A clone by any other name is still a human being
Stacey E. Ake, PhD, PhD
Associate Editor, Metanexus
Why is it that we actually think that a change in technology has to reflect or create
a corresponding change in human nature? It does not. When Martin Luther King, Jr.,
observed that we now had guided missiles and misguided men, he was commenting upon
the novelty of the missiles, for we have always had misguided men. There is nothing new
about the human condition that will be changed or revealed by the cloning of human
beings. And I found it a great relief when it was announced on Friday, March 9th
that scientists – specifically, Panos Zavos (formerly of the University of Kentucky) and
Severino Antinori (an Italian gynecologist) – had finally stated publicly their plan to
clone a human being. Thus the debate about whether a human being could possibly or
should actually be cloned has been concluded. Ever since Dolly the sheep debuted on the
existential circuit, it had only been a matter of time before a human being would attempt
(and succeed) at cloning another human being.
And if people thought there would be some sort of hesitance about cloning
another human being, then that was a foolish optimism. Human beings have never been
hesitant about breeding their fellow humans to meet certain cultural expectations. As
evidence, I submit to your consideration the ancient custom of arranged marriage, which
is practiced at all social levels, and the historical record of the practices of various royal
lines and other aristocratic lineages and their regard for pedigree. Anecdotally, and more
recently, there would be the existence of Nobel Prize sperm banks. This, of course, raises
the question of whether there are Nobel Prize ova banks—in case anybody wants a
daughter like Rita Levi-Montalcini or Mother Teresa? Or even such a son? But I digress.
Now, there are specific issues that do concern us about human cloning: the
possibility of slavery, the possibility of designer humans, the use of clones for organ
harvesting, and the ultimate dehumanization of said clones, i.e., the notion that they will
be treated as subhumans. Finally, there is the obvious, but bizarre, underlying source of
most of these problems: eugenics.
Do we have cause to fear that these things might happen? No, we have no reason
to fear that these things might happen. Instead, we can rest assured that somewhere,
someplace, at some time, they WILL happen. Not because the clones in question are
clones, but because both we and they, us and them, ARE humans.
Consider the creation of a clone. The genetic content, i.e., the chromosomes or
DNA, comes from a somatic cell of a human being, and perhaps with the advent of other
techniques, the double germ cell content of one human being (a kind of parthenogenic
reproduction). This genetic material is then inserted into a human ovum or perhaps some
other kind of ovum or even some kind of altered stem cell material. Since this genetic
content has had restored to it its totipotency, thus allowing the material to repeat,
theoretically in its entirety, the process of producing from this genetic material an exact
copy of its source organism.
Now there are several fallacies involved with this view of human (or any other
kind) of cloning. First and foremost is the fact that cloning is, in an oddly and ironically
logical way, a prime example of the genetic fallacy. Let me demonstrate the ways, both
biological and philosophical, in which this is the case.
The main problem is that cloning technology at this time can only address the
problem of genetic information. What is cloned is, for lack of a better term, a particular
code or, rather, the text of the organism. Under the illusion that the “central dogma” of
genetics is scientifically tenable and not merely an heuristic device, people assume that
the cloning, i.e., replication of the mere genetic information, is tantamount to an exact
replication of the individual originally produced by that genetic information. Thus, we
have succumbed to the fallacy that reproduction is, in fact, re-production, when it is
actually a novel productive capacity in virtue of, among other things, recombination.
What goes unmentioned, perhaps in virtue of the complexity of the situation, and
complexity as we know is not an answer but merely a type of delay mechanism for
scientific knowledge, is the notion that the developmental process is a kind of
hermeneutical unraveling of the genetic code.
Throughout development, which is itself an interpretive endeavor, the genetic
code is impacted by its environment, including the environment of space and time. For
example, if one takes into consideration Gerald Edelman’s notion of topobiology, part of
what decodes the genetic code, is the place in space in which said unraveling occurs.
How can a clone thus be identical to its source organism unless it is implanted at the
same time, in the same place, and in the same way (for instance, at the same point of the
menstrual cycle, in the same part of the uterus, thus washed in the same hormonal sea and
from the same direction)?
Moreover, the notion of optimizing the implantation and development of this
cloned genome may NOT be what contributed to the traits desired in the donor organism
in the first place. It is quite possible that the very anomalies of the donor’s developmental
situation in utero contributed to a certain unfolding of the genetic code that would not
occur in a perfect or optimal environment. So, there is developmental indeterminacy.
Furthermore, there is also the chance of developmental error. Not simply the
teratogenic errors of pregnancy, but also the fact that every replication of the genetic
material brings with it the possibility of mutation. If somatic cells can turn cancerous,
there is no way, particularly after fertilization, to prevent or predict such mutations in the
cloned somatic DNA content, especially since it has been reverted to its totipotency.
Another aspect of this same problem is the pre- and post-natal interaction between
genes and the environment—both biological and non-biological. If the average human
masks anywhere from 5-7 deleterious alleles, there is no way of knowing whether the
donor’s DNA with its genetic predispositions to trait A or B, with its half dozen hidden
deleterious alleles, has simply lived a fluke existence inasmuch as those alleles or that
genetic predisposition were simply not forced to expression. The very fact that identical
twins are not EXACTLY identical in behaviors, including sexual orientation and rates of
mental illness, should reveal that genetic material is not determinative of complex human
behaviors and traits. A 50% correlation is no correlation at all in the strong sense.
Given this, a true clonal experience would seem to be impossible, since neither
the interuterine environment nor the extrauterine environment will be replicable in their
entirety. Thus the actual production of a human clone qua clone (not qua human being)
would seem to be existentially impossible. Scientific techniques do not existential
realities create. This very problem of the dynamic nature of the environment is best
reflected in the lovely Southern expression “you can’t escape your raisin’.” And I would
like to add that you cannot re-create it, either. One of the most magnificent things about
life is that life cannot be controlled—in the strong sense. This is why mutations are
considered random. In other words, mutations, like excrement, just happen.
This randomness is not confined to biological, but also includes the
environmental, the experiential, and the existential. We call these non-biological random
events “accidents”, but—speaking as a philosopher—I would point out that it is often the
accidental that becomes essential in the creation of human identity. These accidents of
birth—gender, race, eye color, or whether one was a planned or unplanned child, in fact,
whether one was a clone—eventually can (and often do) become determinative of human
individuality and personal identity. If nothing else, this is the strong lesson that can be
gained from Aldous Huxley’s A- character in Brave New World.
Now I would like to turn to the “moral” issues that would seem to surround the
problematic of human cloning. The first I would like to address is the notion of eugenics.
In all honesty, it seems to me that the only real motive behind the attempt to clone a
human being is a eugenic one. Rhetoric about pushing forward the frontiers of science,
the unending pursuit of knowledge, and the unquenchable thirst of curiosity are all well
and good, but we are also aware that there is no such thing as pure science because there
is no such person as a pure human—whether in intention or action. In other words, the
real problem is not cloning as such; it is human cloning. And, historically, the motivation
behind any attempt to regulate reproduction is invariably the notion of improving the
breed, or eugenics.
Eugenics is the perfect American upshot of pragmatism and evolutionary theory.
It is not simply a matter of whatever works, but whatever works best. It is, so to speak,
managed process biology. And before mentions the biological record of Nazi Germany,
please consider that they got their theory from us. It was the United States of America,
specifically the state of Virginia, and not Nazi Germany or even Soviet Russia, that
authored eugenics in its modern instantiation.
Why is eugenics so threatening? It certainly cannot be threatening in its biological
aspect. For as long as we’ve bred animals, we have bred humans by exercising strict
social controls on marriage and imposing severe sanctions on sexuality. The incest taboo
is probably the most widely recognized of these sanctions. Yet it is actually the moral
aspect of human eugenics that causes us to quake in our boots, because it reveals us for
what we are as a species: elitist, racist, and self-centered—where the best folk are defined
as those folk who are just like ourselves. And such a state of affairs has nothing to do
with technology; it has everything to do with human nature. The policies of Nazi
Germany toward its ethnic minorities were no different than those of the biblical
Israelites toward a host of –ittites: Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites,
Seek and destroy all of them. And why? In both cases, it was the need for
more living space, for Lebensraum2
—room to expand their particular race. Thus, the
justification of racial purity and its concomitant need for territory can be traced back to
the one of very oldest sources of all that we call “Western”. Hence, the situation that we
have watched unfold in the former Yugoslavia for the last decade is not the exception but
the rule. Ethnic cleansing is not a novel idea of a few Serbs, for the notion that “’we’ are
superior because we are who we are” is the strongest tautological motivator of any and
every group of mankind.
