Note that this is the first in a series of guest posts and interviews on human reproductive cloning. Next will be an interview with Nobel Laureate John Gurdon.
By Arthur Caplan
The issue of human cloning for reproduction is one of the greatest non-issues in the history of ethical disputes in America and around the world. Most objections to trying to make clones pivot on safety for the clone. And that is certainly a big deterrent to cloning. Cloning is dangerous as outcomes in animals continue to show. However, presume cloning could be done safely and with minimal loss of human embryos, interest in making people by means of cloning will still be nearly non-existent.
The primary reason for interest in cloning is to achieve some form of human immortality. But of course this is sheer nonsense. If I have a twin and I die I am not still alive because my twin lives on. Cloning creates a new person–one who might look like the source of the cloned genome and have many traits in common but would still be an independent novel person.
Nor can cloning bring back the dead. It cannot do this for pets much less people. A cloned dog does not know the tricks and behavior of the ’old’ dog that is dead. Unless you can replicate the developmental and environmental experiences that the original animal or person had you will not resurrect the dead via cloning. I was once asked if you could clone Jesus from DNA from the Shroud of Turin. Put aside whether it makes sense to try and clone someone who is supposed to return in his original form anyway, without the Roman Empire, the manger in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph, and a zillion other forces that shaped the historical Jesus you cannot recreate the biblical Jesus or any other deceased person by cloning.
But, someone might say, what if we knew that someone had characteristics that society greatly valued–abundant health, mental acuity, physical dexterity, great beauty–would we not want to clone many such persons. You might but far more likely will be the interest in using genetic engineering to improve traits in our descendants. Why would we pursue copying when enhancement and improvement are possibilities at the genetic and epigenetic levels?
Human reproductive cloning will never be of great interest or popularity. Genetic engineering and creating children outside the human body in ’safer’ and more ‘enhanced’ environments will be.
The future of reproductive cloning is in agriculture to make animals that we eat or use for creating copies of plant products of high value.
The future of cloning is in research–to try and create novel therapies and treatments in the lab–not in the obstetrics unit.
This is not to say that there will not be plenty of work for future bioethicists and those interested in the ethics, law and public policy of biotechnology and bioengineering in arguments about engineering “better” babies, but human cloning for reproduction will, in my view, be of ethical interest only as a matter of historical folly.