Human cloning: it’s the public policy issue with the greatest potential to define the morality of future generations. The science may be complicated, the very premise appear a futuristic fantasy, but the moral questions we now face with the emergence of this new technology are clear: Does human life have ultimate value precisely because it is human? Will society be able to thwart a Brave New World?
If the answer to these essential questions is yes, we will (to quote Leon Kass), reject the “the soft dehumanization” threatened by biotechnology as we embrace the “genuine contributions” that await us through a greater understanding of the workings of the human body at the molecular level. This high-wire balancing act would encourage adult-stem-cell research—already demonstrating exciting potential to treat maladies such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis—while rejecting allhuman cloning, whether for biomedical research or to produce children.
On the other hand, if we decide that human life does not, in and of itself, have ultimate value; if we are unable to resist being seduced into exploring the dark side of biotechnology; then the human cloning enterprise will, Titanic-like, steam full-speed-ahead toward an inevitable rendezvous with the deadly iceberg called eugenics. The resulting collision would sink Jefferson’s ideal of our society based on the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal, and replace it with a eugenics-oriented, class-based society in which the “genetically inferior” would be “selected out” before they were born, and where life’s success or failure would largely depend on the perceived quality of one’s genetic enhancements.
These are the alternative futures we confront in the human cloning debate. The outcome will not appear today, certainly. Nor tomorrow. Not even next week or next year. But there can be no question that the decisions we make about biotechnology from here on will determine whether our future in the decades to come will be an ever greater realization of Jefferson’s humanitarian dream, or the dehumanized horror of Huxley’s prophetic nightmare.
A total ban on human cloning is necessary if we are to prevent the evolution of Brave New World. This shouldn’t be a difficult task. Poll after poll has shown that the vast majority of the American people wish to prevent the development of this technology. Unfortunately, the legislative attempt to outlaw cloning stalled when pro-cloners dangled the utilitarian hope that cloning for biomedical research, known as “therapeutic cloning,” would lead to miraculous medical treatments. The idea is to clone embryos of human patients, develop them for five to seven days, harvest the embryonic stem cells, and then use these tissues to manufacture new organs or injectable tissues that would not be rejected by the patients’ auto-immune systems, because the patient’s and clone’s DNA would be virtually identical.
Therapeutic cloning would treat nascent human life like a mere natural resource, akin to a corn crop ripe for the harvesting. Space does not permit a full moral critique here, but morality aside, it is becoming increasingly clear that therapeutic cloning is more a pipe dream than a potential reality. Even if human embryos could be successfully created from ill patients’ DNA, even if embryonic stem-cell lines could be derived from these embryos, and even if this would lead to potential treatments, the practicalities are so daunting that therapeutic cloning would probably only be available to the very few, meaning the very rich. Indeed, even articles published in pro-cloning scientific journals are beginning to acknowledge that therapeutic cloning is unlikely to ever enter medicine’s armamentarium.
The eugenic goal of many human cloning enthusiasts has been obscured by the last two years’ raging debate over therapeutic cloning. Yet the scenario these futurists dream of is mind-boggling in its hubris and scope. Quite literally, they plan to “seize control of human evolution” by using human cloning research and technology to “improve” the human race through germ-line genetic engineering. Should they succeed, some of us would actually be recreated into man’s desired image.
Unfortunately, this alarming agenda receives little attention in the ever-shallow media’s obsession with depicting the human cloning debate as either a new front in the culture war over abortion, or as a repeat of the Enlightenment struggle pitting reason and science versus “backward” religion and superstition. But the books written about human cloning and its ultimate purposes; ah, they reveal a far different story. For it is in these books—which only a few thousand people may ever actuallyread—that the eugenic uses to which human cloning would be put are most candidly and vividly described.
Like an advanced combat patrol that presages a pending invasion, these books represent the first incursions of Brave New World from the realm of science fantasy into future possibility. If we are to comprehend the ultimate importance of the great cloning debate and the reasons many opponents of human cloning—whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, religious or secular, liberal or conservative—fervently believe the human cloning issue to be the most crucial our society faces, then we must understand the kind of future that the high priests of the new eugenics envision.
The purpose of this essay is to shed much-needed light upon this advocacy. I will do so by summarizing the contents of four of the most notable books published in recent years which promote human cloning or the right of prospective parents to eugenically engineer their progeny. My hope is that by doing so I will motivate my readers to participate vigorously in democratic processes to enact a nation-wide, legal ban on all human cloning. We have everything to gain: succeeding in this endeavor would make the future for which these authors yearn impossible to implement.
