Human cloning is not the bogeyman

The announcement that scientists have done a sufficient amount of creating a human clone to grow the blastocyst to sufficient number of cell divisions to extract stem cells has created the predictable reaction from the mythology-based community. According to them a “red line” has been crossed and now all sorts of mischief will erupt, despite the fact this development did not create an embryo capable of uterial implantation and thus embryogenesis (no designer babies yet, folks).

For me this entirely predictable (but courageous, due to the hostility that will be heaped on the scientist who hopefully have bodyguards to protect them from relignuts) is not that big a deal, although a source of stem cells other than from a naturally fertilized egg may re-open the much-needed embryonic stem cell research. But the reaction seems to me to have two interesting flaws and internal contradictions.

On face value the idea that life begins at conception is nonsense. It is also not biblical (come on, believers, quote me any verse from your ancient books of myths that even knows what an embryo is!). It is just the unwise pronouncement used to object to birth control which is just a cover for the religinuts objecting to sex. The idea is totally unscientific and obviously false (what is human life, surely not three cell divisions). The contradictions of this silly POV have been pointed out over and over. With technology any cell has the potential of becoming a new life, so therefore whenever we rub our skin and knock off a skin cell, or bleed a little, we’re committing murder – come on, how stupid is that (plus absolutely not enforceable).

So really the relignuts object to this because it disproves their interpretation. Did god have to come breathe life into this clone or did scientific processes produce it? That is what really scares them. If they can claim that someone a sky-being directs reproduction then they can claim dominance over humanity, which is what they want. If reproduction is possible solely by the act of man, one more argument for god of the gaps is gone. But I think they also realize, just as happened with IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) people’s desire to control their reproductive process without intervention by religious authorities is simply too strong. Yes, they’re probably right, there will be human cloning some day and their yelling and screaming isn’t going to stop it (even the Repugs can’t control the entire world). And when that day arrives yet another brick from their crumbling edifice is removed.

But even for those who aren’t driven by religious fanaticism have been well manipulated to believe that somehow cloning is some awful thing (even bad SciFi thrillers to sell that idea). So, nutjobs, tell me, exactly, what is morally and/or ethically wrong with it?

Now, poorly done with possible bad outcomes, cloning is a fearsome thing to try and screw up. So hopefully before somebody does it we’ll know a lot more about cloning (the shake-and-bake techniques they use now are way to crude). Once that cloned bunch of cells takes its first birth, it is human, and if it is screwed up by clumsy lab technique and thus sentenced to a miserable, yes, that is clearly an ethical screwup. Or, growing the embryo large enough to extract an organ and then kill, yep, that crosses a red line that any sensible person would have. But that’s the point. We don’t need some antique and antiquated POV, only accepted by a fraction of humanity to guide us. Like any other moral code we are perfectly capable of developing this one on our own (and an ancient book full of scientific mistakes is not a guide, except for an angry god who loves genocide and incest).

But once the real moral issues are resolved and the scientific process is good enough, so what if a clone is produced. A clone is still just a bunch of cells, not a fully formed human being with memories and history. Exactly what is different than blending two sets of chromosomes than using just one to then have exactly the same process.

The book, A Clone of Your Own, did a nice job of exploring these issues. There really is no reason to be afraid of cloning (as with this silly book that appeared in my Amazon search, at least based on the scary title as this book may also debunk cloning phobia). Whatever “fear” of cloning that seems to be out there is just more irrational fear of the unknown (do I really worry that someone will steal one of my cells to clone me, why me, why not themselves, and what would they accomplish if they did).

Obviously one of the thing that scares the relignuts is homosexual couples being able to reproduce (oh horrors, we’ll be overrun by LGs. With just cloning a lesbian couple could have children without any sperm donor (oh horrors, men will be obsolete). And with the aid of a baby mother (we’re impossibly far about from an actual “test tube” baby, the female reproductive system is way too complex to imitate) a gay couple could have children without the female. And then imagine the next step, figuring out a synthetic meiosis process, now LG couples could even have children with the normal DNA of two parents. But also, the human egg, definitely a limiting factor (where to get a supply) in cloning isn’t that magical. It’s just a bag of chemicals. Figure out exactly what chemicals and synthetic eggs are not beyond imagination (thus also bypassing the epigenetic programming of the egg donor). All this may take a long time but it’s entirely plausible to believe that in a century or two it’s possible.

Yes, it is a slippery slope for the religinuts. Human beings will continue to take control over their reproductive process (and, after all, isn’t that a fundamental human right?). Eventually we can wipe out the restrictions of simple originalist reproductive biology and see all sorts of potential. And, yes, someday that will include individual gene splicing and yes that means someday there will be “designer babies” (and if so, Gattaca dystopian horrors aside, what’s so wrong with that!). Parents have some bad genes of their own, possibly dooming their biological offspring to a life of misery, and this can repaired. Sure, some silly people will opt for blond hair and blues, but again, so what, what harm is done. We’re not going to breed supermen because the connection of genes to an adult person is far too complex, with most attributes being polygenic and very difficult to even understand, much less “engineer” (give or take a few more centuries).

But every step along this path, allowing human beings full control over their reproductive processes just goes a step further to removing the control of religion.