Now, what is the purpose behind eugenics? It is the preserving and perpetuation
of the status quo. That may seem somewhat counterintuitive since the purported goal of
eugenics is a “perfection” of the human state. Yes, but whose human state? And whose
perfection? Who benefits from the perfection of anybody’s human state? For eugenics
means true breeding in two senses: (1) consistent and (2) even better or purer. In other
words, it does not simply mean that people like plants or animals ought to breed true,
such that workers produce the best workers, that intellectuals produce the best
intellectuals, and that class is passed on to class as misery is handed onto man. No,
eugenics does not simply mean that will one be as good a smith or glazier as one’s father;
rather, one will be genetically designed to be even better or even truer. One will be bred
to be a better specimen. Furthermore, in what is probably the one country in the world
where there is some possibility of social mobility in virtue of something called
democracy, the introduction of eugenics provides a (pseudo-)scientific (non-)reason for
stymieing, in the name of progress, social change. And, if nothing else, the example of
Nazi Germany should have shown us that, given the right kind of government support,
eugenics—from the selective breeding of the Lebensborn program to the selective
elimination of certain populations as in the “final solution”—is really rather effective.
It works because whenever we can be persuaded to see the other as wholly other,
we fall prey to our inherent feelings of superiority and thus render the other inherently
lesser. We create this category of the lesser human: the category of sub-human. And one
of the primary illusory criteria brought forth at this juncture is the notion that this
subhuman group is somehow more animal, less truly human. Consider once again our
view of those who engage in ethnic cleansing: we hate them because they are acting like
animals. But, alas, this is untrue. Ethnic cleansers are not acting like animals; no animal
engages in concerted intraspecific predation. Rather, these ethnic cleansers are acting
humanly, like humans, perchance not humanely, but that is a different issue. And what
interests me is the fact that we declare that we hate such humans in virtue of their
animality when, in fact, we rarely do hate the animals that we kill for our various human
needs and desires. In fact, it is the good hunter who admires the animal he or she is
But regardless of whether it is predator or prey that we consider animal, the
fact is that we can achieve a sense of moral justification in considering any human
animal-like and hence sub-human. And there is no moral justification for this slide. Eo
ipso, there can also be any moral justification for this move. And there will be.
It ought to go without saying that human cloning will eventually give rise to the
mass cloning of human beings as either subclasses with particular specialties or simply as
a class of subhumans. Of course, the flip side to this is that a class of superhumans—
ubermenschen or uberklonern—will no doubt also be created. What in India exists as a
caste system in virtue of religion will come to the Western world as a pragmatic venture
in virtue of scientific advances and pseudo-scientific justifications. In other words, my
contention is that this desire to clone by class will happen for reasons completely
independent of technology. It will happen because it is human nature to make it happen.
It will happen because humans operate under the delusion that progress in technology is
somehow an indicator of a similar progress in human evolution. And this is not the case.
To be post-modernly philosophical and adapt an outdated observation from
biology to the development of the human psyche, it would seem that it is in the realm of
spiritual development, and not in that of physical development, that Von Baer’s law holds
true: namely, that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. In other words, not merely every
individual but also every generation has to discover the nature of human existence for
itself. And note that I say discover, not re-discover, for the obvious salient fact about
history is that it is always repeated regardless of whether one studies it or not. To make
matters even more complex, technology persists, since its evolution is time-specific and
its development timeless, and so each generation must discover the value of a particular
technology for itself.
Moreover, history shows us that the dehumanization of our fellow human beings
is an ever-present pastime. And if we dehumanize our “equally created”, naturally
produced fellows, the slope need not even be lubricated in order to lead to the
dehumanization of our “differently created” cloned fellows. And since this will to
dehumanization seems to be either inherent or inevitable in human life, let us look at
three possible outcomes of this will: namely, cloning and slavery, cloning and designer
humans, and cloning and organ harvesting.
Cloning and slavery
The practice of slavery is as old, if not older, than the practice of genocide. Despite the
efforts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the business of slavery still
exists in the world. Not merely the slavery of humans bought and sold as property or the
slavery that results when one people group is defeated in war by another, there is also the
slavery resulting from social injustice. Whether we are talking of young girls sold by
their families to brothels or illegal aliens selling themselves in virtue of “brazos, brazos”,
we are still talking about people whose human value in the market is nothing more than
their bodies or their body parts. In other words, their human worth is established as a
bodily one in and through the marketplace, and their personal freedom is diminished in
virtue of their being nothing more than warm bodies, for their worth has been determined
through what would traditionally be considered the most animal or animal-like aspect of
human nature: the body. And it is the body that is cloned in human cloning, not the other
more esoteric aspects of human existence.
Thus, where cloned human beings are viewed as nothing more than replicated
bodies, their creation to slavery would almost be redundant. It would certainly be readily
justified. Unless, of course, what Leibniz says holds true: namely, that even two
absolutely identical things, if they exist in different times and/or in different spaces are
essentially different things. In other words, one might advance the interesting notion that
while a human being might be cloned, there is no such thing as a human clone. This
would be analogous to the notion that while identical twins may be genetically
indistinguishable, they are not experientially interchangeable; nor are they two exemplars
of the same person, but rather two persons, each in his or her own right.
