On Human Cloning

by Patrick Appel 

A reader writes:

It's a shame you agree with Leon Kass on anything, let alone his arguments against cloning. When you say you'd feel differently if "cloning no more dangerous than natural reproduction," it makes me suspicious you have a rose-tinted view of the process. People often assume much lower rates of miscarriage and birth defects, thereby giving a false impression that natural reproduction is already a "safe" behavior. In reality, it's the best version we have so far. Any bioethicist with a shred of decency argues that human cloning should obviously not occur until it is proven not just as safe as, but safer than natural pregnancy among animal test subjects. Natural processes are akin to Churchill's perspective on democracy: it's the worst form reproduction except for every other that has been tried. Cloning requires an intimate knowledge of natural processes. In fact, it requires such complex and nuanced understanding that the research required to create a successful, completely healthy clone of any kind would provide scientists with the knowledge necessary to make reproduction of all forms safer.

Yes, human cloning should not even be attempted until the mechanisms are understood and it can be done with a very high degree of safety. But that is not what Caplan is critiquing when he picks apart Kass' argument. Kass' uses the spaghetti method, tossing fist fulls of arguments at the wall until something sticks. Some people it is his repugnance argument (which Caplan dismantles) that connects, while for others, like yourself, its the "pain and suffering argument." This latter argument sounds like a reasonable critique to cloning until one realizes that it is a legitimate critique for any medical procedure. It is why the FDA exists and why scientists go through phased testing, to minimize pain and suffering at all costs while still moving forward with a beneficial and useful procedure. To presume cloning would somehow be exempt is naive. In all likelihood, the whole situation is a false threat anyway. The benefits of cloning someone exactly are small, while the benefits of the knowledge acquired while learning how to clone someone exactly are enormous. Organ transplants, genetic engineering, stem cells and a host of other branches of medical research are watching the progress made in cloning hoping for research that can be cross-applied.

I suggest you pick up a copy of Ronald Bailey's Liberation Biology. A less developed version of the argument he makes in the book appears here.

Points taken. (Image: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)