Now that researchers at George Washington University Medical Center have split human embryos, thereby producing genetically identical twin embryos, cloning human beings is on the table for national debate.
Reactions to the event at George Washington have been varied.
Some people (the Vatican, for instance) were horrified at this development, visions of Brave New World dancing in their heads. These we may call the Moral Luddites (ML), unenlightened enemies of the technological utopia that lies before us.
Others said, “Why not? Science is wonderful! Progress is inevitable!” These are the Instant Dehumanizers (ID).
Still others, having little to say but feeling compelled to utter a weighty pronouncement on such a weighty occasion, told us that cloning contains both bright promise and frightening possibilities; continuing research therefore should be permitted, but approached with caution. In this category was the New York Times, for instance, which on November 6, 1993 intoned that “the issues raised by cloning are compelling and deserve the kind of thoughtful debate physicians and bioethicists are asking for.” These are the Gradual Dehumanizers (GD), who do not exactly like the world they see coming down the road but cannot think of any good reason for opposing it. Thus they will let it arrive inch by inch, justifying it after the fact.
I submit that, barring some significant cultural revolution in the United States, the future of cloning is assured. The only question is whether it will be done under the aegis of the ID party or the GD party.
The ID party will win if the issue gets taken to the U.S. Supreme Court on a day when the Court is in the mood to assert its high doctrine of privacy, pronouncing that the decision to clone or not to clone is one that should be made between the owners of the embryo and the Dr. Frankenstein of their choice. If, on the other hand, the Court decides to play a minimal role in this contest, thus disregarding the doctrine of privacy it enunciated in Roe v. Wade, the GD party will eventually win a victory in legislative chambers and scientific associations.
I am ashamed to admit that I am so unenlightened as to belong to the ML party, having grown too old to appreciate what are no doubt the great merits of dehumanization. Why then so pessimistic a prognosis for my own party? Let me explain.
The ancient definition of the human being as a rational animal may have been a tad optimistic. But if we are not quite rational, we are at any rate logical—at least on the whole and in the long run. Give us a premise, and we will eventually draw the conclusions that follow from it. And if this premise and its conclusions have to do with matters of morality and practice, we will eventually tend to act in accordance with our principles.
Take the Declaration of Independence, for example. The premise America adopted when it embraced the Declaration—namely, that “all men are created equal”—led among other things to the Civil War and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and today is leading to the creation of a national health system. We are still a long way from having exhausted all the deductions to be made from the “created equal” premise.
Similarly we are a long way from having exhausted the conclusions to be derived from the privacy-and-autonomy premise-the premise that lies at the heart of contemporary American secularism and was enshrined in constitutional law in 1973 in the Roe decision. But this privacy—autonomy premise will justify a good deal more than abortion. Given the premise, suicide also is justified. So, therefore, is assisted suicide—for if there is nothing wrong with X committing suicide, how can there be anything wrong with Y assisting X in doing so? Hence Dr. Kevorkian seems to many to be a kind of Arthurian knight, rescuing unwilling prisoners trapped in the Castle of Life. Although the state of Michigan has taken steps to restrict his activities, who can doubt that it is only a matter of time before America follows the example of the Dutch in these matters?
And of course the privacy-autonomy premise justifies cloning. If privacy and autonomy legitimize abortion, could they not also legitimize cloning? If society and government have no right to interfere with the abortion decision, what right could they possibly have to interfere with the cloning decision, which, from the point of view of us Luddites, is far less obnoxious than the abortion decision?
No doubt there are many pro-abortion rights folks who are at the same time anti-cloning. But this is totally inconsistent of them; they don't have a logical leg to stand on. What basis besides prejudice and whim can they offer for this approval of the worse and disapproval of the less bad? None at all. Their condemnation of cloning arises not from principle but, most likely, from their not yet having grown used to the idea; or from long-ago teenage impressions of Huxley's novel; or from personal self-interest (that is, the low probability of their having to resort to cloning versus the relatively high probability of their having to resort to abortion).
Unless that cultural revolution I mentioned earlier comes along, displacing America's regnant secularism, the world will become increasingly safe not only for abortion but for euthanasia, cloning, and numerous other antihuman perversities.
We are, it seems, marching to dystopia, where, thanks to cloning, all the girls will be blond and shapely, all the boys tall and athletic. And when the boys get the girls pregnant, they will be free to choose between (a) having abortions, and (b) cloning embryos and selling the clones. And when the girls begin to lose their looks and the boys their muscle tone, euthanasia will rescue them before their once lovely bodies become a cause of embarrassment.
O brave new world, toward which we eagerly wend our way!
David R. Carlin, a former member of the Rhode Island Senate, was a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992. He is Associate Professor of Sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island.