good” that is ethically no different from the previous technologies, as the intent to prevent pregnancy and disease while allowing intercourse remains unchanged.
On to Keiper
I have no disagreement with Keiper here. IVF was insufficiently tested and clinical trials did not reveal problems that are now being discovered. Cloning needs significantly higher standards of safety and more rigorous testing before general usage is deemed acceptable.
2. You Don’t Hate Children, Do You?
Keiper claims my statement that bioconservatives perpetuate and entrench the very stigmas they say will cause psychological trauma for cloned children is risible. Glad I gave you T n’ A TNA (snicker) folks a chuckle. Keiper says I am co-opting civil rights language, though I don’t see how defending a group of people as being equal to other people isn’t a civil rights issue, but anyway. Ok fine, you don’t think clones are inherently lesser, that doesn’t undermine my point. Let’s go to the tape.
Keiper states “When the critics of biotechnologies, especially new reproductive techniques, try to understand and explain the moral problems involved in those technologies, it is with the aim of preserving human dignity.” In addition, he states that “The debate over cloning is about changing the nature of procreation, and about the profound effects of that change.” So, Keiper and Schulman’s concern with cloning is that it harms the dignity of a cloned human, uh, somehow. I never quite get that connection made clearly for me. Here again, we see the same error made by Schulman, except in reverse. Keiper’s concern about the “profound effects of that change” sees a huge ethical and tries to use qualitative difference as evidence, but can’t muster either one. If cloning is unsafe, well, unsafe medical procedures are wrong in general. Cloning changes the relationship between parents and children in lots of ways, but none of which are unique to cloning. Maybe it’s the amount of planning that goes into the child makes it feel different, a la Habermas? But then parents who waited till they were financially sound and used birth control would have the same psychological effect. Similarity to another person? All kids live in their parents or a relative’s shadow, twins have the most difficult possible scenario and are fine. I don’t see the problem here.
I find it interesting that Keiper only disagrees with my argumentative construction; he offers no critique of cloning nor does he explain, exactly, how it violates human dignity. Neither he nor Schulman actually engage my rebuttals to their arguments against cloning. While they’re busy (incorrectly) criticizing my (awesome, flawless, Apollonian) technique, I’m winning the debate as to whether or not cloning itself is ethical. I have a stack of articles and books waiting to back me up, gentlemen, so feel free to fire a return salvo at your leisure.
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
Nicole Sallak Anderson is a Computer Science graduate from Purdue University. She developed encryption and network security software, which inspired the eHuman Trilogy—both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception are available at Amazon, the third installment is expected in early 2016. She is a member of the advisory board for the Lifeboat Foundation and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
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