Over the last few years, the science of reproductive cloning has sparked ethical debates. Though most fears associated with reproductive cloning are valid and significant, there are certain misconceptions that have led to unnecessary fear and trepidation. The most significant arguments against reproductive cloning are that it is wrong to make a copy of someone as it affects the uniqueness of the clone, violates the autonomy of the cloned individual, it is unnatural, affects human dignity, causes identity and psychological crisis in the cloned individual and also affects the cloned individuals from having an open future. While some critics agree to these arguments, a few consider these arguments to be mere assumptions and hypothetical. One of the major arguments in human reproductive cloning is the “life in the shadow” argument which claims that the cloned individual could be subjected to psychological distress and harm as a result of social pressures as the clone’s life would not be completely his or her own (1).The right to autonomy of the clone could be compromised as he could be given traits or characteristics that he or she would not find desirable. In this essay, I will discuss the ethical and moral considerations in the “life in the shadow” argument in human reproductive cloning by examining in detail the strong and weak points made in the claim. I will further explain my disagreement with the argument as I believe that despite having several strong points the argument is mostly based on assumptions, misinterpretations and is hypothetical concluding that, with claims against cloning based on life in the shadow argument cloning is still a viable option.
Firstly, the important debate in the reproductive cloning and in life in the shadow argument is that the right to autonomy of the clone would be largely jeopardized (2). It emphasizes that genetic individuality is an essential part of life as it provides an individual with an identity and makes him or her unique. Theorists like Tannert (3) and Holm suggest that people believe in genetic essentialism (relating the genotype to the physical characters and personality) and develop false hopes and expectations (4), the life of the clone is overshadowed by the genetic donor and the clone would not be free to make his or her own decisions in life. The accomplishments of the clone would also be always compared to its donor preventing the clone from leading an autonomous life. In my opinion, the genetic identity of the clone would be altered, which is against the natural way of things and the clone could grow up to find the science of cloning to be undesirable and autonomy compromising. In the case of a savior clone, the life of the clone would be used as means against his or her own consent. This would be an even more serious violation of the clone’s basic moral rights and his or her life would be completely overshadowed by the donor. The right to autonomy claims of the debate leads us to open future argument. This argument claims that the clone would lead a life which would merely be a partial re-enactment of the donor’s life forestalling its opportunity to an open future (5). Reproductive cloning could cause an infringement of the cloned individual’s right to ignorance as he or she would know too much about themselves. Buchanan et al states that:
“The idea is that parents have a responsibility to help their children during their growth to adulthood to develop capacities for practical judgment and autonomous choice, and to develop as well at least a reasonable range of the skills and capacities necessary to provide them the choice of a reasonable array of different life plans available to members of their society. In this view, it would be wrong for parents to close off most opportunities that would otherwise be available to their children in order to impose their own particular conception of the good life.”
He suggests that knowledge of the genetic identity could enable parents to restrict the exposure of children to develop the competence and capacity to choose their path in life (6). The genetic intervention in the cloned individuals could restrict their range of choices and options in life. The enhancement of particular genes could lead to the incapability of another trait which the cloned individual might have been interested in. The right to open future of the cloned individuals could be deeply affected as they have would have constrained and restricted environmental and genetic choices.
One of the major concerns in reproductive cloning is the wellbeing of the clone. Critics and bioethicists claim that cloning could cause deficits in the wellbeing of the cloned child than a child conceived by natural means. The CEJA notes suggest that cloning could cause psychosocial distress in the cloned individuals (7). The genetic identity of the clone provides insights on the potential of the cloned individual which increases the expectations and societal pressures on the clone as compared to a child born out of natural procreation. Dinc suggests that the knowledge of genetic identity could cause a great deal of harm to the clone such that the knowledge of being a cloned individual could invoke several emotional reactions and outrages. He or she could go through denial, identity crisis and show anger towards the parents leading to low self esteem. Conversely, knowledge about his or her genetic favorability could invoke a sense of superiority and over-confidence in the cloned individual affecting his or her mental health and well being (8).Genetic essentialism could affect the well being of the cloned individual as parents could have false beliefs on the competence of the child causing harmful implications on his or her well being wellbeing (4). If the clone is a savior clone, then his or her wellbeing is a major concern. Apart from leading a life under the shadow of the donor the care they receive from their parents is also greatly influenced by the donor. However there are several ethical concerns in the concept of savior clones which are not discussed as it is not within the scope of this essay.