Cloning and designer humans
Will the technology of cloning result in the attempt to create designer human
beings? Indeed, it will. Will some parents take advantage of this new technology to
design and improve and “tweak with” their children? Absolutely. And will this be a
terrible infringement on the rights of the child? No, of course not.
Again, it is basal human nature to want to ensure or to create the best possible
opportunities for one’s child as one as a parent understands these opportunities qua
advantages. But I can also assure you that how the parent understands the nature of these
advantages will not be the same as the child’s understanding of said “advantages”. I
suspect that in the end, there is no advantage of technology that a parent can bestow upon
a child that cannot be undermined by a healthy dose of teenage rebellion. Just as perfect
orthodontics can be destroyed in one split second of a hockey game, perfect genetics can
be lost forever in one torrid embrace in the backseat of a car or with one well-placed
tattoo. The best planned lays of mice and men oft do gang a-glee! And in this we should
take hope. And I do not say this flippantly. I say this quite seriously.
Will planned parenting in its strongest sense lead to the production of many
individuals who are all alike? Yes, for a while. But fashions change. And a new
generation of look-alikes will replace a previous genetic fashion. For example, the
aquiline nose so popular in 2080 might not be that popular in 2130. Hence, in several
hundred years, maybe our great-great-great grandchildren may well be able to guess the
age of someone by merely describing their physiognomy just as we can hazard the same
guess given someone’s name, for there are not many women under the age of fifty named
Vera or over the age of fifty named Heather. Thus, technology will only enhance the
creative power of parents to determine who and what their children are; it will, however,
remain impossible to control completely with whom those children share an perhaps
expensively purchased and technologically crafted genetic heritage.
Cloning and Organ Harvesting
This is probably the most curious of the problems with cloning because to
function most effectively as an organ donor it really would be necessary to clone a human
being as a body only and not as a person. In other words, the creation of a perfect genetic
clone with maximal bodily health and minimal brain function would be the most desired
organ donor, for one can only harvest from the non-conscious.
The most effective method would be, I believe, the cloning of an embryo shortly
after conception. To this secondary or cloned embryo, neural suppressors would be
administered in order to promote vegetative function but diminish or eliminate entirely
cortical function. That is to say, the goal would be to create human life without human
Does such an undertaking have any precedents in human history? Alas, yes. The
brainwashing of the religious fanatic, the indoctrination of the suicide bomber, and the
drug-induced haze of the original assassins are all examples of a deliberate diminishment
of consciousness in virtue of a higher and self-destructive goal. However, the cloned
human being mentioned above has no choice in the matter. And here is where the rubber
meets the road philosophically.
But I suspect that technology will solve this problem before philosophy has had
time to phrase the question properly. The ability to return a somatic cell to totipotency
will no doubt be eventually honed to the point of being able to return a cell to something
like pluripotency and even hemipotency—where the partial expression of the cell’s genes
will allow the cloning or reproduction of an organ without the need to clone the rest of
the body as a form of advanced tissue culture. Perhaps at birth, an organ bank for the
individual will be created against the day when the organs might be needed, just as
people pre-donate blood for a surgery.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a profound philosophical dictum
concerning the nature of nature:
“Nature has no rules, it has no rules at all. Every time you think there’s a rule for nature,
it goes, ‘No, no, I’m outta here’. If we take the planet out, if we blow this earth to death,
we’re gone, nothing. Nature will go, ‘I’m back!’”4
And, yes, after we are dead and buried, returned to dust like the relics of the dinosaurs,
nature will go on.
And this is the fact that scares us the most.
Consider, particularly, the treatment of the city of Ai (Joshua 7-8) and its fate (Joshua 8:25). That the Israelites do not
succeed in their wholesale slaughter is not to be attributed to the divine mercy but to human disobedience (Consider
Joshua 9-11; compare Deuteronomy 20:16-18 and Joshua 13:6 with Judges 2:22-23).
This, by the way, is a Swedish concept, not a German one. According to George Seldes in The Great Quotations
(Castle Books, 1978, p. 392), the German professor Karl Haushofer appropriated this idea from the Swedish geographer
One of the best examples of this honoring of the hunted by the hunter is found in the film “Jurassic Park” where the
African game hunter, when confronted by the duplicity of the velociraptor triadic hunting technique and thus facing his
own demise, has the wherewithal to utter “Clever girl” before succumbing to that lovely, razor-sharp foreclaw.
Robin Williams, “A Night at the Met”, Columbia Records, CBS Inc., New York, NY, 1986.