Summary of Michael Tooley’s, “Moral Status of Cloning Humans”

Many organisms, including aspen trees, reproduce by cloning.

Michael Tooley’s article “Moral Status of Cloning Humans” defends human cloning. I am in complete agreement with his argument. Cloning, despite the visceral reaction it raises, is a tool in the arsenal of the transhumanist once it is understood. Here is a brief outline of the article with a bit of commentary identified by parenthesis.

SECTION 1 – Is it Intrinsically Wrong to Produce a Person by Cloning?

Cloning might be wrong intrinsically because: 1) the right of a person to a genetically unique nature; and 2) the right of a person to a future that is, in a certain sense, open.

Regarding 1 – is it important to be unique? If there was another you on a distant planet does that diminish your worthiness?

Two persons could be identical because of deterministic law (genes and environment), or by chance (identical twins). Most people aren’t bothered by the latter, but by the former. If bothered by the former, is that because such persons would not be unique, or is one bothered because they don’t like determinism? Tooley thinks its determinism they don’t like, not the lack of uniqueness. But they should have no worries since cloning—even less than identical twins reared together—doesn’t imply genetic determinism (and doesn’t produce identical people.)

Do persons then have a right to a unique genome? The case of twins suggests they do not, as no one worries that there are twins or thinks it wrong to have twins. But is there some right violated by being a clone? It seems not.  One’s individuality is not threatened because someone else shares your genome. (Again that implies that genetic determinism is true, but we aren’t genetically determined.)

Or consider that if the gods had to choose between 1) evolution; 2) an original pair who would mate, or 3) an original pair who would reproduce perfect clones of themselves forever. Might not the gods have rejected the former as too random, and chose the latter instead? Would this last world be worse than the others, or much better?  Tooley thinks it would have been better. This suggests there is nothing crucial about genetic uniqueness.

Regarding 2 – we might think certain futures aren’t open to us because someone who preceded us did or did not do certain things. Tooley suggests such knowledge would be helpful since we wouldn’t attempt to do impossible or extremely unlikely things based upon knowledge of our genome.  Or, if one thought themselves constrained by their genome, they would be wrong, as the case of identical twins shows. (Again, genetic potentials, dispositions, propensities, or proclivities do NOT imply genetic determinism.) Thus the arguments against cloning are unconvincing.

SECTION 2 – Considerations in Support of Cloning

In support of cloning Tooley offers the following:

1) We would gain scientific knowledge about nature vs. nurture debate. Such knowledge would be potentially beneficial to society and child rearing;
2) We could clone persons who have made significant contributions to society;
3) We can increase the chances that one will be happy and healthy;
4) It will improve and inform the relationship for both children and parents—since the parent will better recall what it was to be that child;
5) It would help infertile couples who could not otherwise have children;
6) It will allow homosexual couples to have their own children; and
7) It would save lives (primarily by the ability to clone perfectly compatible organs.)

SECTION 3 – Objections to the Cloning of Humans

Still, even if the arguments against cloning are weak—as the first section demonstrated—and there are multiple benefits to cloning—as the second section argued—cloning might still be wrong because of some bad consequences that might follow its adoption.

Arguments against cloning and responses to those arguments

1) Creating mindless organ banks is wrong because you are killing a person, or because you are not allowing a person to have a brain or soul, or because it is killing a potential person.

Response – Tooley rejects all of these objections. There are no convincing reasons to think that embryos, brainless organs, or potential people are people. Furthermore, while some may think organ banks are ghoulish, not using them allows innocent people to die who would otherwise not die. Thus to advocate against cloning is to recommend a course of action that will result in the death of many innocent people. (Remember also that in practice we’re talking about cells being directed to develop into a pancreas, liver, heart, etc. Not whole bodies hanging on hooks as is often depicted in the movies.)

2) Cloning violates the rights of clones to a genetically unique or open future.

Response – This objection has already been dealt with.

3) Brave New World scenarios such as human beings will be cloned to serve as slaves, soldiers in the dictator’s army, etc.

Response – Such scenarios are not plausible.  Would society suddenly change its mind about the immorality of slavery because of genetic engineering? Would a dictator who couldn’t conscript his own army undertake a cloning project so that in twenty years he had the army he wanted? Not likely. (Remember you must show not that something is possible but that it’s plausible.)

4) Cloning will cause psychological distress because clones will think their uniqueness is compromised or future constrained.

Response – The beliefs that give rise to such distress are, as we have seen, false; and they are also irrational since, as we have seen, genetic determinism is false. But we should not be constrained by the irrational beliefs of others. Moreover, these irrational beliefs will cease when cloning becomes familiar.

5) We use children—treat them as means to an end—when we clone them to save another child.

Response – Tooley thinks it unlikely that parents would be less likely to care or love their offspring in such situations.

6) Cloning interferes with autonomy.

Response – If my child is cloned with a genetic capability or potential to be an intellectual, that doesn’t mean they have to be. The same if they are disposed to be intellectuals; they still don’t have to be. In addition, is it really wrong to want children who won’t suffer from genetic diseases?  Finally, If cloning to produce children with certain traits is wrong, then so are almost all child-rearing practices.

SECTION 4 – Conclusion

“My overall conclusion, in short, is that the cloning of human beings, both to produce mindless organ banks, and to produce persons, is both morally acceptable, in principle, and potentially very beneficial for society.”

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One thought on “Summary of Michael Tooley’s, “Moral Status of Cloning Humans”

  1. There is one practical objection you haven’t covered: the state of the art in cloning is highly imperfect. It is likely that to produce one somewhat-healthy clone, tens or hundreds of embryos would have to develop at least partway. Even the clones which make it to full term may have other issues – for example, Dolly the famous sheep died young from cancer. Perhaps this doesn’t count against some idealized philosophical version of cloning, but it’s definitely a problem with what we have now.

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