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27.12.02

So the Raelians say they've cloned a human. Honestly, I'm not all that worried. I don't see that cloning as such -- meaning the creation of genetic duplicates of other people -- is much to be concerned about.

Let's look at some of the anti-cloning arguments. Right off the bat we can dismiss a sort of Star Wars scenario where someone creates an evil clone army. Cloning doesn't let you mass-produce adults, it just gives you an embryo in a different manner than the normal process or IVF (and we still can't synthesize eggs from scratch, so it's actually tougher). All told it would be much easier to recruit an army than to create one. The only real advantage of a clone army would probably be the spookiness of all the soldiers being identical.

Turning to a much more legitimate argument, there's the concern that clones will experience a variety of developmental problems. This is based on analogy with the other animals we've cloned, which suffered from a variety of health issues. I agree that it's dangerous to risk this kind of thing on humans at our current state of expertise. But this argument doesn't rule out cloning in the future if a solution to those problems is developed. And it's not an argument against cloning per se. The problem arises from the techniques used to implant dna in an embryo and get it to grow up, not in the dna being identical to another organism's. And it's not an argument specific to cloning -- we should be concerned about any medical procedure that presents serious health risks to patients (especially unconsenting patients -- though every pregnancy involves risks, and it ultimately has to be the mother's responsibility to roll the dice for her as-yet-nonexistent child).

Some people would say it's unnatural. I never accept naturalness on its own as a criterion for anything. It's nearly impossible to define, and in a sense either everything people do is unnatural -- since the opposite of "natural" is "man-made" -- or everything we do is natural -- since if nature hadn't given us the capacity for something, we would be physically incapable of doing it. There may be good reasons why the biological process of sexual reproduction is the best way to determine the genetic makeup of a child (on the level of the whole society I can think of a few, such as genetic diversity and convenience, but "allowing some cloning" and "using only cloning for all reproduction" are two very different proposals). But to argue that means leaving the idea of "naturalness" behind and arguing the specifics of a particular process.

Perhaps the best anti-cloning argument is the psychological expectations that would be put on the child. The experience of test-tube babies should assuage concerns that clones would be stigmatized as "that cloned kid." But there remains a definite concern that the parent of a clones would treat the clone as a sort of duplicate self. So the parent would have unrealistic expectations of how closely the child would resemble the parent, stifling the child's development of individuality and subjecting it to the backlash of the parent's frustration at not getting a full-sized Mini-Me. However much genetics may determine our personalities, it remains true that our sense of who we are is always couched largely in terms of our experiences, which would necessarily be quite different between clone and parent. Further, having the same personality wouldn't mean that the clone would be compliant with the parent's wishes. A person with a genetic predisposition to rebelliousness would be in for quite a surprise. The thing is, though, plenty of normal parents see their children as extensions of themselves and try to live vicariously through them. Cloning wouldn't create a new problem, it just ups the risk of encountering an old one (and ups it by how much we can't say yet). You can still legitimately say that we shouldn't go upping that risk if we can avoid it, but the point here is that the risk is not that big, so it can be outweighed by other considerations.

All in all, though, I don't think we'd ever see much reproductive cloning. After the initial novelty wears off (and that stage will have few enough clones because of the expense associated with a new technique), it's really only something that would be considered by people who are infertile and have a strong attachment to their dna -- barring any major cultural changes, not a huge segment of the population.

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