It is quite often said that those scientists, doctors and others who are most interested in producing a human clone are part of the slums of medicine, the scientific underworld. The likes of Raelian research corporation Clonaid, American cloning advocate Panos Zavos, and Italian gynecologist Severino Antinori are the Jack Kevorkians of reproductive medicine. But as Kelly Torrance notes on page 15 (“Stanford to start biomedical cloning”), prestigious Stanford University hopes to clone human beings for research purposes. Clearly, the need to prohibit all human cloning activities is at hand; no longer can politicians hide behind the excuse that they would be legislating technology that does not yet exist. The future is now.
It is often said that human cloning is inevitable. Perhaps. But all too often that is an excuse to tolerate the unacceptable. This represents the failure of modern society to distinguish between the possible and the permissible. Too many scientists, politicians, journalists and members of the public believe that if something can be done, it should be allowed. Out of fear of appearing insufficiently progressive, enlightened or “with it,” people who ought to know better, concede not just the inevitable new technology, but the evil that comes with it.
And evil, cloning is.
First, a pragmatic problem. Cloning is unsafe. As Vyacheslav Tarantul, head of Russia’s Molecular Genetics Institute, said in December that most attempts to clone animals fail, many clonal embryos die, and those that survive display genetic anomalies including increased risk of many cancers. The most famous clone, Dolly the sheep, experienced premature arthritis. Efforts to clone human beings, Dr. Tarantul said, would result in a “monster 99 per cent of the time,” because “nearly all cloning efforts have led to horrific biological deformations.” It is unethical to knowingly submit cloned children to these genetic flaws and diseases. As the British magazine The Spectator has noted, euthanasia would become a routine medical treatment for clones that are severely handicapped. We would correct one immoral act with another and replace the destroyed clone with a new one.
But beyond the pragmatic reasons against cloning is the principle that it is plain and simply wrong. Taking the procreation of children through God’s beautiful gift of sex within marriage to the creation of children in the laboratory is an affront to both God and human dignity. It commodifies human life, leading (inevitably) to the idea that adults have the right not only to a child, but the child of their choice. Cloning robs the newly created person of his or her individuality. Cloning oneself is the height of narcissism; cloning a dead child as a replacement Johnny or Jane is sick and perverted. It should be added that having children is not a right and the desire for children (again, as The Spectator has noted), is not itself justification for allowing human reproductive cloning.
Which brings us, lastly, to the issue of reproductive versus therapeutic cloning. The term therapeutic is terribly misleading. The creation of cloning for research purposes – to find cures or treatments or the mere discovery of how the human body functions – is not therapeutic for the clone who must be destroyed as part of the research.
While polling indicates strong opposition to reproductive cloning (usually 80 per cent or more, in every country in which the question is asked), the public seems more divided over research cloning. Pulling on the heart-strings of the public by suggesting that a loved one’s illness or handicap might be treated has been brilliant public relations, but there is little indication that any treatment is at hand. As Charles Krauthammer noted in an article in The New Republic last year, it is more likely that under the guise of treatment, scientists will look into the mysteries of how the body functions without any greater understanding of how to help cure the severely ill. That is, a human being will be another thing to study, prod, poke at and dissect.
But scientists will not be content with one or two clonal subjects. Their desire to learn more will inexorably lead to the mass manufacture of cloned human embryos, resulting in the routinization, commercialization and commodification of human beings. As Diana Schaub noted in the Winter 2003 issue of The Public Interest, research cloning combines “abortion plus slavery”: “Cloning is an evil, and cloning for the purpose of research actually exacerbates the evil by countenancing the willful destruction of nascent human life. Moreover, it proposes doing this on a mass scale, as an institutionalized and routinized undertaking to extract medical benefits for those who have greater power. It is slavery plus abortion.”
Our politicians have dithered long enough. It has been a decade since a royal commission was convened to explore issues of reproductive technologies. It has been nearly two years since former health minister Allan Rock submitted a proposal on these technologies to Parliament’s standing committee on health to be studied. It has been 14 months since that committee reported to Parliament and nine months since current Health Minister Anne McLellan submitted legislation. Not once was cloning explicitly banned. Call your MP today and tell him or her to demand the government move to enact a comprehensive ban on all human cloning. Cloning is a moral frontier we dare not cross.