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After all, why treat clones differently?--we twins and clones are all "monozygotes", as the biologists put it. In fact, clones necessarily separate in outside influences from their first moments in the womb, for the wombs are different. Another's DNA inserted into a host egg will acquire "maternal factors" from the proteins of that egg, affecting later development. The womb's complex chemical mix varies with each mother, so nine months of different "weather" will change the outcome in the fetus; the baby will not be a photocopy of its older original.
And clones will be full-fledged people with all rights attendant to that status. Nobody forces twins to serve as organ farms for their other twin; clones would have the same legal status.
The true first use of cloning will undoubtedly be in the "copying" of highly selected farm animals. These could first be excellent milk cows or racing horses. More futuristically, we shall see--and quite soon-- the cloning of "pharm" animals which yield biotech products of use to us, such as insulin-rich milk from cows, and a whole array of therapeutic hormones, enzymes and proteins.
Plants have already been extensively engineered. More than three-quarters of the cotton grown in Alabama last year was genetically tuned to kill predatory insects. Already scientists are experimenting with cotton plants that contain polyester fibers, too, surely a boon for fans of leisure suits.
Still, cloning should indeed furrow the brow of long- perspective thinkers. We believe sexual reproduction holds sway over much of the kingdom of life because it provides ever-new gene mixes, allowing a species to build fresh defenses against the ever-mutating pathogens that infest the natural world. The perpetual arms race between prey and predator favors sex as a defense. Seen this way, we are men and women because the primary predator on humans have always been microbes, not tigers.
So "pharm" animals cloned over and over will face the very real threat of infectious diseases which wipe out a herd overnight. But surely nobody will clone huge numbers of humans, so such plagues will be quite unlikely. The breeds of influenza that regularly attack us genetically diverse humans will do far more damage.
As I write this, a presidential panel seems about to recommend a uniform federal ban on human cloning experiments. I believe this will be a mistake, generally, and an ineffective move anyway. The technology is fairly simple; others will pick it up. In Latin American countries or on offshore islands, clinics will offer the service at a hefty charge. Underground, without legal oversight, we will indeed see some tragedies and even horrors.
Bioethics is a field with many practitioners but few obviously qualified savants. Often the bans which spring from such federal committees prove ill-advised, their only long-term effects negative. This was the case with the two-year moratorium on recombinant DNA, which simply slowed the field without deciding anything. So did similar bans on selling organs or blood, and I predict, so shall the recent Clinton prohibition on using human embryos in federally backed medical research. The ultimate price for these momentary interruptions -- and so far they have always been momentary -- is lives lost because the resultant technology arrives too late for some patients.
Bioethicists tend to see problems everywhere, and saying no gives them visible power. Letting technology evolve willy-nilly, responding to what people want -- maybe even people without advanced degrees! -- gives bioethicists no perks or prominence; unsurprising, then, that they seldom go that route. They aren't the patients clinging to life, or infertile, or stunted in some potentially fixable way.
They also tend to think collectively, omitting the inconvenient needs of real people. Bioethics professor George Annas of Boston University flatly demands, "I want to put the burden of proof on scientists to show us why society needs this before society permits them to go ahead and [do] it." Note that he does not require this rule in his own work, including testing the above sentence by its own standards. Instead, Virginia Postrel has noted of Annas and many others, "We will hear the natural equated with the good, and fatalism lauded as maturity. That is a sentiment about which both green romantics and pious conservatives agree."
Indeed. We would save ourselves much trouble if we could agree that the proper place for most bioethical thought lies in counseling those affected, not in dictating the spectrum of possibilities.
Cloning arouses anxieties stemming from a general uncertainty with the very concept of the self. Legally, even the mind-body unity seems shaky. In 1991 the California Supreme Court decided that a cancer patient did not have a right to share in the profits from UCLA's use of his diseased cells to produce new drugs. This meant that a patient does not even own his own body, and so his integral self is not simply bodily.
Consciousness seems to us to be slippery and yet intuitively obvious. We feel ourselves to be the same person all along our life- trajectory, unique and self-contained. Just as an ant colony or a baseball game has an integrity even as its insects or players change, we have an irreducible selfness.
Of course, such assertions are hard to prove. (Indeed, proving who you are is done by showing a partial copy of yourself-- fingerprints, or a drivers' license.) We all readily assent to knowing that we experience a continuous self.