In recent months, the U.S. House of Representatives has banned all human cloning. So has Russia. France and Germany have called for an international ban on such practices. The United Kingdom, even though it allows the grisly practice of therapeutic cloning, banned reproductive human cloning last year. In fact, 23 countries have fully or partially banned human cloning. Yet Canada’s Health Minister, Allan Rock, insists on legislating all reproductive technology and embryonic research on the schedule he announced in May: no action until May 2002, at the very earliest.
The Standing Health Committee will report back to the government in January (at the earliest) on Rock’s proposed legislation. Parliament will probably kick the issue around for a while after that. But as politicians talk, scientists continue to push the envelope. In August several scientists announced that they will continue their efforts to clone a human being. Because Canada has no law banning human cloning, such an affront to human dignity may take place here. The government must act immediately.
The Interim urges the government to ban all human cloning, both reproductive (creating a human being whose genetic make-up is nearly identical to another individual) and therapeutical (creating a human embryo in order to destroy it for experimental purposes). The distinction is completely irrelevant to the moral argument over human cloning and is fraught with practical problems.
There is little public support for reproductive human cloning. Most people are rightly repulsed at the idea – narcissism at its worst – that prospective parents would create children in their own image. (Some cloning proponents like the idea of human cloning because they vainly believe in their own superiority and greater moral worth, so why not just improve the human race by replicating the better among us, they say.
Leon Kass, Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College of the University of Chicago, says in The Ethics of Human Cloning that “Thanks to our belief that all children should be wanted children … sooner or later only those children who fulfill our wants will be fully acceptable. Through cloning, we can work our wants and wills on the very identity of our children, existing control as never before.” In short, we would be able to play God with our offspring. We recoil in horror at such prospects. There is little support to permit reproductive cloning.
So-called therapeutic cloning is quite another matter.
The creation of clonal human beings in order to destroy them and experiment upon them is grotesque. To create tiny human beings in order to perform experiments upon them violates the right of all human beings not to be experimented upon without the person’s consent. Such research would be barbaric and even many in the mainstream recognize this. The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized that “The idea of the manufacture of such a magnificent thing as a human life purely for the purpose of conducting research is grotesque, at best.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said it is “the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in modern scientific history: the creation of nascent cloned human life for the sole purpose of its exploitation and destruction.”
Furthermore, therapeutic cloning is a misnomer as there is absolutely no therapeutic value for the cloned human being. The embryo is, after all, destroyed for the benefit of another person. Such benefits as may arise with research based on therapeutic cloning are illicit gains – the sacrifice of one life for the alleged good of another.
But aside from the morality are important practical concerns. If a ban on only reproductive cloning were passed, there is no practical way to enforce it. If a clonal embryo intended for research purposes was nonetheless implanted in a woman, would the state force the woman to have an abortion to prevent a cloned human being from being born? In practice, to prevent reproductive cloning, we would have to mandate the destruction of therapeutic clones.
Human cloning will impact humanity in unimaginable ways. Its psychological toll would be immense; it would change who we are. It takes the mystery out of human creation by removing the magnificence of the procreative act out of reproduction. It furthers the idea that we can – and should – completely control our own destiny. In the words of William Kristol and Eric Cohen, writing in the Weekly Standard, “It blinds us to the truth about human morality and finitude.” We lose the sense that there are no limits. Limitless man will try to become God. But we can’t, of course.
Canada must not allow cloning in any form. We must resist the argument that cloning is inevitable or that we will stand in the way of scientific progress. Indeed, as Kristol and Cohen point out, cloning will turn science into a threat to human dignity and human decency.