Children of Choice
Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies
by John A. Robertson
(1994, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ)
Bioethicist John A. Robertson, a law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, reflects the nearly “anything goes” attitudes that are rife throughout the bioethics establishment. In Children of Choice, Robertson asserts that women not only have an absolute right to terminate their pregnancies, but ironically, just as absolute a right to access whatever “non coital technology” they require to bear children. Indeed, this right is so fundamental, Robertson believes, that it also includes the license to genetically engineer progeny—a process he crassly calls “quality control of offspring.”
Wouldn’t this dehumanize children and transform our perceptions of children from flesh-of-our-flesh and blood-of-our-blood into mere products chosen like goods “in a shop window?” Yes, that could happen, Robertson admits. But so what? His language reveals a distinctly eugenics mindset: “Although [embryo] selection techniques will permit some defective ‘products’ to be repaired before birth, most affected fetuses will be discarded based on judgments of fitness, worth, or parental convenience.”
Robertson views the decision to become a parent through a cool, utilitarian prism, reducing this most profound decision from one based in self-giving and generosity into a solipsism akin to achieving a rewarding career or pursuing an interesting avocation. Hence, he supports a right of prospective parents to genetically alter progeny to suit their desires (so long as it is a positive improvement), which in telling language he labels “the fabricator’s procreative liberty.” (My emphasis.) This license, he writes, implies the right of prospective parents “to take actions to assure that their offspring have characteristics that make procreation desirable or meaningful for that individual. On this theory, both negative and positive means of selection would . . . be protected.” In other words, parents can remake their children into a desirable product, and abort should the unborn child not possess desired traits or acceptable expected levels of health or ability. (He is silent about whether this license to kill would extend to active infanticide.)
Robertson’s sterile vision of procreation and parenthood is not on the fringe but within mainstream thought in bioethics. When his book came out in 1994, he stopped short of endorsing human reproductive cloning, claiming that such technology goes “far beyond what is essential to assure a normal, healthy birth.” However, this caveat seems out of place in the light of his absolutism on “choice”—indeed, and not surprisingly, I learned upon further investigation that Robertson now supports human cloning as a right, should it become safe, at least for couples who want biologically-related children in circumstances in which the male is sterile.
Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World
by Lee M. Silver
(1997, Avon Books, New York, NY)
Lee M. Silver, a professor of biology at Princeton University, is one of the nation’s most enthusiastic proponents of human reproductive cloning. In Remaking Eden, Silver not only supports cloning and genetic engineering, but makes it clear that learning how to make human clones is the key that opens the door to altering and transforming the human genome. As Silver writes, “Without cloning, genetic engineering is simply science fiction. But with cloning, genetic engineering moves into the realm of reality.”
Why does Silver believe this to be true? Genetic engineering—already being accomplished in animals—is very “inefficient,” Silver writes, with a success rate of 50 percent at best, plus the additional risk of causing a genetic disease when modifying the animal. “This is not a problem for animal geneticists,” he asserts, since animal genetic modifiers can pick out healthy animals and destroy the unhealthy or defective ones. Of course, this cannot be done with human life (to which I hasten to add the word “yet”).
Here, according to Silver, is where cloning enters the picture. Once scientists learn how to modify human genes so as to create a “new human being with a special genetic gift,” cloning will assure that the child is born with the desired genetic alterations. This is how it would be done: cells would be extracted from a donor and the DNA in the nucleus genetically engineered to taste. Then, the nucleus would be extracted from the altered cell and inserted into a woman’s egg that had previously had its own nucleus removed. The modified egg would then be stimulated with an electric current to begin embryonic division. (This form of cloning is called somatic nuclear cell transfer.) Once the embryo reached the blastocyst stage—five to seven days of development—it would be implanted into a willing woman’s womb and gestated to birth.
When born, the child’s genes would be virtually identical to the genetic makeup of the altered cell from which he or she received almost all their DNA. (About 3 percent of the DNA would still come from the egg.) In theory, this would result in the child exhibiting the “enhancements” engineered into its makeup.
Silver predicts that, once the technology becomes widely accessible, “the global marketplace will reign supreme,” resulting in a genetic arms race of sorts in which the “well-off” would compete with each other to enhance their children with increasingly sophisticated genetic modifications. These could include increasing intelligence, health, strength, etc. Silver sees animal genes being introduced into human embryos to increase the child’s sense of smell, or even—I kid you not—to create “light emitting organs” by using firefly genes. (Such modifications are already being done with animals. For example, a “transgenic” herd of goats modified with spider DNA has been engineered in which the females of the herd manufacture spider webs in their milk.)
