Friday, June 26, 2015

There are no interesting moral or legal questions around cloning

Cloning is a subject that has received a fair amount of attention from the media and in fiction over the years, but it is remarkably boring from a legal and moral perspective. There really are no big unresolved legal or moral questions around the issue of possible human clones.

Cloning is simply producing a child with the exact same genetics as someone else. Thankfully, we already have clear legal precedent about how to treat people with the exact same genes as another person. Such people have existed since the beginning of humanity; we call them identical twins. Our legal system doesn’t claim identical twins have only half the rights of regular people or that one gets all the rights and the other is a nonentity. They are just both humans with all the same rights. Similarly, all major religions and moral movements see identical twins as two individuals with the same moral value as any other person. Logic dictates a cloned person would similarly just be a person with all the same rights and moral value as anyone else. So making clones to harvest their organs like in movie The Island would be just as illegal and morally reprehensible as raising regular children for the same reason. The only potentially unresolved legal questions around cloning may be issues of inherentice.

Most of the truly interesting or morally perplexing stories that involve human cloning are only interesting because they are really about other theoretical technologies -- like speeding up the aging process so a person skips childhood, moving memories/consciousness between bodies, or growing a body without a brain. Unfortunately, popular culture has often closely associated these other theoretical technologies with cloning, but they are completely separate issues. They possess basically the same more questions, with or with cloning involved.

An example of these theoretical technologies can exist completely independent of cloning is the new movie Self/Less. The moral problem of the movie comes from the ability to transfer an older person’s consciousness into a younger person. Whether that younger person happens to have your exact same genes or is a stranger is immaterial from a moral perspective. Similarly, the true moral problem with a machine that just spits out fully-formed adult soldiers (likes those in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones) is really the same regardless of whether the fully formed soldiers are technically clones or each of different genomes. The same goes with growing a mindless humanoid for organ harvesting.

The question of how we should legally or morally treat humans that are clones is an easy one, since we effectively already answered it centuries ago. It is all the other technology that is really interesting.

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