A clone is an exact genetic copy of a molecule, cell, plant, or animal. Animal cloning has been done successfully in laboratories since the 1990s. Dolly, a female domestic sheep was the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell.
As for human beings, no cloning is allowed. Human cloning is as yet only a theoretical possibility. Moral discussions on human cloning are based on futuristic scenarios.
Arguments in favour of cloning:
- Formulating appropriate approaches to child development: An important unresolved problem in psychology is how human beings acquire their traits of character. Are such traits derived mainly from one's biological make-up or are the outcomes of the environment in which one is raised or the result of chance factors? Children will grow into healthy, happy adults and be able to realize their potential.
- Creating clones with high potential: Factors which contribute to creativity such as tenacity, concentration, determination and self- belief can be created to some extent through a right combination of heredity and environment.
- Customized offsprings: Many parents desire that their children should have specific talents or traits. They may want their children to have scientific or artistic talents in some directions. In some measure, cloning can produce such offspring.
- Fighting infertility: In future, cloning can be a solution to infertile couples. But as we noted, at present cloning is prohibited for such reproductive purposes. It raises many intriguing ethical issues. But in principle it is a way for infertile couples to have a child biologically related to them.
- Saving lives, healthcare benefits: Though reproductive cloning is illegal, therapeutic cloning for creating replacement tissues or 'body spare parts' holds great promise. An embryo can be created for generating an organ for transplant. By cloning an individual who has no major debilitating or psychological problems like depression, healthy and happy individuals can be produced.
Arguments against cloning:
- Undermines uniqueness: Cloning deprives the clone of the right to be a genetically unique individual. It impairs the uniqueness of the individual, and is intrinsically immoral. However, philosophers disagree on this point.
- An open future argument: Another objection to cloning relies on what may be called 'an open future argument' or 'right to ignorance of a certain sort'. According to this argument, the future of a clone appears to him or her like a rerun of an earlier life. It resembles a refurbished model. The clone may lose feelings of novelty or miss elements of surprise which are part of normal life. He may have a sense of following a well- worn path in life. Knowledge of the life experience of the original person, his successes and failures in life, will constrain the clone's future; it will shut out many experimental life moves he could have made. In reply, it is argued that such fears are exaggerated. Besides one's genetic make-up, external circumstances will affect his/her course of life. The life histories of identical twins — natural clones — are often very different.
- Alarmist future possibilities: These can be termed as 'brave new world' anxieties. Aldous Huxley, in his novel Brave New World, envisaged a future society in which different social categories such as proletarians, clerks, intellectual workers and political leaders are genetically created as test-tube babies. They are pre-programmed, and each fits snugly into his social station, experiencing no complaints or grievances. Cloning can theoretically be used for similar sinister purposes. One may Xerox many Hitlers or murderous soldiers for savage regimes. These fears belong more to science fiction than to any possible reality.
- Kantian argument: Human beings have to be considered as ends in themselves and not as instruments for achieving some other goals which transcend intrinsic human worth. This view is widely accepted among philosophers. While it may apply to reproductive cloning, its force is greatly reduced in settings of gene therapy.
- Violation of individual personal autonomy: Once a clone is created with various predispositions, he will no longer develop into a free, spontaneous being.
- Homogenous humanity: Writers also point to some other risks of cloning. It can reduce diversity among human beings which nature has created, and lead to some form of human monocultures. Cloning is tantamount to not exercising procreation rights but to manufacturing human beings which can never be justified. Cloning is open to danger that people may be cloned without their knowledge or consent. Cloning messes up family relationships. If a woman bears her husband's clone, is he the father to the son she bears or its twin brother?
According to Micahel J. Sandel
, cloning alters our perspective on nature and undermines important human values
. Human beings are children of nature and have no role in creating their biological make-up. Whatever natural talents or traits or abilities they have are gifts of nature. We attribute these aspects of being to God, nature or chance. This creates in us a sense of humility and reverence towards nature. If we control this function of nature, we take our biological destiny into our hands.
Thus cloning has many benefits but has a number of moral implications. This may not be an unmixed blessing. At present, we accept our biological endowments in a spirit of resignation. New technologies can make parents responsible at least partly for the traits of their offspring, and thus create moral dilemmas for them. They may be blamed for their choices or inaction. Cloning may reduce our sense of solidarity with our less fortunate fellow human beings. Often we attribute their misfortunes or failures to luck and chance. Once character and success become matters within our volition, we may blame the failures of others on their own incapacity. In this way, we lose empathy for them. In short, there may be grave dangers in tinkering with the tried and tested ways of wise nature.