Surrogate motherhood, in which one woman carries a fetus for another, was also condemned at first as immoral and exploitative but has since become commonplace. Thanks to advances in prenatal diagnosis, many women at risk for bearing children with genetic or chromosomal disorders resort to abortion if their fetuses have lost the roll of the genetic dice. It seems inevitable that human cloning, if made medically safe, will undergo similar taming and adaptation to human wants.According to polls, a majority of the U.S. public already supports so-called therapeutic human cloning-the creation of cloned embryos for research, particularly on stem cells-and so does the National Academy of Sciences. President Bush and his conservative allies, including Kass, object to research cloning, saying it creates life only to destroy it, but they appear to be fighting a rear-guard moral action. The mere prospect that human therapeutic cloning will pay medical dividends has so far sufficed to block the absolutists in the Senate who want to ban human cloning for any purpose. If work with embryonic stem cells begins to yield actual treatment for disease, therapeutic cloning will become even more common in the lab than artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization are in the clinic.
Therapeutic cloning today will hasten the arrival of reproductive cloning tomorrow. Even without it, cloning techniques and technology are advancing rapidly. Since Dolly, cattle and pigs have been cloned, and so have mice, goats, cats and rabbits, with techniques that are said to be promising for overcoming the practical difficulties in getting human clones to grow. Human cloning research will surely yield still further improvements in safety and reliability-and someday, somewhere, lead a biologist to implant a cloned embryo in a willing woman’s womb.
The demand for human reproductive cloning is already evident. Calls for permitting it have come from gay men, lesbians and infertile couples who wish to have genetically related children, and from people who want to clone lost children or other relatives. James Grifo, a fertility specialist at New York University Medical Center, has said of cloning opponents, “None of them have seen the misery my patients are living through.” Still, human clones will not be what some people expect-replacement duplicates of their sources. They will, like everyone else, be born as babies. Each will be genetically the same as its clonal parent, a new kind of identical twin; but since each will be shaped by environmental influences different from those the parent encountered, each will develop uniquely.
Yet human clonal reproduction will open uncharted territory in familial dynamics, especially where children are raised by their clonal parents. No twin has ever been called into being and then reared by its identical sibling. How the child will turn out psychologically and emotionally is anybody’s guess. But that uncertainty will not stop prospective clonal parents, just as similar unknowns about how children will turn out have of course not stopped conventional reproduction.
Once reproductive cloning is made physically safe for the fetus, its enthusiasts may find an ally in U.S. law. The U.S. Congress, of course, could decide to ban human cloning for any purpose, claiming the power to do so because it can regulate interstate commerce, and a cloning clinic would be open to women from anywhere in the country. But such a law could well run afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which, by upholding the right of a woman to choose an abortion, arguably implies that the state cannot interfere with how she chooses to reproduce.
The first human clone will probably be born outside the United States-perhaps in China, where work on human cloning is reported to be proceeding. Wherever the child appears, its birth will undoubtedly electrify the world. Unlike Louise Brown, this baby will not fade immediately into the noise of daily life; people will want to know with much greater interest if it is healthy, and if it remains so. If it does, one imagines that other cloned children will follow and become commonplace-beneficiaries, like Louise Brown’s successors, of a new commodity in the growing emporium of human reproduction.