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Human cloning
  1. Francoise Shenfield
  1. Co-ordinator, Centre for Medical Ethics, Department of Medicine, UCLMS, London

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    Edited by James Humber and Robert Almeder, New Jersey, Humana Press, 1998, 224 pages, $44.50 (hb).

    This book is one of many published since the successful cloning of Dolly reported in Nature in February 1997, and gives a specific American view of ethical and legal aspects of the issues raised concerning applications to the human.

    Unavoidably, the chapters are of different quality, and it sometimes takes a while to fathom the angle from which the problem is seen. Thus, for those of us not cogniscent of the whole American scene, and as some names are more known on the other side of the Atlantic than others, it would be useful to have a synopsis of the various contributors' positions or at least departments. This is obviously a job which the editors might have tackled. As no general overview of the book is provided either, each chapter will be analysed in turn.

    The first chapter by Klugman and Murray is a good read, summarising the folklore about cloning, although I declare my prejudice when references are taken from newspapers rather than scientific publication originals. This is perhaps why the scientific achievement of the Dolly experiment is totally overlooked by the author, as reflected in the statement: “this is a story of technology, not science”. Most scientists would argue quite the opposite, as there are high hopes that we will learn much from this experiment and others with similar techniques, as well as for its use in non-reproductive cloning. One may wonder what historical ethics is, and why the most interesting argument of the “machine model” in reproduction is not at all elaborated upon. Finally, and unfortunately in the current political climate, the terms eugenics and genocide are used very loosely and interchangeably.

    Annas's chapter is concisely clear and powerful in his usual manner, especially when he makes the point that cloning is replication, not reproduction. There are some irritating editing errors, for instance “to” instead of “two”, which is rather important in the context. But the most important point, from a legal perspective, is emphatically made: that there is a lack of framework, legal or otherwise, in reproduction, which is a specific US problem. This leads to the suggestion of the creation of an agency, like our UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, to oversee IRBs.

    Tooley concentrates on two subjects: first, cloning as an organ bank, an esoteric if not impossible endeavour—but one is accustomed to read this kind of theoretical intellectual challenge from this author. This allows him an interesting discussion on the clone and (its?, his/her?) lack of capacity for consciousness, and to ask the question whether creating (it?) would thus be morally wrong. Having written with the same powerful imagery about abortion, Tooley asserts that objections to the use of spare-organ banking from a clone are as unsound as those made to the obtaining of organs from a patient in PVS, a challenging view which revolves again around the capacity for consciousness. As for reproductive cloning, he argues against any objection there by branding psychological disquiet concerning the deed as a sin of irrationality, thus choosing to ignore that part of us being human has as much to do with our psyche and feelings as with our rationality. Nevertheless, in spite of Tooley's stance, which is arguably a narcissistic commodification of the future child by creating a being with desired characteristics, this chapter is a challenging read.

    The chapter on religion by Heller is also interesting, if not original in its statement that moral intuitions rather than moral arguments only mean that faith or dogma cannot be argued with. The differences between Christian and Jewish and Muslim traditions are well explained, as are the difficulties linked to the dignity concept and the lack of explanation of this concept provided by its relationship to unique identity and objectifying.

    Finally we have an analysis from the point of view of American liberalism. The author of this chapter, H O Tiefel, exposes different appraisals of the link between the individual and the community (or society to use a more European term), centring around approaches of liberalism and the notions of individual person, privacy and liberty. I found the striking commonsense attitude of this author refreshing, especially when he asks: “what would be the point ‘of reproductive cloning’ if we did not wish to create sameness”.

    All in all this book is an interesting addition to the many articles and publications on this feat of science which has challenged our vision of reproduction and its meaning.