Ethics of cloning

I occasionally receive emails asking what I think of certain issues, and I’ve often thought about refashioning my responses into posts for the site. Well, I suppose I should get on with it, then.

Q: I was wondering, what government policy do you feel should be established to regulate cloning?

Do you feel that animals should be used to harvest organ replacement for humans and/or produce pharmaceutical products and why do you feel that way?

Are there any circumstances where cloning of animals to benefit humans would be acceptable?

Could cloning be used to save a species from going extinct?

A: The key to answering your various questions is to understand the fundamental tenets of true animal rights (i.e., not welfare):

Animals are sentient beings whose inherent rights cannot ethically be violated merely because it is expedient for us to ignore them.

Their intelligence, self-awareness, and their feelings set them far apart from the “things” in nature like rocks and plants. In fact, in all ways that matter morally, non-human animals are rather like us. After all, we are each of us animals, too. Our shared interests in simply living–experiencing freedom of movement, freedom from pain and suffering, to forge familial and social bonds, and to express natural behaviors–make any differences between us trivial and completely irrelevant from an ethical standpoint.

In other words, non-human animals possess all the fundamental prerequisites necessary to consider them full members of the moral community. Thus, a non-human’s individuality as a self aware being inherently entitles her to the basic right to be left alone and not to be treated as a human resource. So, from that framework you can see that it is morally objectionable to use any animal for any purpose, just as it is morally objectionable to use humans for any purpose.

Of course, this response does not begin to address the myriad technical problems with cloning, a procedure that typically has a very low success rate and has high risks for the very few clones that are successfully created, many of whom are born with health defects. Additionally, at this time, there’s no accounting for abnormal gene expression. Clones don’t necessarily turn out to be carbon copies of their parents, and scientists still don’t understand why clones appear to have shorter or longer telomeres, affecting the clone’s lifespan in unpredictable ways, often by shortening their lives drastically.

I only bring these issues up in brief because they present a powerful argument against cloning from an animal welfare perspective as well, if one is so inclined as to look at the issue from that point of view. Unsuccessful cloning, very much the norm, produces its own ethical quandary.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought. Cloning presents yet another potential threat to biodiversity, the very cornerstone of evolution. As a natural, time-tested method of adaptation to changing climate conditions, biodiversity is key to survival for all species on earth and, as such, any threat to it should be viewed with grave concern.



  1. “In other words, non-human animals possess all the fundamental prerequisites necessary to consider them full members of the moral community.”Hi EricI’m sorry, that just doesn’t wash. Animals do NOT possess all the attributes necessary to be “full members of the moral community”. The idea of rights is a human construction that is dependent upon the ability to reciprocate and to take responsibility for one’s actions ( aka moral agency ). In short, without the ability to use moral or ethical judgment, a uniquely human trait, the notion of rights completely falls apart. We see this in the wild. A hawk does not understand nor care about the “rights” of the rabbit it is about to kill and eat. It is driven only by its hunger and its instict to hunt. Like all animals, it is an amoral entity operating in amoral plane of existence, engaging in a morally neutral act. If animals were indeed able to be “full members of the moral community” as you claim, justice would demand that the hawk be prosecuted for murder for violating the rabbit’s right to life! Such a notion, is of course, patently absurd, because neither the hawk nor the rabbit are moral entities operating within human moral constructions. This, IMHO, is why the notion of animal rights is ultimately a logical failure. It cannot adequetely address the issue of the ability to reciprocate and take moral responsibility for one’s actions as the underlying foundation of the principle of rights.

  2. I love it when anti-rights people come along with an argument from the Stoics right up to Kant in the 18th century that they think I must never have heard. I’ve been vegan for five years, and an animal rights activist for a couple of those, and I’ve heard all the arguments against my position. Guess what? I’m still here, and I’m still vegan, and I have only become more convinced about animal rights. Here’s why:There is no logical failure. Your example of animals in the wild has no impact on this argument for the very reason you point out: animals are not aware of their rights, any more than a small child or a mentally incapacitated human would be. Do we do whatever we want with humans that don’t understand their rights? Of course not. We protect them. Therefore we have a moral obligation not to do whatever we want with animals who do not understand their natural rights, and to protect them as well.When a carnivorous or omnivorous non-human animal kills another animal, that is not a violation of an individual’s rights. As you mentioned, they are not aware of the other individual’s rights (much less their own) and, frankly, you don’t see animals in the wild factory farming each other and turning each other into shoes and clothes, or performing experiments on each other. They do not treat each other as property.Further, certain animals <>must<> kill others to survive, just as I would kill another human being that was trying to kill me, if that’s what I needed to do to survive the attack. But we do not need to eat other animals or their secretions to survive, so <>we<> are ethically obligated not to, precisely because <>we<> have moral agency. We <>know<> what we’re doing, we are learning as a culture that it’s not necessary (and even unhealthy to the extent we’re doing it), and we don’t need to do it anymore now that our awareness is growing.For rights to be granted, it is enough that animals have their own interests. It’s that simple. You can spin yourself around in circles trying argue against it, but you will fail. Moral agency simply is not a valid prerequisite for being a member of the moral community, otherwise we’d do whatever we want to humans who, for whatever reason, also lack moral agency (and, for what it’s worth, some animals do appear to have more moral agency than humans; research has shown a number of instances where animals will make choices we consider moral while humans did not). Your view is simply speciesist.

  3. Eric – I agree with your sound rebuttal of Grizzly Bear’s hackneyed objections. The proposition that a being with interests needs to understand or reciprocate rights that protect his most profound interests in order to be granted those rights is simply a transparent attempt to couch selfish and irrational excuses for violating those interests in formal language.I would suggest to Grizzly Bear that in the future, to save time and avoid embarrassment, he peruse any one of a number of animal rights FAQ pages.

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