The news of the successful cloning of an adult sheep-in
which the sheep's DNA was inserted into an unfertilized sheep
egg to produce a lamb with identical DNA-has generated an
outpouring of ethical concerns. These concerns are not about
Dolly, the now famous sheep, nor even about the considerable
impact cloning may have on the animal breeding industry, but
rather about the possibility of cloning humans. For the most
part, however, the ethical concerns being raised are exaggerated
and misplaced, because they are based on inaccurate views about
what genes are and what they can do. The danger, therefore, lies
not in the power of the technology, but in the
misunderstanding of its significance.
Producing a clone of a human being would not amount to
creating a carbon copy-an automaton of the sort familiar from
science fiction. It would be more like producing a delayed
identical twin. And just as identical twins are two separate
people-biologically, psychologically, morally and legally,
though not genetically so a clone is a separate person from his
or her non-contemporaneous twin. To think otherwise is to
embrace a belief in genetic determinism-the view that genes
determine everything about us, and that environmental factors or
the random events in human development are utterly
insignificant. The overwhelming consensus among geneticists is
that genetic determinism is false.
As geneticists have come to understand the ways in which
genes operate, they have also become aware of the myriad ways in
which the environment affects their expression. The genetic
contribution to the simplest physical traits, such as height and
hair color, is significantly mediated by environmental factors.
And the genetic contribution to the traits we value most deeply,
from intelligence to compassion, is conceded by even the most
enthusiastic genetic researchers to be limited and indirect.
Indeed, we need only appeal to our ordinary experience with
identical twins-that they are different people despite their
similarities-to appreciate that genetic determinism is false.
Furthermore, because of the extra steps involved, cloning
will probably always be riskier that is less likely to result in
a live birth-than in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo
transfer. (It took more than 275 attempts before the researchers
were able to obtain a successful sheep clone. While cloning
methods may improve, we should note that even standard IVF
techniques typically have a success rate of less than 20
percent.) So why would anyone go to the trouble of cloning?
There are, of course, a few reasons people might go to
the trouble, and so it's worth pondering what they think they
might accomplish, and what sort of ethical quandaries they might
engender. Consider the hypothetical example of the couple who
wants to replace a child who has died. The couple doesn't seek
to have another child the ordinary way because they feel that
cloning would enable them to reproduce, as it were, the lost
child. But the unavoidable truth is that they would be producing
an entirely different person, a delayed identical twin of that
child. Once they understood that, it is unlikely they would
But suppose they were to persist? Of course we can't
deny that possibility. But a couple so persistent in refusing to
acknowledge the genetic facts is not likely to be daunted by
ethical considerations or legal restrictions either. If our fear
is that there could be many couples with that sort of
psychology, then we have a great deal more than cloning to worry
Another disturbing possibility is the person who wants a
clone in order to have acceptable spare parts in case he or
she needs an organ transplant later in life. But regardless of
the reason that someone has a clone produced, the result would
nevertheless be a human being with all the rights and
protections that accompany that status. It truly would be a
disaster if the results of human cloning were seen
as less than fully human. But there is certainly no moral
justification for and little social danger of that happening;
after all, we do not accord lesser status to children who have
been created through IVF or embryo transfer.
There are other possibilities we could spin out. Suppose
a couple wants a designer child-a clone of Cindy Crawford or
Elizabeth Taylor-because they want a daughter who will