Clones | April 1997

FMBR Editorial: April, 1997

Clones

Marshall Pease

There has been a good deal of uproar over the recent cloning of an adult sheep. People have seen this - almost certainly correctly - as a big step towards an ability to clone humans. This shocks many who apparently see it as a violation of what they hold sacred.

The likelihood of being able to clone humans in a near future does not surprise me. What does astonish me is that people are surprised. The possibility has seemed quite predictable, given the remarkable advances in biological and genetic techniques in recent years. This does not deny the sociological and legal questions it poses, but why the panic?

Our current ability to control the genetics of food crops has already produced a revolution in agriculture that has made it possible to feed the world's current population. The ability to clone animals promises benefits on a similar scale. Whether we should welcome such an expansion is debatable, but the people will be there and need food!

However, the critical issue of cloning does not concern its practical benefits but the prospect of cloning humans. Some people see this as leading to less than human babies. I do not understand why. Any infant must grow through birth, infancy, childhood and all the rest of life. How will cloned infants be different? Of course they will have had an origin quite different from other infants. But why will this justify treating them as subhuman? Unfortunately, mankind has all too often demonstrated its capability to do just that - to label people as inferior on the basis of identifiable differences. If so, then human cloning will indeed be a moral tragedy - but the failure will be ours, not theirs!

If cloning became the source of a large part of humanity, it would limit our genetic diversity with possibly disastrous consequences for evolution. However, it seems likely, however, that only a few people would make such a choice. Most of us live in the hope that our children will prove better than ourselves. Why would we choose cloning when we can enjoy the excitement of a unique and different child?

In summary, I wonder what is the danger. A clone would be as human as anyone else and as much a part of the human race. The question of nature versus nurture is still being debated. Perhaps genetics really does set the tone and dictate many of our choices in life, as studies of identical twins separated in infancy suggest. But so what? A twin still must live his or her life with all the variety of its own experience.

The real issue is what the decision to seek a clone may tell us about the genetic parent. What will it say about his or her view of parenthood? Depending on the circumstances, there can be serious problems with that question! However, the question of our attitude toward the child itself is clearly a false issue. If we see such a child as a betrayal of humanity, then we ourselves will have failed. The primary issue is not how to close Pandora's box. It is our own response to the fact!

Marshall Pease