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|The Wisdom of Repugnance||3|
|The Paradox of Cloning||61|
|Family Needs Its Natural Roots||77|
|Sex and Family||89|
|About the Authors||101|
The Wisdom of Repugnance
Leon R. Kass
Our habit of delighting in news of scientific and technological breakthroughs has been sorely challenged by the birth announcement of a sheep named Dolly. Though Dolly shares with previous sheep the "softest clothing, woolly, bright," William Blake's question, "Little Lamb, who made thee?" has for her a radically different answer: Dolly was, quite literally, made. She is the work not of nature or nature's God but of man, an Englishman, Ian Wilmut, and his fellow scientists. What is more, Dolly came into being not only asexually--ironically, just like "He [who] calls Himself a Lamb"--but also as the genetically identical copy (and the perfect incarnation of the form or blueprint) of a mature ewe, of whom she is a clone. This long-awaited yet not quite expected success in cloning a mammal raised immediately the prospect--and the specter--of cloning human beings: "I a child and Thou a lamb," despite our differences, have always been equal candidates for creative making, only now, by means of cloning, we may both spring from the hand of man playing at being God.
After an initial flurry of expert comment and public consternation, with opinion polls showing overwhelming opposition to cloning human beings, President Clinton ordered a ban on all federal support for human cloning research (even though none was being supported) and charged the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to report in ninety days on the ethics of human cloning research. The commission (an eighteen-member panel, evenly balanced between scientists and nonscientists, appointed by the president and reporting to the National Science and Technology Council) invited testimony from scientists, religious thinkers, and bioethicists, as well as from the general public. In its report, issued in June 1997, the commission concluded that attempting to clone a human being was "at this time ... morally unacceptable," recommended continuing the president's moratorium on the use of federal funds to support cloning of humans, and called for federal legislation to prohibit anyone from attempting (during the next three to five years) to create a child through cloning.
Even before the commission reported, Congress was poised to act. Bills to prohibit the use of federal funds for human cloning research have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate; and another bill, in the House, would make it illegal "for any person to use a human somatic cell for the process of producing a human clone." A fateful decision is at hand. To clone or not to clone a human being is no longer an academic question.
Taking Cloning Seriously, Then and Now
Cloning first came to public attention roughly thirty years ago, following the successful asexual production, in England, of a clutch of tadpole clones by the technique of nuclear transplantation. The individual largely responsible for bringing the prospect and promise of human cloning to public notice was Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate geneticist and a man of large vision. In 1966 Lederberg wrote a remarkable article in the American Naturalist detailing the eugenic advantages of human cloning and other forms of genetic engineering, and the following year he devoted a column in the Washington Post, where he wrote regularly on science and society, to the prospect of human cloning. He suggested that cloning could help us overcome the unpredictable variety that still rules human reproduction and would allow us to benefit from perpetuating superior genetic endowments. Those writings sparked a small public debate in which I became a participant. At the time a young researcher in molecular biology at the National Institutes of Health, I wrote a reply to the Post, arguing against Lederberg's amoral treatment of that morally weighty subject and insisting on the urgency of confronting a series of questions and objections, culminating in the suggestion that "the programmed reproduction of man will, in fact, dehumanize him."
Much has happened in the intervening years. It has become harder, not easier, to discern the true meaning of human cloning. We have in some sense been softened up to the idea--through movies, cartoons, jokes, and intermittent commentary in the mass media, some serious, most lighthearted. We have become accustomed to new practices in human reproduction: not just in vitro fertilization, but also embryo manipulation, embryo donation, and surrogate pregnancy. Animal biotechnology has yielded transgenic animals and a burgeoning science of genetic engineering, easily and soon to be transferable to humans.
