Twins are okay, why not clones?

Bioethicist Hugh McLachlan argues the reason we're so against the idea of cloning humans--cloning is a criminal offense in many countries--has to do only with irrational fears of risks we readily accept in other areas of reproduction.

One argument is that it is morally wrong to replicate people. But environmental factors will ensure the resulting individual is not an identical copy, either psychologically or physically. Besides, McLachlan points out, we accept genetically identical people in the form of twins. If anything, clones would be less alike than twins because they would be different ages and be brought up in different contexts.

Another concern is safety, but in other areas of reproduction (and life in general) safety alone isn't sufficient grounds to make something illegal. There may be an increased risk of miscarriage or deformity, but for people born as a result of cloning, it is their only chance of life. Cloning is therefore not a risk but an opportunity. If you could only have been born as a clone, with the risks that entails, would you have wanted your life to have been prevented?

Other arguments McLachlan attacks are more outlandish, red herrings such as the idea that it might alter the gene pool, or that despotic leaders might use cloning to create armies of ideal soldiers. Only a tiny percentage of people will consider cloning because, after all, sexual reproduction is cheaper, safer and more fun. Only those with no other option are likely to resort to cloning.

Even if growing numbers of clones could affect the gene pool, is that a reason for making the practice illegal? It's not as though there is any "natural" or preordained path along which our species is meant to develop. Global travel has probably had a far greater effect on the gene pool than cloning ever could, and nobody uses that to argue for a ban on it.

As for state-run cloning factories, any organized program to rear babies for a particular purpose would clearly be abhorrent, whether the children were produced by sexual intercourse, IVF or cloning. This has no bearing on whether individual couples should be allowed to choose cloning as a method by which to have a child. Similarly, if someone was cloned without their consent, that would be unethical and should be illegal, but it is not a reasonable objection to cloning any more than rape is an objection to sex.

McLachlan concludes, "In a free society, actions should be legal unless there is a case for making them illegal. We do not need to justify cloning in order to say that it should be legal (although it would clearly benefit those infertile couples for whom there is no other way to have a child that is genetically related to them). It should be for those who want cloning to remain a crime to justify themselves."


Hugh McLachlan is professor of bioethics at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK. He is author, with J. Kim Swales, of From the Womb to the Tomb: Issues in medical ethics (Humming Earth, Glasgow, 2007)


Dear Tom,

Many thanks for posting my comments on cloning.

May I suggest the following links to anyone who might be interested in my views on cloning?

From the Womb to the Tomb: Issues in Medical Ethics, Humming Earth, Glasgow, April, 2007. (Written with J. Kim Swales). See:

Especially the section on Embryology and Human Cloning (chapters 3-8)

Best wishes,
Professor Hugh McLachlan
Centre for Ethics in Public Policy
Glasgow Caledonian University

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