The news of a breakthrough in stem cell harvesting via human cloning has rekindled the old debate over the efficacy of producing carbon copies of a person. A recent paper published by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University claims he and his team have succeeded in extracting patient-specific embryonic stem cells. The process, accomplished by cloning, has been glossed over and portrayed as being relatively straightforward: an unfertilized egg with the nucleus removed is combined with a donor cell from body tissue. After the compound evolves to its embryonic stage, developing stem cells can be gathered and bred to become any cell in the human body. Medical treatments such as organ transplants and curing diabetes could all benefit from this procedure.
As Johnathan Coppage writes, the controversy of what’s known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer” entails the deliberate ruination of eggs in the blastocyst stage that could potentially become human life. As the development of the egg-cell combination begins, it becomes necessary to corrupt the outer layer (trophoblast) protecting the budding inner cells which, if given unadulterated time to grow, would form “the myriad parts of a human body, and being.” In a very literal sense, this is the manufacturing of life for its intended destruction.
The technique is still fairly young (Mitalipov asserts cloning humans with SCNTs will be proven impossible in a future publication), but the ramifications are worth exploring. The question is, would our world, rife with chicanery, hypocrisy, antagonism to intelligence, crime, and the sporadic promise of a more civilized understanding of natural rights, be ready for the ability to genetically engineer humans – in some cases producing an almost flawless replica?
Rejecting the Marxist notion that technology is the sole force of change in human affairs, I look at cloning from the perspective of one who recognizes the necessity of a common morality, applicable at any vantage point in time. The principles of just law are to be universal in mankind’s existence. The advent of scientific or industrial breakthroughs should not bend this unshakeable tenet. Unfortunately the excuse of “changing with time” is often employed by even the most rigorous of thinkers. Methodologically, this is incorrect for discovering the ethics and morals behind emerging phenomena. Just as the rise of state democracy does not make armed robbery legitimate, the possibility of replicating people does not change our understanding of what constitutes right and wrong.
The most promising aspect of human cloning is the possibility of recreating a lost child or loved one. Though I have experienced the death of family members, I find it of extreme difficulty to place myself in the position of someone who had the misfortune of watching their child pass away before coming of age. The longing to fill a void left by the Earthly departure of friends and family is understandable, admirable even.
But human cloning will not create duplicates of sentient beings fully capable of free will, moral consideration, and memory retention. The human experience is diverse for all. The only possible method for recreating a person in full is to ensure both nature and nurture are intertwined precisely in accordance with the subject. Biologically, this may be possible. To attempt to recreate an individual’s entire life experience, including their reactive cognition to life’s varying challenges, is quite a lofty goal to say the very least. I would propose such a task is beyond the realm of possibilities – but I am prepared to be proven wrong. To mimic a human being in totality would be a tremendous leap forward for biological science. Not recognizing such an accomplishment would be a crime, figuratively speaking of course. As Coppage writes, children possess “a unique inheritance unto themselves…that will generate and govern their own story going forward.” I cannot help but think the life of person – their thoughts, feelings, personality – is belittled by multiplication. Call it the law of diminishing marginal returns, if you will. To bring back a person’s bodily form complete with consciousness is no guarantee they will behave with the same mannerisms as the soul they replace.
So what is to be done with the prospect of human cloning in an age of immediate satisfaction? The great libertarian man of letters Albert Jay Nock, writing of Mikhail Kutuzov’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars, takes a rather conservative view to those whims and fashion which turn society all into a tizzy. The great Russian general’s strategy for overcoming a seemingly unstoppable force was, even for the observer who values peace, quite remarkable. As Napoleon marched to vanquish the Russian Army, Kutuzov continually retreated – so much so that the French were unaware of a great lure taking place. When Napoleon reached Moscow, he was greeted by a deserted city. Sensing loss, the Grand Army began its retreat across the barren Russian landscape. By the time Napoleon’s forces reached the border, hundreds of thousands had perished due to harsh winter conditions and lack of sustenance. The Little Corporal had been defeated with no actual conflict, albeit a few skirmishes with peasants. Napoleon’s strength, both in size and reputation, was delivered an unrecoverable blow. The Patriotic War of 1812, as it’s known in Russia, remains a national symbol of pride. The ousting of the French went on to inspire Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
Where does this story fall in the context of human cloning? Nock meant it as a teachable event for civilization’s varying “urges.” As he writes, it is far better for the educated man, when faced with an oncoming trains of mania, to “turn a fishy eye on them, to sift them and shake them down, and take plenty of time to decide whether or not it would be better for him in the long run to back up, all things considered.” This message of prudence can be best applied to complex subjects. I would consider it a matter of intelligence and – for lack of a better term – granted ignorance to take a soft-handed approach to human cloning. An enforceable ban is an enticing preference for the practice of cultivating potential life, though I would be mistaken to make a full-throated endorsement.
Adherents to conservatism have always been the strongest opponents of God-like experimentation of life. The lesson of Kutuzov would, at first, appear to fit neatly into the paradigm of bulwarking against changing traditions. But as F.A. Hayek wrote, the is not a workable political philosophy. While [classic] liberalism “is not averse to evolution and change,” the conservative often finds himself in “fear of change.” The reluctance to cloning may be a practical response, but enlisting force to stop radical developments that turn out ethically sound is an impediment to human progress.
Conservatism is not without its merit. If there need be any more convincing of Nock’s lesson of temperance, all one has to witness is the churlish behavior of the politically correct. These hell-bent crusaders of tolerance are perfectly willing to use the state to violently suppress insensitive language; a recent example being the jailing of eleven over racist jokes in Britain. Or consider the soon-to-be-aired children’s show featuring a gender-defying super hero-heroine-it. It doesn’t take an evangelical Christian to notice something amiss with a kid-oriented show celebrating reversed gender roles not yet accepted by the man on the street. Egalitarians would be better off to take a step back before bludgeoning society with their perverse values. Instead, they often forge ahead with agendas that could prove destructive to peaceful order.
Libertarians are often accused of being starry-eyed utopians whose views may sound swell in abstract, but do not comport to reality. The correct response for proponents of the non-aggression principle is always to express an unequivocal desire to live in a society where all compulsion of the innocent is prohibited by law. It is best to force the enemy of liberty into acknowledging their ringing endorsement of monopoly violence. Even so, the adherence to property, justice, and non-aggression does not make libertarianism a perfect philosophy to govern all possible circumstances. The lifetimes of millions have been spent determining which course is good and which is evil in a given situation. Human cloning is, right now, ambiguous to determinations of completely right or completely wrong. Stating that, I would err on the side of it being immoral to breed potential humans for the purposes of parasitism. But at this moment, I cannot say if I would endorse the use of guns to prevent such from happening.
With the cloning of human beings I join the company of Nock by simply asking that society tread lightly with this new and developing science. Seeing as how my opinion has yet to be widely consulted on such matters, I expect it to go unheard.