Even more important, changes in the broader culture make it now vastly more difficult to express a common and respectful understanding of sexuality, procreation, nascent life, family, and the meaning of motherhood, fatherhood, and the links between the generations. Twenty-five years ago, abortion was still largely illegal and thought to be immoral, the sexual revolution (made possible by the extramarital use of the pill) was still in its infancy, and few had yet heard about the reproductive rights of single women, homosexual men, and lesbians. (Never mind shameless memoirs about one's own incest!) Then one could argue, without embarrassment, that the new technologies of human reproduction--babies without sex--and their confounding of normal kin relations--who is the mother: the egg donor, the surrogate who carries and delivers, or the one who rears?--would "undermine the justification and support that biological parenthood gives to the monogamous marriage." Today, defenders of stable, monogamous marriage risk charges of giving offense to those adults who are living in "new family forms" or to those children who, even without the benefit of assisted reproduction, have acquired either three or four parents or one or none at all. Today, one must even apologize for voicing opinions that twenty-five years ago were nearly universally regarded as the core of our culture's wisdom on those matters. In a world whose once-given natural boundaries are blurred by technological change and whose moral boundaries are seemingly up for grabs, it is much more difficult to make persuasive the still compelling case against cloning human beings. As Raskolnikov put it, "Man gets used to everything--the beast!"
Indeed, perhaps the most depressing feature of the discussions that immediately followed the news about Dolly was their ironical tone, their genial cynicism, their moral fatigue: "An Udder Way of Making Lambs" (Nature), "Who Will Cash in on Breakthrough in Cloning?" (Wall Street Journal), "Is Cloning Baaaaaaaad?" (Chicago Tribune). Gone from the scene are the wise and courageous voices of Theodosius Dobzhansky (genetics), Hans Jonas (philosophy), and Paul Ramsey (theology), who, only twenty-five years ago, all made powerful moral arguments against ever cloning a human being. We are now too sophisticated for such argumentation; we would not be caught in public with a strong moral stance, never mind an absolutist one. We are all, or almost all, postmodernists now.
Cloning turns out to be the perfect embodiment of the ruling opinions of our new age. Thanks to the sexual revolution, we are able to deny in practice, and increasingly in thought, the inherent procreative teleology of sexuality itself. But, if sex has no intrinsic connection to generating babies, babies need have no necessary connection to sex. Thanks to feminism and the gay rights movement, we are increasingly encouraged to treat the natural heterosexual difference and its preeminence as a matter of "cultural construction." But if male and female are not normatively complementary and generatively significant, babies need not come from male and female complementarity. Thanks to the prominence and the acceptability of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, stable, monogamous marriage as the ideal home for procreation is no longer the agreed-upon cultural norm. For that new dispensation, the clone is the ideal emblem: the ultimate "single-parent child."
Thanks to our belief that all children should be wanted children (the more high-minded principle we use to justify contraception and abortion), sooner or later only those children who fulfill our wants will be fully acceptable. Through cloning, we can work our wants and wills on the very identity of our children, exercising control as never before. Thanks to modern notions of individualism and the rate of cultural change, we see ourselves not as linked to ancestors and defined by traditions, but as projects for our own self-creation, not only as self-made men but also man-made selves; and self-cloning is simply an extension of such rootless and narcissistic self-re-creation.
Unwilling to acknowledge our debt to the past and unwilling to embrace the uncertainties and the limitations of the future, we have a false relation to both: cloning personifies our desire fully to control the future, while being subject to no controls ourselves. Enchanted and enslaved by the glamour of technology, we have lost our awe and wonder before the deep mysteries of nature and of life. We cheerfully take our own beginnings in our hands and, like the last man, we blink.
Part of the blame for our complacency lies, sadly, with the field of bioethics itself, and its claim to expertise in these moral matters. Bioethics was founded by people who understood that the new biology touched and threatened the deepest matters of our humanity: bodily integrity, identity and individuality, lineage and kinship, freedom and self-command, eros and aspiration, and the relations and strivings of body and soul. With its capture by analytic philosophy, however, and its inevitable routinization and professionalization, the field has by and large come to content itself with analyzing moral arguments, reacting to new technological developments, and taking on emerging issues of public policy, all performed with a naive faith that the evils we fear can all be avoided by compassion, regulation, and a respect for autonomy. Bioethics has made some major contributions in the protection of human subjects and in other areas where personal freedom is threatened; but its practitioners, with few exceptions, have turned the big human questions into pretty thin gruel.
