Sunday, December 11, 2011

Human Clones and Human Dignity

(I'm handing in this paper tomorrow... thought I'd share it with more than just my one instructor.)


Many countries and US states have outlawed reproductive cloning while accepting therapeutic cloning of human beings. In therapeutic cloning a human clone is created within an egg, allowed to divide to some number of cells, and then destroyed for medical research or therapy. Reproductive cloning would follow the same process except with the implantation of the egg within a womb, no different at that point than in vitro fertilization. It's backwards to view the destruction of human life as moral while viewing the nurturing of that human life as immoral. This turns reason on it's head.

Why is reproductive cloning opposed by so many? Is the idea of cloned humans too new?

The discussion of human cloning did not begin with the sheep, Dolly. It is not new. The conversation has been going on for decades upon decades.

Doppelgangers and changelings have existed in folklore for centuries, of course. Science fiction quickly picked up the idea of making human clones. These early stories were often warnings against hubris. Frankenstein is probably the first and most obvious example, although Frankenstein's monster was not a clone at all. In many stories the clones share memories or are telepathic or are simply evil. A common trait with clones and manufactured people in early written science fiction and later movies was that they were grown in vats to adult size. George Lucas went with that classic scenario, as have episodes of Star Trek and at least one movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. But before Dolly, well before Dolly, science fiction authors considered the possibility and considered, at length, what we knew was true about biology.

By the time Robert A. Heinlein was writing about clones or genetically engineered humans he speculated that they were certainly human but would be formally legislated into non-personhood. Friday, published in 1983 near the end of his career, was largely an indictment of a culture that viewed these people as non-human and property.

C. J. Cherryh, in the world-building of Cyteen, originally published in 1988 in three volumes, 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 could not develop properly. The novel itself is about the extreme efforts to recreate an important and powerful person from a cloned infant.

The monsters of earlier science fiction are simply not practical, not even with imaginary technologies so advanced they resemble magic. To make a clone you need a womb and what you get from it is a baby. The practical choke-point of available wombs remains. The practical choke-point of raising infants remains. George Lucas is not going to get his army of clones.

Lois McMaster Bujold, very much writing as a contemporary of Cherryh, imagined artificial wombs. Her 1986 novel Ethan of Athos considered the economic cost of child rearing, a theme she revisits as a side issue in A Civil Campaign, when one of the regional rulers decides to mass-produce daughters from surplus eggs gotten from a reproductive clinic. Her literary discussion of clones, culture, and law, however, is most direct in the 1994 novel Mirror Dance, though the subject is never completely absent from her Vorkosigan novels. Falling Free, published in 1988, directly addresses the legal status of quaddies, people with four arms instead of two arms and two legs, constructed to work in zero gravity.

Bujold's enlightened societies give full human status to any person, cloned or even put together from genetic spare parts and not looking human at all. In jurisdictions where the product of a lab was property, so were natural people. On planets where clones were grown for parts, a cesspool of organized crime reigned.

She's not the only author to make those connections. The imagined societies that find a way to give some humans a different legal status than other humans do it across the board. This is true of real societies as well. We understand that institutionalized inequality, if it is slavery or inequality under the law, impacts an entire society. Where people can be owned, all people have less worth.

Kerry Lynn Macintosh, in her book Illegal Beings: Human Clones and the Law, published by Cambridge University Press in 2005, makes the argument that by trying to prevent human reproductive cloning we risk creating a class of illegal, or legally excluded, people.

Infertile couples, and others, will certainly not be restrained by the law. If a lesbian couple can find someone who is willing to take the egg of one mother, create a clone nucleus of the other, and implant the egg back in the first, is it really possible that it won't be done? The child will have the nuclear DNA from one parent and the mitochondrial DNA from the other. A child gotten this way would be even less a copy than an identical twin that developed from a single egg within a single womb. The child would actually have the DNA of both parents. A couple with one infertile member may wish to avoid the complications of a biologically unrelated sperm or egg donor. Human clones will happen. They will happen with the technology and medical ability we have today. Macintosh suggests we prepare our legal system for the inevitable in order to avoid the creation of a class of illegal beings.

So much of the fear of human cloning expressed today is similar to the concerns discussed in science fiction half a century ago. Much of the fear may even be caused by those early stories. Are clones copies of the original? Are they unnatural monsters? Do they offend God?

There is no way to make a clone a copy of the original, not biologically, not psychologically, not even if you try. Cloned mammals have so far not had unnatural powers. And the Catholic Church, according to Macintosh on page 20 of Illegal Beings, has officially stated that, “although human cloning violates human dignity, the dignity of a human being born through cloning is not diminished.

That last is a legitimate concern. Will we ignore the dignity of human beings born through cloning? Will we treat the people created in a lab as property? Will they be another class of slaves? Will we view them as spare parts for their progenitors?

Unfortunately, trying to make human clones illegal doesn't solve any of these problems, it reinforces them. The lines are not blurred, they are very clear. In fact, the only human clones we allow today are property. The only human clones we allow are lab materials.

Banning reproductive cloning can only solidify the identity of clones as lab materials, as property, or spare parts.

If we want to avoid creating a class of human life that is property, we must decide that this class of human life is not property and act according to our true belief. Unless it happens that our true belief is that clones lack status and dignity, that they are manufactured commodities and not whole persons? If that is the case we'd be informed by the discussion of clones and personhood in science fiction that's a little more recent than half a century ago. If earlier stories warned of monsters born of hubris, later stories warn of the danger inherent in defining some as less than human. Modern science fiction can write about societies that reject the obvious personhood of clones or even of strange genetic constructs, only by writing the society as a benighted and oppressive place.

Although, if society actually is a benighted, oppressive place perhaps we ought to ban the production of human clones to save them from oppression and slavery. Perhaps this consideration outweighs the message confirming clones as property that is inherent in the ban of human cloning itself.

Macintosh presents this argument on page 208 of Illegal Beings:

“Anticloning laws can protect human clones against suffering only at the cost of their own existence. Thus, cloning opponents implicitly argue that nonexistence is preferable to existence for human clones.” (…) “If the government cannot prove that nonexistence is preferable to existence, it cannot establish a compelling interest in preventing the birth of human clones, and its laws must be invalidated.”

Macintosh is talking about the law and equal protection and the requirement that government prove compelling interest before limiting rights. I'm talking about the law and the message inevitably sent by disallowing reproductive cloning of humans, leaving as the only legal category of human clones those who are in fact nothing more than property. The greater statement supporting human dignity and protecting human rights would be opposite of what we have now.

Let human clones be born and be seen to be people.