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Philosophy Now’s fearless columnist Peg Tittle speaks out on human cloning and the scandal of unregulated reproduction.
We have successfully cloned a sheep; it is not unreasonable, then, to believe we may soon be able to create human life. Despite Frankensteinian visions of a brave new world, I’m sure we’ll develop carefully considered policies and procedures to regulate the activity.
For example, I doubt we’ll allow someone to create his own private workforce or his own little army.
And I suspect we’ll prohibit cloning oneself for mere ego gratification.
Doing it just because it’s fun will certainly be illegal. And I expect it won’t even be imaginable to do it ‘without really thinking about it’, let alone ‘by accident’.
I suspect we’ll enforce some sort of quality control, such that cloned human beings will not exist in pain or be severely ‘compromised’ with respect to basic biological or biochemical functioning.
And I suspect one will have to apply for a license and satisfy rigorous screening standards. I assume this will include the submission, and approval, of a detailed plan regarding responsibility for the cloned human being; surely we won’t allow a scientist to create it and then just leave it on the lab’s doorstep one night when he leaves.
Now the thing is, we can already create human life. Kids do it every day.
And though we’ve talked ourselves silly and tied ourselves in knots about ending life – active, passive, voluntary, coerced, premeditated, accidental, negligent – about beginning life, we have been horrendously silent, irresponsibly laissez-faire.
We would not accept such wanton creation of life if it happened in the lab. Why do we condone it when it happens in bedrooms and backseats?
It should be illegal to create life, to have kids, in order to have another pair of hands at work in the field or to have someone to look after you in your old age.
It should be illegal to create a John Doe Junior or someone to carry on the family name/business.
It should be illegal to have kids because, well, it just happened (and it felt so good), you didn’t really think about it.
And it isn’t possible to create life ‘by accident’ – men don’t accidentally ejaculate into vaginas and women don’t accidentally catch some ejaculate with their vaginas. (As for failed contraception, there’s follow-up contraception.)
And it should be illegal to knowingly create a life that will be spent in pain and/or that will be severely substandard.
As for the screening process, we already do that for adoptive/foster parents. Why do we cling to the irrational belief that biological parents are necessarily competent parents – in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? We have, without justification, a double standard.
Oh but we can’t interfere with people’s right to reproduce! Right to reproduce? Merely having a capability does not entail the right to exercise that capability. (Re)Production, with its attendant responsibilities, should be a privilege, not a right.
And yes of course, this proposal, this argument for parenting licenses, opens the door for all sorts of abuses. For starters, who will design and administer the screening process? But look around: it’s not as if the current situation is abuse-free. In fact, millions of the little human lives we’ve created are being starved, beaten, or otherwise traumatized. Millions.
To be succinct: the destruction of life is subject to moral/legal examination; so should be the creation of life, whenever and however it occurs.
© Peg Tittle 1998
Peg Tittle lives with a dog in a cabin on a lake in a forest.