Silver believes that, over time, this competition would lead to genetic modifications so radical that the human species would divide into two divergent categories; the “Naturals,” doomed to go through life unenhanced, and the superior, enhanced beings, whom Silver names the “GenRich.” Proving that the human enhancement agenda is merely a new version of discredited eugenic master race thinking, Silver predicts a future in which the ubermenschen GenRich will utterly dominate the untermenschen Naturals.
All aspects of the economy, media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class. GenRich parents can afford to send their children to private schools rich in resources required for them to take advantage of their enhanced genetic potential. In contrast, Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers, and their children go to public schools. . . . Now, Natural children are only taught the basic skills they need to perform the kinds of tasks they’ll encounter in the jobs available to members of their class.
In the far distant future, Silver hopes, the GenRich and the Naturals will become two entirely separate species. “In this era,” Silver sighs ecstatically, “there exists a special group of mental beings” who “can trace their ancestry back directly to homo sapiens,” but who are as “different from humans as humans are from the primitive worms with tiny brains that first crawled along the earth’s surface.”
These “mental beings” will be gods.
“Intelligence” does not do justice to their cognitive abilities. “Knowledg”e does not explain the depth of their understanding of both the universe and consciousness. “Power” is not strong enough to describe the control they have over technologies that can be used to shape the universe in which they live.
This vision of a utopian post-human future is catching fire among radical humanists in the academy. Indeed, a nascent social movement, known as “transhumanism,” has formed to promote it. Transhumanism’s stated goal is to seize control of human evolution and steer it toward post-humanity. It even hopes that cloning and other biotechnologies would lead to an era of human immortality.
Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning?
by Gregory E. Pence
(1998, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD)
Gregory E. Pence, philosophy professor in the Schools of Medicine and Arts/Humanities at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, is a wild advocate of cloning-to-produce-children. But he knows that the American people disagree in overwhelming numbers. What to do? Simple: change the lexicon. Pence declares early in his book that he refuses to call human cloning undertaken to produce a child . . . cloning. Why? Pretending to don the mantle of nobility, he claims that the term “cloning” when joined with the word “human” is the moral equivalent of racial and ethnic pejoratives. That’s nonsense, of course. The real reason for this lexicon switch is pragmatically political. Following the old debating maxim that he or she who controls the definitions wins the debate, Pence hopes that by changing the currently accepted terms, he can alter people’s beliefs.
(This same tactic was recently used by pro-cloners, such as Senator Arlen Specter [R-PA], in the great cloning debate of 2002. When polls showed that the American people overwhelmingly opposed legalizing “therapeutic cloning” as well as “reproductive cloning,” they simply changed their terminology. Abetted by a compliant media, the use of the term therapeutic cloning—cloning-for-biomedical research—was suddenly dropped and replaced with SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer).
Linguistic manipulation is the least of the problems in Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? Pence comes across as a moral anarchist. Explicitly adopting Peter Singer’s view that we should liberate ourselves from existing moral presumptions which are “likely to derive from discarded religious systems, from warped views of sex and bodily functions,” Pence rejects outright the sanctity of human life. What matters is not humanity but consciousness, which the author proclaims “the foundation of all value.”
Pence writes that humans who are without consciousness are not “persons.” Since nascent human life is not conscious, Pence asserts, we should be able to treat human embryos as a mere natural resource to be used and exploited for the benefit of persons. For those who might be seduced into accepting this approach to unborn life, it could apply equally to born humans such as people in comas or suffering from Alzheimer’s, since many bioethicists claim that these humans too are non-persons. Indeed, Pence goes so far as to claim that famous coma patients such as Nancy Cruzan and Karen Quinlan, about whom internationally famous legal battles were fought over continuing their medical treatment, were actually dead rather than cognitively disabled since “persistent vegetative state is the real death of the person.”
All of this leads Pence to his desired conclusion. Adopting the mindset of John Robertson, Pence sees reproduction as an almost unlimited “right,” which includes the use of any and all technology required for a person—it need not be a couple—to accomplish that end. But Pence goes beyond Robertson when he claims that human cloning (“asexual reproduction”) without limit is included in the right to reproduce.
Why cloning? The “strongest arguments” for permitting cloning to produce children is “that his parents might give him or her a wonderful genetic legacy.” This would be a tricky business, Pence acknowledges. Sure there would be mistakes, but what of it? “There are mistakes in choosing schools,” Pence sniffs, “in trying to plan conception of children, in estimating one’s capacity to be a good parent, and such mistakes don’t justify a policy that bans children.”
