Thursday, January 17, 2008

Illegal Beings

_Illegal Beings: Human Clones and the Law_ is a book by Kerry Lynn Macintosh. It arrived in the mail today. My daughter is doing a major presentation at school on the issue of cloning and the library didn't have this book available so I bought it since the premise is explicitly that human reproductive cloning should be legal.

I'm probably the only person in the country who believes that the therapeutic cloning of human embryos should be illegal while it should be legal to do reproductive cloning.

It seems like most people are convinced any cloning of humans should be illegal, or else that only therapeutic cloning should be legal, and some few that think both therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning should both be legal.

I haven't started to read the book yet. The title, however, is fascinating to me.

To explain why I should explain that my experience in bio-ethics is primarily based on reading science fiction. Yes, there is a good amount of fundamental Christian upbringing involved in forming my views but my conclusion is essentially, well, what I said... I'm probably the only person in the country who sees no moral reason to limit reproductive cloning and every reason to view therapeutic cloning as, at best, problematic, and worst, outright immoral.

What I have learned from science fiction, as the meta-discussion of human cloning has evolved over a couple of generations from speculation about monsters to non-human status for clones to a present consensus that a clone is a person, is that when it all goes bad it is invariably because viable clumps of human DNA are not given human status.

The discussion of human cloning did not begin with Dolly. It had been going on for decades upon decades. People will point to Frankenstein, who wasn't a clone at all, of course. But science fiction quickly picked up the idea of making copies of people. The copies often had superhuman abilities, or else were zombies. (Heck, dopplegangers and changelings existed in folklore for centuries, now that I think of it.) They shared memories or were telepathic or were simply evil. By the time Heinlein was writing about clones or genetically engineered humans he speculated that they were essentially human but had been legislated into non-personhood. Not people and not citizens. His book _Friday_ was largely an indictment on a culture that viewed these people as Illegal Beings.

A common trait with clones in science fiction was that they were grown in vats to adult size. I think George Lucas went with that classic scenario. But before Dolly, well before Dolly, science fiction authors considered the possibility and what we knew was true about biology. Cherryh designed elaborate systems for producing adult sized people who could actually function, though with severe limitations. It was obvious that an adult grown in a vat would not develop properly.

To make a clone, you would need a womb. And what you'd get out of it was a baby. And that baby would not be like the original.

_Cyteen_ by Cherryh was published in 1988.

_Ethan of Athos_ by Bujold in 1986.

Lois Bujold imagined artificial wombs but clearly saw that raising babies was still the choke point. The labor was the same for any infant and technology would never solve that problem.

She also clearly saw that a human being was a human being. Her enlightened societies gave full human status to any person, cloned or even put together from genetic parts and not looking human at all. Where the product of a lab was property, so were other people. Where clones were grown for parts, a cess-pool of organized crime reigned. And she's not the only author to make those connections. The ethical issue is how should a human be treated. The societies that find a way to give some humans a different legal status than other humans do it across the board.

Biologically a clone is a baby. It doesn't matter at all how you get here. You are an individual human being. A clone is created by a human act just like any other human baby.

Which, frankly, may be why I've read or heard opinions such as "therapeutic cloning of embryos is okay but we shouldn't accept reproductive cloning." It may be that people realize at some level that if we accept that a clone is a real person, it's not so easy anymore to produce a bunch of cloned embryos and destroy them.

(Most therapeutic cloning does not depend on creating a viable embryo. Tissue cloning or even organ cloning (such as recent mouse breasts or rat hearts) uses adult cells and does not depend on creating a viable embryo.)

3 Comments:

Anonymous lance said...

lance@asecondhandconjecture.com.

Contact page not working at my place. Drop me a line.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I'm probably the only person in the country who believes that the therapeutic cloning of human embryos should be illegal while it should be legal to do reproductive cloning.

You're not the only one.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Synova said...

It's logical to me.

I can see how the idea of "making people" is sort of freaky but my husband and I did it four times.

8:52 PM  

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