Reproductive cloning in human beings would use the same techniques (CNR - cell nuclear replacement) that led to the famous sheep Dolly, in order to produce a person genetically identical with someone who was already living or had lived. There is widespread agreement that this should not be attempted at the present time, but nevertheless some fringe groups and persons claim to be going ahead with it. What are the issues?
The first is
safety. Dolly was the only successful birth out of 277 attempts. She now suffers from arthritis and her bodily condition appears to be significantly `older' than her birth age. Among other cloned animals born subsequently, there have been many defects and malformations. These facts of wastage and health problems have convinced responsible people that it would be ethically unacceptable to attempt human cloning today, with these problems ununderstood and unresolved.
But if these safety problems were eventually solved, would human cloning then be ethically permissible? Here responses do not show quite the same degree of unanimity. One can get at the matter by asking what would be the motive for attempting it? Broadly speaking, two reasons have been suggested:
Replacement. A much-loved person dies (perhaps a young child in an accident). Why should the bereaved not seek to fill the gap by a clone of the lost person? Two comments can be made. First, the clone would not be the lost person "living again'. We are more than our genes, as the distinct personalities of identical twins (who are natural clones) make clear. The idea of replacement would be based on the fallacy of a complete genetic determinism. Second, every child is to be valued for himself/herself and not as a surrogate for someone else. Replacement, and a number of other forms of hypothetical genetic engineering, carry the danger of "commodifying' children. Human beings are always ends in themselves, and never just means to an end.
Infertility. In cases of extreme infertility, reproductive cloning would offer perhaps the only chance to produce a child with a direct genetic connection with one parent. There would be little doubt that in this case the child would be very greatly desired for its own sake. Yet, the procedure would lead to the unprecedented family relationship in which a child was the identical twin of one of the parents. To create deliberately such unnatural cross-generational linkage seems morally questionable. Infertility is undoubtedly a form of bereavement to many people, but there must be ethical limits to procedures that are acceptable to deal with it.
But in practical terms, is it not human cloning eventually inevitable? There is a prophesy in danger of bringing about its own fulfillment. One can never prevent the acts of rogue individuals but it is perfectly possible for society to outlaw human reproductive cloning in an effective way, if it wills to do so. The situation in the United Kingdom (which, as a member of the Human Genetics Commission, I have played a part in helping to form) makes this plain. While experimentation with early embryos to produce genetically compatible tissue (so-called, therapeutic cloning) is permissible on a licensed case-by-case basis in the UK, the implantation of any genetically manipulated embryo in a woman's womb is a criminal offense. There is a clear and enforceable demarcation line between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, represented by the distinction between working in the laboratory (in vitro) and in the womb (in utero), which prevents any `slippery slope' transfer from one to the other. Another argument against permitting the use of reproductive cloning as an extreme form of infertility treatment, would be that it would breach this barrier.
Science gives us knowledge and then technology takes that knowledge and uses it to acquire the power to do new things. Yet, not everything that can be done should be done. Technology can be used both for morally good ends and for morally bad ends. We need to add to knowledge and power a third ingredient, wisdom - the ability to discern and recognize the good and to discern and refuse the bad. The world faith traditions do not have a monopoly on wisdom, but they are reservoirs of it, for they have many centuries experience of wrestling with moral questions. Yet they cannot approach these new problems with ready-made answers. Many of the ethical issues that we face today arise from recent advances in science and they have no clear precedents in the perplexities of the past. The genetic questions we have been considering are an example of this. Active and temperate debate is necessary if society is to be able to reach wise conclusions. The world faith traditions should seek to be informed and discerning contributors to that discussion. From my Christian perspective, I personally believe that human dignity would best be protected by banning reproductive cloning.