Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hugh McLachlan on Cloning Humans

Last week I posted an article on cloning humans. It was a reference to a piece in New Scientist by Hugh McLachlan, a Professor of ethics at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland (UK). McLachlan does not oppose the cloning of humans and neither do I.

Here are some other articles on the same topic [Ignore The Boys from Brazil - say Yes to human cloning], [Poor reasons for making human cloning illegal].

McLachlan sent me the following message in response to some of his critics. It addresses some of the issues that have come up in the comments on Sandwalk. He has given me permission to post it.
I think that the risks to the embryos are irrelevant to the issue of whether or not human cloning should be illegal. (Whether public money should be spent on human cloning if it is a very inefficient technique is another matter.) The potential mothers should be informed about the known risks and they must, of course, give their consent. The risk to the mothers is not a justification for making the technique illegal in my view.

Consider an analogy. Imagine that 100 people were trapped, unconscious in a building. They might, for instance, be hostages. A bomb might be primed to explode shortly. If they are not rescued fairly soon they will die. Suppose that the only way they could be rescued is if they were snatched by SAS. The snatch might kill them all. It might result in some being injured, impaired and disabled. It might even result in some living a life that was not worth living. However, there is a chance that one or more might survive to live a normal life. Should we take the chance and snatch them? If we are thinking only about the interests of those 100 people, we must do it even if the chances are remote that any will be saved.

To say that it should be illegal to make the snatch because of the risk to the hostages would be absurd. It is similarly absurd to say that, because of the risks to the embryos involved, human cloning should be illegal.

There is a risk to the soldiers. However, since people volunteer to be soldiers and might even volunteer for particular dangerous missions it is generally judged acceptable that soldiers are exposed to such risks. I can see no reason why we should not allow potential mothers to accept the risks of delivering clones if that is what they want to do.

The objection about the risks to the embryos/clones involved looks at the issue of risk and uncertainly the wrong way round. Suppose that some technique or other were devised to reduce the suffering of those people who had some particular relatively minor ailment. The question of the risk of the technique to these potential patients might be relevant particularly if we assume that to live with the ailment is still pleasant and worthwhile even if not as pleasant and worthwhile as life without the ailment. Suppose that, with the technique, the likelihood is that X% of the patients will be cured completely of the ailment, Y% will end up with a worse case of the condition and that Z% will die in the course of treatment.

In a situation such as this, it is important to know what numbers X, Y and Z stand for to try to judge whether the risk involved in worth taking. Ideally, we would tell the patients and let them decide for themselves. However, human cloning is quite different from this imagined scenario. For the people who might be born as a result of cloning - whether, in the event, they actually are born - cloning is their only chance of birth and life. In the absence of cloning, they will not be born. Hence, cloning is not a risk for them but an opportunity - their only opportunity. To make cloning illegal in their interests on the grounds that, in the course of the technique, not all implanted embryos will become healthy mature human bodies is absurd.


  1. The argument seems clumsy to me. He's arguing for potential life, which is the same the same thing that anti-abortionists argue.

    Off-topic, my issue isn't really with safeness because I think that's an obstacle that will be overcome probably in the near future. Yes, consent is important, etc., but those issues are the sorts of things that doctors and clinicians face every day.

    My issue doesn't have to do with cloning itself and isn't really an issue about the science. It's an issue with society. Will a clone have the same rights as humans born naturally? Will clones as a group be discriminated against? What can we do to educate the general public so that clones aren't perceived as "soulless" or less than human?

  2. ordinary girls asks,

    Will a clone have the same rights as humans born naturally?

    Of course, Why in the world would you even ask such a question?

    Will clones as a group be discriminated against?

    They shouldn't be unless there are people who have some sort of a problem with clones. Do you have a problem?

    What can we do to educate the general public so that clones aren't perceived as "soulless" or less than human?

    We can begin by not giving in to fear and paranoia and making cloning illegal for no good reason. Since when do we cater to the most ignorant people in society? Perhaps we can introduce them to identical twins? Which one has the soul?

  3. What is odd to me is we have many clones all around right now. Yet people imagine all sorts of bizarre scenarios about clones, why is this??????

  4. Because most people are butt-ignorant? And kept that way by their wonderful superstitious ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H religious leaders? That would be my guess, anyway.