Rights

Some of the arguments about human reproductive cloning have relied on the use of the language of rights for their conclusions. For example, as noted above, some have objected to cloning on grounds that people have a "right to an open future." In contrast, some argue that human cloning should be allowed because people have a "right to reproduce." And again, because cloning is such a risky process, some argue that it ought to be prohibited because children have a "right to be born healthy." Some attention should be given here, then, to what is meant by a right and why and whether we have certain rights, including these particular rights.

A right is generally understood to be a strong and legitimate claim that people can make to certain things. If the assertion is based on moral grounds, we refer to the right as a moral right, whether or not it is reinforced by law. It is a negative right or claim if it is a claim not to be interfered with. This is sometimes called a liberty right. Thus a right to freedom of speech would be classified primarily as a negative or liberty right, that is, a right not to be prevented from speaking out. But a positive right is a claim to be given certain things. Thus a right to healthcare would be classified as a right to be given certain forms of healthcare. Since rights are legitimate claims, there must be serious reasons or grounds given for their assertion. One view is that only persons have rights (not rocks or plants, while animals are a disputed case) for only persons are moral agents who can be held responsible for their actions. There are certain things that are essential in order for a person to function well as a human being, and these can be legitimately claimed as rights.

Given these clarifications about rights, which of the above mentioned claims might be legitimate claims and of what kind? Being able to produce a child of one's own might well be so important for a full human existence (with certain exceptions perhaps for celibates or others who serve higher or other causes) that one might well be said to have a legitimate claim or right to do so. It would first of all be classified as a negative or liberty right, in other words a right not to be prevented from producing children, and perhaps also producing them through cloning, at least when no one is harmed. Whether it is also so important that it could be considered a positive right such that society ought to provide the means or aids for those who are having trouble reproducing in the natural way due to infertility problems is another matter. While it may not at first seem reasonable to assert a right to reproduce in this or that way, it may make sense if one thinks of it as one thinks of eyeglasses or wheel chairs, namely as necessary aids to seeing and mobility, things that are essential for a satisfying human life and thus legitimate claims that people can make. A right to an open future could most reasonably be claimed as a negative right, namely a right not to be prevented from choosing a life for oneself. Things that would seriously interfere with this would then be morally problematic as threats to that right.

A right to be born healthy would most reasonably be thought of as a negative right. No one should deliberately do what will result in harm to a child, or do what poses an inordinate or undue risk to its life or health. It would be more problematic to claim that a being that does not exist in some requisite sense has a right to be given a life. However, if it is to have a life, then one might well argue that it should if possible have a life with decent chances for development and happiness. One might ground this in notions of equal opportunity and justice, that each person should have a fair chance to develop and to compete for access to life's goods. Given the risks that are associated with animal cloning, grave questions can be raised about human cloning in this regard.

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