And that is really what scares them.



About dmill96

old fat (but now getting trim and fit) guy, who used to create software in Silicon Valley (almost before it was called that), who used to go backpacking and bicycling and cross-country skiing and now geodashes, drives AWD in Wyoming, takes pictures, and writes long blog posts and does xizquvjyk.
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6 Responses to Human cloning is not the bogeyman

  1. Mordanicus says:

    Great post! The religinuts do not know what they are talking about. And formal logic has never been their best quality. Although I am somehow sceptic about the desirability of reproductive cloning, I generally support cloning for medical purposes.

    The religious authorities are afraid that science will reveal that their ideology is nothing but BS. They cannot allow this, since that will mean the end of their power.

    • dmill96 says:

      Thanks for your comment. When science merely studied astronomy that was threatening enough but the biology revolution is even a more fundamental challenge. Just learning how life evolved (without external interference) was bad enough but when we get the knowledge and technology to alter life itself we remove another part of the supernatural. The materialist worldview is a fundamental challenge and by manipulating molecules and changing macro outcomes makes life interesting and just as fascinating, but a little less mysterious that narrows the realm where religious authority can claim their domain.

      As to reproductive cloning I really don’t see it as really any difference than the old-fashioned purely natural way. Assuming cloning works and is safe and has no long-term effect on the clone what is the difference in that person between having chromosomes from just one person instead of two.

      Actually the book I initially labeled as silly, “How to Defeat Your Clone” (merely a silly title, the book itself, with a good dose of humor, debunks a lot of the anti-clone hysteria that scifi and popular misunderstanding has created) covers a lot of the issues, but one point in particular, attributed to Dawkins, is why we find “clones” so scary when in fact nature constantly creates them in the form of identical twins. We don’t look at twins as something “abnormal” (unusual yes, but perfectly ordinary people). This book describes all sorts of ways how clones are really indistinguishable from any person because having the same genome is only a small portion of what makes each of us as unique.

      I think that if cloning works and is practical it could be a blessing to many parents, just as IVF is already. Imagine a couple with one child, but then some life event makes it risky to have another sexually reproduced child (some damage to either parent). What would be the difference of just having another child with exactly the same (and known to be OK) genome as the older child. It’s just like twins but with an age difference. Yes, it would be a little “different” (how might the older twin react to the younger?) but it really isn’t that strange. And shouldn’t those parents have the right to have another child if they wish.

      Or same-sex couples that wish to have children, but somehow of the actual genetic heritage of the parents (instead of adoption or surrogates). I can even imagine that someday the science might advance enough to actually do the same two-parent chromosome scrambling that the natural process does so the child is not a clone of just one parent but with genetic contributions with both.

      I suspect, again given the clone’s health is not compromised by cloning (as Dolly was), that cloning could become as routine as IVF. After the novelty of IVF wore off does anyone today really think of IVF procreation as unusual.

      Ignoring the personhood argument of the religinuts a person that is actually born and takes its first breath is clearly entitled to the same rights as any other person, so clones are not some organ bank just waiting to give their organs to their original. And as a child of the parent they are no more mere property than any other child is.

      The biggest shock with cloning is going to the be disappointment the single parent has when their clone develops its own individuality and identity that may be hugely different than the parent.

      • Mordanicus says:

        I have nothing to add.

        That I question the desirability of reproductive cloning, does not mean I am in favour of prohibition or that I believe reproductive cloning is immoral. People should be able the answer this question for themselves.

        • dmill96 says:

          I’d agree completely, given those who decide for themselves have enough knowledge (and good motives). Unfortunately I think that is unlikely to be true, esp. given crowd opinion is likely to be all over the map.

          I actually think some regulation, given it could be done intelligently (and that’s not a likely condition) is appropriate. When we make a reproductive decision it affects someone who has no say in the process and so we need to be responsible. I didn’t ask to be born, but once I was, I valued my own life. But no one asked me whether I want to live in this world. Unfortunately I think parents have too much of their own interests wrapped up in the reproductive decision. I thought about it a lot in my own case and decided I didn’t want a child to have the face the future I thought would exist for it (I was overly pessimistic then, but am more pessimistic today)

          Fortunately reproductive cloning is likely to be insanely expensive and thus unlikely (but the idea that only the rich get to do it bugs me too). But like most other technology if it’s possible, it will probably get cheaper and more widespread. But IVF experience makes me more optimistic. AFAIK some rich person hasn’t decided to have 50 children (at least in western society without multiple wives) because they can afford the surrogates.

          While I realize it’s hugely impractical I’d actually like parents to be certified as responsible and good parents before they make babies now. All the damage that bad parenting does to society is enormous. But, that said, it is still a very personal and private decision and with only the binary choice of forcing people to follow rules or let them do as they will, I too will opt for them making their own decisions. I just wish that the public discourse about reproductive issues could be more honest and objective and free of the irrelevant (religious) components. It’s probably good for our species’ success that we breed young, but it’s too bad we don’t reach reproductive capacity after several more decades of growing up.

  2. Pingback: Human cloning is not the bogeyman – 2 | dailydouq

  3. beannellie says:

    Reblogged this on Let Us Wipe out Domestic Violence and commented:
    dont scare me

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