Bryan Caplan says: “I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.”
I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally. Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet. Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son. Seriously. 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. I’m not pushing others to clone themselves. I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream. I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone. Is that too much to ask?
Then, Cowen being Cowen, he asks his readers to share their thoughts as to why or why not cloning should be allowed. His blog, Marginal Revolution, is known for having an impressive readership, but the vast majority of comments boiled down to simplistic and poorly constructed arguments. Anti-cloning arguments as drawn from the MR thread can be reduced to the following:
1. Yuk! a la Leon Kass. This is not a rational argument, but in fact is supported by the instinctual revulsion to the concept.
2. Caplan, as a stand in for anyone who wants a clone, is arrogant, vain, and an egomaniac.
These first two points aren’t even arguments, just gut reactions with no warrant.
3. Cloning reduces genetic diversity.
4. Cloning will be psychologically harmful to the child.
5. Cloning will be physically harmful to the child.
6. Cloning will complicate legal/domestic situations.
None of these cases hold water.
3a. Cloning no more alters genetic diversity than having twins does. Issues of genetic diversity would only arise if most births were of the same clone, not if lots and lots of different people each had clones. A population of 50,000 is sufficient for genetic diversity.
3b. It is reasonable to assume that a society in which cloning is perfected would have some degree of genetic engineering. If cloning is possible, then genetic safeties and enhancements are likely possible, further negating problems of diversity.
4a. Being a twin is not psychologically harmful. No precedent.
4b. Any child raised in a neglectful, abusive, or manipulative household will be traumatized. There is no evidence that a cloned child would be any more subject to these problems than any other. Given the extra and deliberate steps necessary to create a clone, one might argue the child would be more wanted and cherished, therefore in an above average situation.
4c. The primary threat of psychological trauma comes from outside the family, among those who used arguments (1) and (2) to argue that cloning is inherently wrong. Those individuals who are disgusted by cloning would be the very people who would damage the child’s psyche through indirect insults, questioning the child’s humanity, and general revulsion.
5a. No sane proponent of cloning (and Caplan is quite sane) advocates the process if it is unsafe. Animal testing must be thorough, rigorous, and successes conclusive and easily repeatable. As with any other process, such as IVF, there will be risks early on, but those risks must first be at or below the level of standard, unassisted pregnancy before experiments on humans are even considered.
5b. Safe, successful cloning would, by definition, have no complications or affects on the child of note. If this is the case, cloning is no more physically dangerous than being a twin.
6a. Identity is not determined by genetics, identical twins prove this. The law would be no different than it is for identical twins. The clone would have a new social security number, new birth certificate, and the rest of the grid (school enrollment, passport number, drivers license, etc) would fall into place, entrenching and reinforcing the individual identity of that person, just as it does for all of us.
6b. Issues of “raising oneself” or “falling in love again with the clone of one’s wife” or abusing one’s clone as “masturbation” demonstrate not problems of cloning but the various strains of pathology running through the minds of commenters. Most of us have a friend who looks “just like” their parent did at a given age, with similar quirks, interests, physical affectations and behaviors. No one would make the above arguments in the later case. Gross oversimplification of psychology and parent/child relationships is required to even consider these points. I often am at a loss to address these arguments because they require such a demented and pathological view of humanity I feel there is no hope of convincing those who believe them.
There is one real moral objection to cloning: right now, cloning is an unproven and verifiably dangerous process. The chances of the child not coming to term at all, being born fatally deformed or under-developed, having life shortening and worsening complications, and/or being developmentally disabled are so high as to make it a crime to attempt to clone now.
Only a few clones of any species exist in the world currently. Until the process is proven safe, reliable, and to have no more risk of complications than “natural” reproduction among non-human species, it would and will be a moral violation to even begin experimenting with human cloning.
The process is so new, I suspect Caplan will not live to see a world in which cloning is safe enough for him to reproduce that way. But when the technology is ready and safe, then there is no reasonable moral or ethical case for prohibition of the process.
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.