Cloning is a procedure conceived to notion in the late 1960s, but it is only recently that it was fully understood and that scientists have started to figure out how to successfully copy the genetic composition of one organism to another. Since science already knows how to do this, the only problems and obstacles that remains is efficiency and the success ratio of each operation. The cloning process consists of taking the nucleus of an organism, and placing it, along with the DNA that contains all the genetic material, in place of the nucleus of the host egg. The egg then forms an embryo and matures into the same exact “copy”, at least genetically, as the original organism. Already done on mammals, cloning is something that can be extended to utilize humans as subjects. In the future it will be wholly possible to create human clones to serve whatever purpose they were conceived for. However, presently there are numerous ethical issues surrounding cloning and there are problems about the implications of the use of cloning for the purpose of medicine. This issue plagues us so much that the constant objections of bioethicists and political and religious leaders have caused the US Government to propose a ban on all research concerning human cloning until a conclusion is reached on the moral and ethical aspects of the process. (Macer, 2)
In this paper, I will discuss how Kantian views and ethics help us understand whether it is morally ethical to clone for the purpose of bettering our lives. Two points have to be distinguished. How exactly will human cloning aid medicine and society, and the implications of human worth and dignity when applied to clones.
Kantian ethics were proposed by Immanuel Kant in his critical writing of the “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals”. Kant argued that “non-rational things have only a relative value as means and are consequently called things. Rational beings, on the other hand, are called persons because their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves… for unless this is so, nothing at all of absolute value would be found anywhere”. (Britannica, 473) All persons are able to adjust their behavior to what they reason to be moral behavior, but in using this capacity that all humans possess, they must act upon a categorical imperative to treat all similarly situated people equally. They must uphold to their moral maxims and make their actions universal law, extending it equally to all persons. Kant reformulates this idea and states that we should “act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same times as an end”. (Britannica, 472) This means that we should never use people as only a means, and that because all persons have intrinsic human worth they should all be considered as ends in themselves.
Kant’s vision involves only persons or rational agents. If no ‘person’ or rationality is present then it can be argued that the agent is simply a thing. Something that cannot rationalize and is not conscious of its existence cannot be argued as having human worth. So it is wholly possible, through some applications of science, to create “headless” clones that are not fully developed in the forebrain and who therefore cannot rationalize or exist consciously. (Friedman, 3) If able to be kept alive after their conception in order to mature, these clones can be used for harvesting of their organs for various medical purposes. Kant would not object to these kinds of clones because his concept of rationality is respected in accordance to the categorical imperative. If only rational agents are to be used as an end, and if no rationality exists, then whatever is left can be used only as a means to further some goal with no ethical wrongdoing involved.
Developing a “headless” clone involves a process that prevents rationality and consciousness from ever being formed. This can be paralleled to other procedures that involve the same block of formation of rationality, particularly any form of birth control. Not allowing the development of “headless” clones because it is immoral makes any sort of birth control thus immoral too, because they also involve the preventing of the development of consciousness and rational thought. (Friedman, 4) If this imperative were to be upheld to a moral maxim, then we would need to be consistent in our actions and ban birth control just as human cloning is banned now.
However, if human clones are developed as persons (with a whole brain and fully functioning in every aspect) then our perspectives need to be changed to take a more moral view. Is it possible to morally clone a human to become an end in themselves? Suppose the case of a childless family where the mother is unable to conceive for whatever reasons. Somatic cell cloning can provide the family with a way to obtain a child through surrogate birth. (Friedman, 2) Even though copying the genetic composition of one parent and making the child a copy of them is somewhat strange, it is understandable from the parents’ point of view. If they are unable to naturally conceive, they should still be given some sort of chance to have a child. Cloning gives the parents this chance to have a child and have a somewhat normal family as an outcome. In this case the clone is treated as an end. He will grow up to be healthy and hopefully be regarded the same as a naturally conceived child. When he grows up, the clone will not denounce his existence. If asked the question of whether he would have rather not been born, the child would most likely thank cloning for his conception.
The similar can be said for a clone that is used as a means for something but eventually becoming an end in themselves. Suppose the case of a family where a serious disease plagues an existing child and that only a specific blood type or a certain type of bone marrow will save him. If no donors are available, the child’s only ticket to survival might be a clone. Using the same genetic composition, his twin can be cloned in order to save his life. If this cloned twin is afterwards discarded, because he no longer serves a purpose or if he dies during the transfusion, this would in turn be highly unethical and immoral. However, if the parents exercise the human right of the clone as a person to exist, they are acting in accordance with the categorical imperative as stated above. They are extending the moral maxim to a universal law, and are treating the clone as a person, justly. The clone then becomes not simply a means to save a child’s life but an end in themselves also. The clone’s rationality and consciousness is not jeopardized. And in the same way as above, the clone would be thankful for having saved someone with his existence and would not regret his life.
The immediately foreseeable problems with cloning for the purpose of childbirth might be seen when parents want to dictate the genetic makeup of their child. They might not only want to eradicate genes that make a person susceptible to certain diseases, but they also might want to eliminate other unfavorable genes. Genes that control a person’s susceptibility to violence or other emotional factors, or genes that control a person’s appearance, such as height, hair and eye color and physical condition. In this way, parents might be able to mold genetically superior children to their liking. This would is most probable to eliminate uniqueness and individuality. There would be no randomness or pureness of nature in humans. Everything would be similar because certain specific qualities would be more favorable and popular. Also gene superiority would label clones as of higher value and might cause discrimination based solely on one’s genetic makeup. Only through total anonymity would this be preventable, and this condition is impossible.
This problem can be directly related to the categorical imperative so crucial to Kant and Kantian ethics. Because morality must extended to be universal, it is imperative that both the superior clones and regularly genetically endowed humans are treated with similar regard. This however would seem to not be the case; the clones would always be favored in any situation. Therefore, this treatment would be immoral, as it would be immoral to clone human persons for such purposes, which are based only on vanity of people and discrimination of less favored genes.
Many ethical issues and moral aspects of human cloning must be observed to get a larger picture of its implications. Kantianism gives us a way of differentiating in which situations will cloning be ethical or, the opposite, immoral. However, Kantian ethics is pretty specific in its situations and it can’t give a much more general and broad understanding of the ethics of cloning. It doesn’t tell us what to do, it only tells us whether something is moral or not. Kantianism is not a guide of morals but it is a very good understanding of them.
Friedman, Dan. “Cloning” Macalester Journal of Philosophy Vol. 9, 1999
Gardner, Jennifer. “To Clone or Not to Clone”
http://pages.prodigy.net/darvi/clone.htm (12 Feb, 2001)
“Kant, Immanuel” Encyclopaedia Britannica: In Depth Knowledge 1999 ed.
Macer, Darryl R.J., Ph.D. “Ethical Challenges as we approach the end of the Human Genome Project.” N.p: n.p. 2000
Ruse, Michael, and Sheppard, Aryne. Cloning: Responsible Science or Technomadness?
Prometheus Books, December 2000