Social Policy

Often, when the issue of human cloning is addressed, there is a confusion about whether what is being asserted is that human cloning is morally right or wrong or whether it ought to be legally permitted or prohibited. These two realms are distinct. In particular, not everything that is morally wrong ought to be legally prohibited. Many examples can be provided, such as spiteful thoughts about others. So also, where a particular case of cloning a human being might be morally objectionable, there may or may not be grounds for it to be legally prohibited. This is partially dependent on the relationship between the realms of morality and the law.

Although not all the views on this relationship can be analyzed here, the most generally accepted view is governed by what has been called the harm principle. This is the view that the law ought to restrict people's liberty only to prevent them from harming others. The purpose of law is not to see that people do the morally right thing or that they do not do what causes harm only to themselves (if they are adults), for example. On the basis of the harm principle, the possible harm done to those cloned would be particularly relevant. This is why the safety aspect of human cloning is particularly important with regard to what the law should do. Both the degree and certainty of the harm would be important. If the risk were high and the harm serious, there would be grounds to restrict the cloning of human beings by law, at least until it were safe.

One could also argue that people can be harmed by having their basic liberties restricted (where they are not harming others) or their privacy invaded. Those arguing for procreative liberties may also use this principle in support of their views. However, there would still remain a provision that their liberty or privacy could be restricted to protect others from being seriously harmed.

Some have argued in favor of allowing human cloning to proceed on grounds that science cannot and should not be legally regulated or restricted. However, this view would surely need to be tempered at least by the harm principle. Many laws and policies do restrict science on this ground, including food and drug safety regulations. Moreover, while technology has many benefits, it can also be misused. Concerns regarding the misuse and dangers of technology have probably given rise to objections to human cloning of the "Frankenstein" type. Some fear that the results of human cloning could not be controlled. Why cloning would be less controllable than other technology is an open question. But some argue that it is better to permit certain practices and technologies to develop and even to fund them with public money because of the increased publicity and monitoring that this provides.

At present there are no U.S. federal laws prohibiting human cloning, though a few states have passed such legislation, among them California, Louisiana, Michigan, and Rhode Island. Internationally a number of countries and international groups have banned the cloning of humans, including Great Britain, the European Union, and the General Assembly of the United Nations. In early 2003, the recommendations of the U.S. National Bioethics Advisory Commission in their 1997 Report are still being considered by the U.S. Congress as it addresses the issue of human cloning, both reproductive and research/therapeutic. A key recommendation of this report was that at present human reproductive cloning ought to be prohibited because of the safety issues. Congress may also consider the July 2002 recommendations of a divided Presidential Council on Bioethics for a four-year moratorium on both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. The Council rejected these terms in its report, opting instead for "cloning-for-biomedical-research" and "cloning-to-produce-children." However, there are also more general existing laws that could govern human cloning such as those protecting human research subjects, especially non-consenting subjects.

This summary of the issues surrounding human reproductive cloning has considered the nature of human cloning, its present capabilities, and some possible uses for it. It has focused on the ethical objections to cloning, responses to them, and has concluded with some discussion of the relation between ethics and public policy.

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