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.