One hardly knows where to begin to answer such crassness. A mistaken choice of school does not alter a child’s genetic makeup. Overestimating one’s parenting abilities does not forever change a child’s biological nature and that of his or her progeny and progeny’s progeny down through the balance of time. Forcing a child to take piano lessons does not mean the child must play piano for the rest of his or her life. More crucially, mistakes in such matters do not lead to illness or disability or require extermination to rectify.
Pence next brings on the hard eugenics—the end goal of most advocates who support cloning-to-produce-children. Not only should parents have the right to genetically “enhance” their offspring, Pence asserts, “they are obligated to do so.” Why? “It is wrong to choose lives for future people that make them much worse off than they otherwise could have been.”
What hubris. Who is to say which human is inherently “better” and which is inherently “worse?” Take people with developmental disabilities, as just one example. Are they really worse humans than their brothers and sisters with more intelligence? I submit that the answer is an emphatic no. People I have known with Down’s syndrome, for example, have been the most kind, loving, sweet, cooperative people in the world, earnest contributors to humanity who made us better for their presence—not only for what they gave to us but because of what they induced us to give to them. Would society really be better off if they were wiped off the face of the earth?
Eugenics isn’t ultimately about making life better for our children, but making our lives more meaningful or happy. In a telling section near the end of the book, Pence writes:
When it comes to non-human animals we think nothing of trying to match the breed to the needs of the owner. . . . [M]any people love their retrievers and their sunny dispositions around children and adults. Could people be chosen the same way? Would it be so terrible to allow parents to at least aim for a certain type, in the same way that great breeders . . . try to match a breed of dog to the needs of a family?
Yes, it would. Such thinking implies an end to the unconditional love and acceptance of our children. It perceives the young, not as eventual autonomous beings possessing incalculable ultimate moral worth, but as mere chattel—property—designed and fabricated to fulfill our needs, our expectations, our desires.
Pence—like many bioethicists—also attacks the uniqueness and sanctity of human life by blurring the crucial moral distinctions between humans and animals, claiming that people “are both nothing more than, and as wonderful as, compassionate monkeys.” Here Pence finds common ground with the animal rights/liberation movement, which argues that humans and animals are morally equal.
There is method behind this madness. Where animal liberationists claim a moral equality between people and animals, theirgoal is to force people to treat animals like people. Pence, along with many of his ilk in bioethics, seeks license to treat some people in the same way we now treat animals. Thus, in Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? Pence is explicit in this regard when he discusses genetic engineering, urging that by “weakening the ethical boundary between non-human and human animals” we could allow “doing to humans some of the things we think quite sane to do to animals.” Since farmers are allowed to genetically alter cows to produce better milk, thinking of human life as nothing special would “allow parents to give their babies at birth the best genetic heritage possible.”
Our Inevitable Genetic Future
by Gregory Stock
(2002, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA)
These eugenic, post-human attitudes find their most robust and enthusiastic expression in the new book Redesigning Humans by California bioethicist Gregory Stock, the director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the School of Medicine of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Stock is an explicit transhumanist, believing that all individuals should be free to alter themselves and their progeny genetically. This could include inserting animal DNA into human embryos, inserting or removing chromosomes, inserting artificial chromosomes into a genetically engineered embryo, or perhaps, altering human capacities through nanotechnology.
Stock sees humans taking such absolute control of human evolution that he envisions a time when we will have altered ourselves to the point that we are no longer a single species. In this post-human future, we may become so genetically diverse that we may no longer be able to procreate outside of the laboratory since the “union of egg and sperm from two [transhumanist] individuals with different numbers of chromosomes or different sequences of genes on their extra chromosomes would be too unpredictable with intercourse.” If that sounds as if having children will become onerous, worry not, Stock soothes. Our attitudes toward children as commodities will have become so pronounced that “laboratory conception” will not “seem a burden because . . . parents will probably want the most up-do-date chromosome enhancements anyway.”
The eugenic and dehumanizing values rife throughout these books are too often eclipsed by the ongoing arguments over whether cloning technology should be allowed in pursuit of new medical cures. That’s too bad because the American people deserve to know the future toward which human cloning would lead. And while there are plenty of important and substantial reasons for banning human cloning outside the context of Brave New World, the key point of this brief review is this: If we want to thwart the creation of a posthuman future, if we want to prevent a new eugenics from destroying society’s belief in the sanctity-of-human-life ethic and our commitment to universal human equality, we must outlaw all human cloning. And we must do it now.
Succeed in that endeavor and biotechnology will be our friend, and we can move vigorously toward a human future that will remain truly human. Fail in that simple task, and the eugenic, posthuman future for which these authors yearn will be well on its way toward reality. As with everything else involving human society, the choice is ours. So will be the consequences.