The first cloned children--perhaps all cloned children--would be, so to speak, human experiments. They would be biological experiments--with grave risks of physical, developmental, and genetic deformity. They would be experiments in human identity – being the first human beings to inherit an identity already lived by another. They would be experiments in genetic programming and design, being the first children whose entire genetic make-up was known and selected in advance, They would be experiments in family and social life, confusing the relationships within the family and between the generations, for example, by turning “mothers” into “twin sisters” and “grandparents” into “parents.”
Experience with animal cloning provides clear evidence to justify concerns about bodily harm to any child resulting from cloning seen as a biological experiment. But imaginig and reflecting on the prospect of being a cloned child leads to concerns about additional harms or injuries to the child related to the other ways in which cloning is an experiment on the child-to-be. Some of the leading concerns include:
1. A cloned child is at risk of psychic and social harm. For example:
a. He/she might experience a confused sense of self and a compromised belief in the openness of his future, knowing that he is in appearance and genotype identical to another person who has already lived.
b. He/she might suffer because his/her parents and others will not regard him/her as they would an ordinary child (a “mysterious stranger,” a “surprise to the world”), but will instead constantly compare him to the “original” – not only to observe how similar he/she is, but also to wonder why he/she is not as similar as expected or planned.
c. He/she may suffer confusion of social identity, being both the twin and the offspring of only one biological “parent.”
2. A cloned child may be injured (done an injustice), whether he/she knows it or not and quite apart from any experienced harm, by being treated as a product of parental design, whose “maker” stands above him/her not as a human equal but as a superior artificer.
We cannot be certain that any cloned child will in fact suffer the predicted psychic or social harms (item 1); knowledge about these matters would be largely empirical and would hence require producing cloned children before we could be certain. Yet given the likelihood of such risks and harms, and the question about the “justice” of cloning altogether, the accepted ethical principles governing human experimentation and the protection of human subjects, if fully regarded, might lead one to conclude that the cloning of a human child constitutes an unethical experiment on the child-to-be, even if and when the procedure could be rendered technically safe for use without the increased risks of serious bodily harm.
In arguing the ethics of reproductive cloning, we find ourselves in the strange position of “speaking on behalf” of human beings who do not yet exist and who may never exist. But such a paradox is an inevitable part of our embodied existence. One generation always springs from the previous one; and the previous generation whether it knows it or not, always “speaks on behalf” of the next when it chooses to bring it into existence. In the face if this radical new way of bringing children into the world, we are compelled to think even more deeply and protectively on behalf of our offspring, lest we do them irreparable harm and injury in the very act of giving them life.
What would you do? Should cloning be allowed in any of these situations? Why or why not? Use evidence from the article and your prior knowledge to decide.
1. A couple has one child then they become infertile and cannot have any more children. Cloning would enable such a couple to have a second child, perhaps a younger twin of the child they already have.
2. A child is lost soon after birth to a tragic accident. Human cloning would allow such parents to have a twin of their lost baby, but it would be like other twins, a unique individual and not a carbon copy of the child that was lost under heartbreaking circumstances.
3. Two parents have a baby boy. Unfortunately the baby has muscular dystrophy. They have another child and it is a boy with muscular dystrophy. They decide not to have any more children. Each boy has over 20 operations as doctors attempt to keep them healthy and mobile. Both boys die as teenagers. The childless parents donate their estates to curing muscular dystrophy and to having their boys cloned when medical science advances enough so that their DNA can live again, but free of muscular dystrophy.