Re: "Cloning Breakthrough" not one

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Nov 26 2001 - 14:27:02 MST

On Mon, Nov 26, 2001 at 12:38:19PM -0500, Mike Lorrey wrote:
> All these alleged 'ethics experts' claim that there is some moral reason
> against reproductive cloning, but I've never actually seen anyone detail
> the philosophical principles for such a claim. Can anyone point to some
> arguments against reproductive cloning that are not just "because it's
> so" statements?

I think the basic arguments fall into a number of classes:

1) Threats against human dignity.

        - By interfering in the reproductive process humans become
manufactured rather than just born, and this makes the child subject to
its parents or whoever is doing the cloning rather than a truly
independent human being. This weakens human dignity, as virtues and
flaws become merely features and misfeatures of the "manufacturing" and
might carry over in other spheres of human culture as a genetization of

        - The Kantian ethical idea that humans must be ends in
themselves, and not tools for other ends is sometimes invoked by
suggesting that clones are created for other reasons than simply being

        - Threats against identity: everybody has a right to an
identity, and this is threatened by being cloned.

2) Threats against the natural order.

        - There is something inherently sacred or otherwise valuable in
natural reproduction, and this is damaged by cloning. The damage may not
be directed at the people involved, but could affect others who would
suffer from living in a world where aspects of the natural order have
been disrupted.

        - Bad, undefined things may happen if we transgress certain
boundaries. This may not be divine retribution but simply unexpected
side effects. Since some bad things may be very bad certain boundaries
should never be transgressed.

3) Threats against society.

        - Risks of social stratification, as the wealthy clone

        - Overcloning of some individuals, possibly reducing genetic

        - Children being reared by neurotic clone-parents trying to make
them the perfect individuals their originals never were. Or the classic
misuse scenarios where mad dictators or cults clone people.

        - Risks of using clones as slave labor or second class
citizens, or the emergence of a market for stem cells and cloned tissue.

4) Practical threats to the child

        - Cloning is likely to produce miscarriages and deformities,
and in humans certain changes might not become apparent until puberty or
later, when the clone is already an individual and will suffer from

This is the main non-trivial ethical arguments I have seen. Some might
appear silly to this list, but note that even an argument most here
considers silly can be widely effective (for example the view that
transgressing the natural is ethically *wrong* and mustn't be done -
this is a very strong view in some cultures).

My own responses to these classes:

Human dignity: Human dignity is not tied to how we were conceived or
what processes intervened, because it is not tied to biology but rather
to what it is to be a living, acting, experiencing human. We emerge from
the impositions of genes and environment in a dynamical process, and we
are ourselves active participants in this process by our own actions; we
amplify tiny causes and shape them according to our whims. This means
that threats to human dignity deal with threats to this process of
self-becoming, and cannot occur before there is an active self that is
reaching towards individuality.

The manufacturing rather than being born argument is more cultural and
cannot be dismissed outright. However, it implies that culture will
always be controlled by technological imperatives rather than the
reverse (or a more complex interaction). But a biologically determinist
culture like the one in the film Gattaca is a failure of culture: the
humanists, scientists and artists shaping the culture have all failed to
understand and speak up for how genes are only a part of the human
being, and how this complex interplay make us at the same time random
and deliberate. In the end, a fear that certain technologies would
change our culture in bad directions is not enough to power an ethical
argument against the technology.

It also presupposes that technological imperatives will always force
everyone to do the same, not that modern pluralistic societies can
accept that some people chose one thing and others chose differently.

Claiming that identity depends on genetic identity is clearly wrong,
since we do not view twins as having any special ethical relationship to
each other beyond kinship. In fact, a genetic basis for identity would
lead dangerously in the direction of genetic determinism and ignore all
the evidence of how humans develop - even twins in the same environment
- into unique beings. Having someone like you is not an imposition on
your identity.

The natural order: This is really where the enlightenment tradition runs
into the romantics and irrationalists. It is a question about values,
emotions and deeply felt but rather intuitive perceptions of not just
how the world works but also what it *means*. This is not so much an
issue of rational debate as showing a better vision of the world than
the opponent - this is the field of artists and visionaries.

