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Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2001 / 4 Teves 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Lost in the cloning debate -- IT'S not enough to react with visceral repugnance to the prospect of cloning humans. If this morally abhorrent procedure is to be stopped before some renegade scientist pulls it off, we must say clearly why it's wrong.

For now, let's set aside the prickly question of whether therapeutic cloning (that's cloning human cells to produce stem cells to cure diseases) should be banned, too. I haven't yet given up the idea that it may be possible to justify such promising work ethically, but that's another topic.

Rather, let's focus on reproductive cloning, which is designed to manufacture people. Why is that so offensi

ve? Why do we instinctively feel it would violate something sacred? One of the most compelling arguments against this kind of cloning is that it distorts the natural process of procreation by replacing it with a manipulative form of manufacturing.

When we make babies in the usual way, we commit ourselves to the inherent laws of nature that provide life's context and boundaries. We act in ways that reflect our own procreative natures, ways that honor how, from the beginning, human life has been preserved through reproduction.

But if ever we are able to engage in reproductive cloning, we will, in the words of bioethicist Leon R. Kass, who now heads a White House commission on stem-cell research, "give existence to a being not by what we are but by what we intend and design."

That may seem a subtle distinction, but it's not. When we purposefully design something to meet one of our perceived needs, we're never the equal to what we have created. We are its lord; it is our creature. Again, Kass: "Any child whose being, character and capacities exist owing to human design does not stand on the same plane as its makers."

In effect, cloned children would be our products, our commodities. As such, that life will tend to have an unnatural and diminished value. That's morally out of bounds.

Children not begotten but manufactured eventually would become commercial products. Worse, they would be burdened by a host of expectations not associated with children produced in the natural way.

If my ego, for instance, drove me to find a scientist who could produce my time-delayed twin, that child would bear my precise genotype. And I would - even if I didn't intend to - place on that poor kid unimaginable pressures to become another me (or, one might hope, a better me).

We know, of course, that some pushy parents already try to make their children be what they themselves failed to become. But that misguided arrogance is profoundly different from the built-in expectations that the eugenics of human cloning would bring. How would such a child ever develop a clear sense of will or self-worth or achieve what the Jungians call individuation, the freeing of one's self from parents and becoming a whole person on his or her own unique terms?

In turn, cloned children who fail to meet the expectations of their designer-parent-twin almost certainly would spend their lives blaming their cloners for everything that's gone awry in their lives.

"And parents," says Kass, "especially the better ones, will be limitlessly liable to guilt. Only the truly despotic souls will sleep the sleep of the innocent."

There are, quite simply, bizarre complications to being a parent to one's own twin. Could I bring up my twin (who looked the way I looked at his age) with the same love a parent feels for children produced through the inherent riskiness - and thus commitment - of traditional childbirth? Could I love a younger me without controlling him? I can't imagine the sea of troubles.

Finally, cloning inevitably would lead to the mountainous arrogance - evil in both subtle and obvious ways - of using genetic manipulation to yield designer children. Human nature, so easily corruptible, would be drawn to genetic tinkering like iron filings to a magnet. People would seek taller or more beautiful or more lithe or more something children. And imagine the life (if any) of a child manufactured by a flawed process that failed to achieve such results.

This list of objections to cloning is not exhaustive. But it shows some of what's at stake. We must remember that just because science can do something doesn't mean it should. Our job is to articulate why it should not.

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved