Saturday, December 21, 2002

Reproductive Cloning

Clones are in the news. Several groups claim to have cloned babies on the way. Now, there is nothing wrong with therapeutic/research cloning, as long as no brain tissue is created. Without brain tissue, nobody’s home. It's like experimenting with liver cells. But reproductive cloning is another matter.

There are loads of bad arguments against reproductive cloning. Read Greg Pence’s stuff to see them demolished. But I think reproductive cloning is wrong. Here’s my argument. “Mommy, why am I Daddy’s twin brother? Are you my sister-in-law or my mommy? Are grandma and grandpa my mommy and daddy? If so, then why don’t they spend much time with me? Is Daddy my daddy?”

To act in such a way that you cause it to be the case that someone has an unusually heavy burden to bear is wrong unless there is a good excuse. The excuse in the case of cloning is that one wants to reproduce oneself but cannot since one has no mate, or has a mate with whom one is infertile. It’s not a good enough excuse. Children naturally desire to be cared for by their biological parents and to have the biological family unit to grow up in. To cause it to be that a child has to do without is to put a severe burden on him. The burden of not being able to reproduce oneself is likely to be lighter, or at worst, of the same order. It’s tough to estimate degrees of suffering, but clearly, the kid’s suffering is not dwarfed by the suffering his “parent” would have had had he or she refrained from producing himself or herself. Infertility or failure to find a mate are not awful problems. The urge to reproduce is simply not that painful to thwart. To seek a drastic solution that disrupts the sociobiological fabric of a child’s world is foolhardy and selfish on the part of the one of the two "parents" who gains a twin and thereby manages to reproduce himself. The same holds for the use of sperm banks: Daddy as anonymous donor. Imagine confronting the fact that this is the nature of your father. Parents who skip out and leave their children are guilty of the same offense, even if a step-parent is waiting in the wings. We are biological, not artificial. (Of course, none of this is to say that it is not good for orphaned or abandoned children to have step-parents.)

Pence calls this argument mere “pop psychology”. Well, saying that it’s hurtful to abandon one’s family is also pop psychology. Are you going to put your money on the idea that children do not mind not having biological parents raise them? I’m not. This is the heart of conservatism: reasoned arguments for resisting change, arguments based upon sensible observations of human nature: observations of adopted kids who are damaged by the loss of their biological parents and long to find them, and observations of kids who, even with a step-parent filling in, are damaged by a parent's abandoning them when they were young. Pence argues that children simply need a loving home, and nothing more. Now, who is basing his theory on mere pop psychology? I think it is Pence. Maybe I have only 50% chance of being right, and Pence 50%. Are those the odds on which to toy with a child's psyche?

That the child wouldn’t exist at all if he weren’t cloned, and is therefore better off, since existing is better than not existing - this not a good argument. It can be reduced to absurdity when we consider the deaf lady who purposefully produced a deaf baby last year (she wanted a deaf baby), or someone who purposefully produces a baby with no arms. These actions are wrong. Again: It’s wrong to act in a way that causes it to be the case that someone innocent suffers an unusual burden. It matters not that that someone does not exist yet.

IVF reproduction is morally permissible, but that is not a good argument that cloning is therefore equally permissible. IVF does nothing to disrupt the fabric of the family. This is the heart of reactionary thinking: objecting to something, such as IVF, just because it’s not the same old way of doing things. But objecting to cloning needn’t be reactionary.

If it is easy enough to police, reproductive cloning should be illegal, and so should purposefully producing disabled babies. And so should sperm banks.

UPDATE: Don't want to let this go without saying: Anyone born by sperm banks or cloning has nothing at all to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong such children. I'm arguing that the people that brought them into the world did wrong by them. This doesn't have the least tendency to imply that they are substandard in any form. The idea that they are is ridiculous.