The major pitfalls in the arguments in favor of the life in the shadow arguments is that most arguments points to genetic essentialism and they stand correct only if this experiential foundation remains true. The concept of genetic essentialism is based on the factual errors in people’s understanding of the genetic disposition and all arguments could fail if this misinterpretation is cleared. Though the right to autonomy of the clone individual is a major concern, Burley et al claims that the concept of autonomy is used by liberal theorists to defend a set of ways which they believe to bring meaning to life. They also suggest a flaw in assessing the degree of harm caused due to compromising the autonomy of the cloned individual to the harms caused to children raised from other acts of procreation which can cause similar or even severe consequences affecting the child’s autonomy (9). They claim that:
“We maintain that unless it is shown convincingly that ‘living in the shadow’ is somehow both horrendous and more autonomy-compromising than the plethora of other widely accepted and permitted upbringings a child might be ‘forced’ to undergo, the liberal principle of freedom in matters relating to procreation overrides the concern about cloning and child welfare autonomy-related welfare deficits that will be suffered by clones.”
They find the arguments against cloning pertaining to the autonomy and welfare of the cloned individuals to be unconvincing as children from other means of procreation could also be subjected to such implications. In my opinion, the right to autonomy and open future is also compromised in children living in conservative households wherein they are sometimes forced to follow the way of life of their ancestors. Though some ethicists believe in the open future argument and consider it wrong to violate the clone’s right to ignorance, as Kuhse suggests:
“While a cloned child may not have some of the opportunities of a non-clone, her future would be sufficiently open to allow her to live a life that is of benefit to her in a relevant sense. In what sense, then would she have been harmed by having been brought into existence?”
The cloned child would have several opportunities to thrive in their strong domains when compared to children born naturally who do not have the opportunity to identify or work on their strengths. The knowledge of genetic identity could also be beneficial than harmful. People nowadays voluntarily undergo genetic testing to identify diseases and obtain other relevant information. Kuhse questions the need to assume that this information would be appalling and cause harm rather than being helpful (5). Burley et al suggests that if exposure to information about genetic origin could traumatize and harm a cloned child the same is bound to happen to any child born by other means of procreation (9). I believe, that children could gain knowledge about their parents and ancestors past and would face the same circumstances as the clone, be it good or bad. If genetic origin shadows the life of a cloned child, the similar could happen to any child born by any means of procreation.
In conclusion, though the life in the shadow argument has several strong points and aims to protect the dignity and life of the cloned individuals it fails to assess the extent of damage it causes in comparison to children born naturally or by other means of procreation. The wellbeing of the cloned child is of principle importance and it is the responsibility of the society to provide the best to our future children. Assuming the worst out of the situation and arguing that the welfare of the cloned child would be adversely affected is wrong. On the contrary, it is also possible to assume that the cloned child would be loved, cherished and be provided the freedom to choose its own path. The cloned child could also have several advantages and be provided with a better future. The right to ignorance of the cloned child can be protected by withholding critical information from the child till he or she is autonomous. Though the autonomy of the cloned child could be affected, there is a possibility he or she could have a better life despite not being able to exercise his right to autonomy. Therefore, I believe that, while there are several ethical and moral concerns pertaining to the life in the shadow argument of reproductive cloning, anticipating bad outcomes and prohibiting cloning on the grounds of this argument is prejudiced and must be assessed in a manner that brings about maximum benefits to mankind.