I think the argument that we may not do things that disrupt the
experience of the sacred for others is weak; while we should show
tolerance and sometimes empathy with others' feelings, allowing them to
rule us would simply not work since there is no end to the number of
deeply felt but incompatible concepts of what is acceptable in the

The natural order can be read in many ways. It is not so much an issue
of how the world is as how we see meaning and pattern in it. I think the
romantic and religious views of the world have the deep problem of being
essentially static, making out the world and its internal relations to
be a fixed structure (often Platonic ideas lurk here). This has some
disturbing consequences, since this order is usually taken to be the
template human affairs should be ordered after: everything and everyone
in their place, and no room for breaking the mold. Of course, not every
view of a natural order is this static, but even many views that
emphasize how fluid and changeable everything is seem to have a static
large-scale view: the Tao is eternal and will never transmute into
something entirely different. More specifically if we look at the
western "natural orders" they tend to be hierarchical and based on many
assumptions in ecology that simply do not hold: there is no fragile
balance of nature, no unchanging species with fixed roles, but rather a
huge evolutionary chaotic but self-organizing dynamics. Also, these
natural orders often tend to separate nature from human activity, making
humans outsiders or unnatural. I would rather say we are quite natural,
have developed from a natural basis and what we do is part of the big
scheme of things, yet another voice in the concert of life.

There is also the issue of what is meant by humanity. This is maybe even
more powerful: we are instantly revulsed when we see humanity being
warped or hurt, and the concept of almost but not quite human beings
have great emotional power. Cloning threatens the traditional, safe
image of what it is to be a human by allowing new forms of reproduction
and a new "contract of parenthood". Instead of viewing this as a
challenge to overcome by extending or refining our concept of humanity
(which is the path I would prefer to see), many react by suggesting that
since the traditional humanity has served us well and seems to be common
sense, it must be *right* - and any deviations and deviants are wrong.
This kind of ethical conservatism has some rather disturbing effects,
since it can equally easy be used to restrict the definition of humanity
and what a valuable human life is towards normality, excluding groups
such as disabled, people of different ethnicity and so on. I think it is
better to take the challenge and extend the definition of humanity
outwards rather than to try to retain a classical concept of it.

The risk argument is really an argument from ignorance. It is closely
related to the precautionary principle (never do anything unless you can
show that it is safe), which as it is usually wielded in the debate
implies the need for perfect knowledge about every possible risk (and
since many also believe even imperfect knowledge is impossible it
becomes an argument for non-action). But it can also be used in a
deeper, more mystical way as allowing wague concepts of hubris, karma
and other concepts not normally acceptable in the fairly rationalistic
ethical forums to sneak in. They are never named, and if pressed the
person using the argument can always suggest the more rational
precautionary principle or name a few cases where unexpected risks have
been discovered later, but the real rhetorical strength lies in the
wague associations of doom. Here I would say a rational concept of risk
is far preferrable as a course of action - it makes a far less effective
rhetorical ploy! - we can use our admittedly imperfect knowledge to make
a best estimate of risks, which we then update as we learn more. In the
current situation reproductive cloning does not seem to pose any
existential risks (in Nick Bostrom's terminology, risks that threaten
humanity) since it would be very unlikely to be used on large
populations and the effects would be localized to the clones and their
closest - risks may still exist, but they are unlikely to take us all

The risks to society are easier to deal with, since they can be
discussed in terms of more observable things like real human behavior,
economics and politics - which still are very soft and easily
interpreted into many different ways! But here I think we have already
seen many good arguments that the risks are fairly small, I do not have
the time to go through them at length. Even moreso the risks to the
clone argument is an argument that can be settled using objective
methods, and will likely be settled in the near future.

It should be noted that the social risks issues are really more politics
than ethics: we allow many antisocial behaviors (such as flaming) while
regarding them and their consequences as undesirable but not undesirable
enough to warrant a ban or an ethical case for others to step in and
forcibly prevent them.

To sum up, I think there are valid reasons not to try reproductive
cloning right now. But that does not mean it is inherently wrong if safe
methods can be developed. But the cloning opposition is of a different
opinion, and at its core lies a different concept of what it means to be
a human, how the natural order should dictate our actions and the idea
that certain cultural and social states are so bad that they should be
prevented by preventing technology from being developed rather than
finding cultural ways of handling them.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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