One reason for that is that the piecemeal formation of public policy tends to grind down large questions of morals into small questions of procedure. Many of the country's leading bioethicists have served on national commissions or state task forces and advisory boards, where, understandably, they have found utilitarianism to be the only ethical vocabulary acceptable to all participants in discussing issues of law, regulation, and public policy. As many of those commissions have been either officially under the aegis of the National Institutes of Health or the Health and Human Services Department, or otherwise dominated by powerful voices for scientific progress, the ethicists have for the most part been content, after some "values clarification" and wringing of hands, to pronounce their blessings upon the inevitable. Indeed, it is the bioethicists, not the scientists, who are now the most articulate defenders of human cloning: the two witnesses testifying before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission in favor of cloning human beings were bioethicists, eager to rebut what they regard as the irrational concerns of those of us in opposition. We have come to expect from the "experts" an accommodationist ethic that will rubber-stamp all biomedical innovation, in the mistaken belief that all other goods must bow down to the gods of better health and scientific advance. Regrettably, as we shall see near the end of this essay, the report of the present commission, though better than its predecessors, is finally not an exception.
If we are to correct our moral myopia, we must first of all persuade ourselves not to be complacent about what is at issue here. Human cloning, though it is in some respects continuous with previous reproductive technologies, also represents something radically new, in itself and in its easily foreseeable consequences. The stakes are very high indeed. I exaggerate, but in the direction of the truth, when I insist that we are faced with having to decide nothing less than whether human procreation is going to remain human, whether children are going to be made rather than begotten, whether it is a good thing, humanly speaking, to say yes in principle to the road that leads (at best) to the dehumanized rationality of Brave New World. This is not business as usual, to be fretted about for a while but finally to be given our seal of approval. We must rise to the occasion and make our judgments as if the future of our humanity hangs in the balance. For so it does.
[CHAPTER ONE CONTINUES ...]
Posted May 5, 2003
Given the title of this book, The Ethics of Human Cloning, I figured it would be full of arguments about why cloning is ethical and that we should make an effort to advance our technology in that field. Much to my surprise (and good fortune), the book is about no such thing, in fact it is the opposite. Kass and Wilson both oppose cloning but have different reasons for their opposition, which are presented well using the essays that each had written. Although I sided with Kass for the most part, Wilson did have a few strong points and the book is put together in such a way that is easy to compare the different viewpoints of the two authors. I would recommend this book to people who are just learning about cloning (and have a pretty good size vocabulary) and I would definitely recommend it to people who are still on the fence as to whether or not they support cloning.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 19, 2002
Posted August 24, 2001
Both Kass and Wilson offer cogent and erudite meditations on the subject of human cloning. Kass suggests that outright and absolute prohibition is the only morally acceptable choice. On the other hand, Wilson suggests that as a complement to existing techniques designed to assist reproduction, cloning would be acceptable if a married, heterosexual couple cloned a consenting, close relative. I was surprised and disappointed to find that both rely almost solely on emotional appeals rather than any sort of logical, ethical construct. Kass seeks to promote the wonders of sex and begetting and their assumed importance in a healthy family unit. His logical arguments could be summarized as follows: One cannot presume that a cloned person would give consent to be born a clone. Does this mean we require consent from our prospective children to be born with any of the many conceivable traits they inherit from us? Or do we require their consent to even be born at all? Someone born as a clone would be confused about their identity. Would they be confused if they didn't know they were a clone? Probably not. Probably they would grow up with an individual and distinct onsciousness just like anyone else. Clearly the risk here is the risk of what Kass calls 'despotism'--trying to have a clone in order to mould it after someone else's image. Supposing that the cloned individual is raised by parents who have hopes and dreams for, even live vicariously thorugh the exploits of their child, is this really different than the feelings most (if not all) parents have for their children at one time or another. Part of maturation is rebellion and the exertion of independence. Cloning won't remove the instinct to form one's own identity. Kass's final arguement is that it is unethical to bring a cloned child into this world because it would be unclear to the clone who its kin are. Wilson does an effective job refuting this assertion, so I won't bother to rehash his argument. Wilson's primary argument for allowing cloning is that if the technology exists people will use it. I agree, and would go further to say that a society that spurns technology puts itself at a competative disadvantage. No one can predict what the ultimate utility of a technology is during its nascency. Wilson feels that cloning is thus permissible and ethically no different than IVF or any of the technologies used to aid conception. However, he feels it should be limited to married, heterosexual couples that can provide a loving familiy for the child. Both Kass and Wilson seem to be rooted in the morality of the 1950's. They both object vehmently to children being raised in any environment other than that of a married, heterosexual couple. Growing up, many of my friends were chilren of divorce, or raised by a single (even homosexual) parent, poor, subject to any number of prejudices and injustices and amazingly, they all seemed to turn out just fine.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.