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A Life in the Shadow: One Reason Why We Should Not Clone Humans

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Rashika Sood


In this paper, I will be examining the ‘life in the shadow’ argument against human reproductive cloning explicated by majorly Søren Holm in his paper “A life in the Shadow: One Reason Why We Should Not Clone Humans” which states that it is wrong to clone human beings as it takes away the right of the clone to have an original, individual life (Holm, 1998). The paper has the following structure. In section 1, I explain the argument; in section 2, I evaluate the argument stating its strong points, in section 3, I state the weak point and argue why I disagree with this argument, presenting arguments by philosophers defending this position.

Section 1: Life in the Shadow argument

In this essay, I assume that the clone is the monozygotic twin, with a substantial age gap to the original. Thus, they share the same genome as naturally occurring twins would but probably have a significant difference in time of birth, unlike homozygous twins which begin their lives at the same time. Holm states that the “life in the shadow” is a situation where the identical clone is compared to the ‘original’ (that may be still alive or might have died) on a daily basis, hence the clone will live a life in the shadow of a previously lived life. The existing knowledge of the life of the ‘original’ will hence have an impact on the rearing of the child where depending on the characteristics of the ‘original’. In such a case, he fears development might be prevented or promoted in the clone, for example, a clone of Michael Jordan would be encouraged to play basketball or a clone of Albert Einstein would be expected to be a genius whereas a clone of Adolf Hitler will be reared differently. This could prove to be problematic as it will diminish the clone’s personal identity and there might be a chance that the clone is forced to re-enact the life of the original, thus diminishing the clones’ individuality. On the basis of consequentialism, the argument further states that, if the information is not available to the social parents at birth, their curiosity to find out about the clones’ medical history might lead to mushrooming of firms which commercialise access of this information (Holm, 1998).

Section 2: Strong points

A strong point of this argument is that, cloning violates the fundamental moral right of a human to have a unique identity and right to an open future (Brock, 1999). I believe this is a valid point to consider in the debate about human cloning as cloning does endanger an individual’s right to unique identity. However, I believe it only endangers the right to unique identity, it doesn’t violate it. People might impose the identity of the ‘original’ on the clone and not treat it as a unique individual. This is especially likely to happen if the parents of the clones are not given proper counselling. Additionally, since there is a strong tendency for people to believe that the genotype shapes the personality and behaviour of an individual. There is a higher probability of this happening. However, this is not convincing as it is based on crude genetic determinism, which I will explain later.

These points have also been supported by other philosophers like Hans Jonas and Joel Feinberg. Jonas argues that homozygous twins start their lives simultaneously, hence each grows up unaware of the other person. Due to this unawareness towards the choices of their twins, there is an opportunity to live freely (Jonas, 1974). It’s a point to consider as the world has yet to see twins with a substantial time gap between their births. There is a high chance that the clone would be curious to find out about its originals life and might face an internal pressure to follow the same path which could lead to a decreased sense of individuality. The clone can also face external pressure from its parents to follow the path of the original which would limit its right to an open future, as argued by Feinberg (Feinberg, 1980). This can lead to a diminished sense of autonomy to build their own life and uniqueness, a Kantian ethic held in high regard. However, I will argue that human cloning increases autonomy for humans. Additionally, while this might be plausible, it can also have some benefits, as stated by Tooley, who argues that it be beneficial for the clone to have atleast one parent who would understand their point of view (Tooley, 1999).

Section 3: Weak points

Genetic determinism

The biggest weak point of the life in the shadow argument and the reason why I disagree with the argument is because it is based on the premises that majority of public believes that genotype controls personality and behaviour and that abolishing this view is highly unlikely.

This genetic determinism, i.e. believing that genes determine attributes of phenotype such as aggression, intelligence, musicality etc. is a false premise in itself and is merely a superstition (Gethmann & Thiele, 2001). While it is possible that genes might contribute to certain characteristics in a child, there is no evidence suggesting that these acquired traits are heritable. The personality of a child is influenced by environmental and social factors. This can be supported extremely well by Pence’s example. No parent has ever ensured that the perfect pitch can be achieved by just focussing on the genotype of their child. It is a skill that can be acquired by training (Pence, 1998). Just like this, access to education can make a child more knowledgeable and intelligent.

Furthermore, for those trying to clone extraordinary people like Einstein, Mozart, Jordan, Gandhi or others, as stated earlier, also rely on this misconception- that genes determine the traits. These individuals were extraordinary due to their circumstances, the environments they were brought up in and the historical moments relevant at that time. It is highly unlikely that a clone of Gandhi in modern age would have the same influence on the world as Gandhi had during the partition of British India. Additionally, as also argued by Brock, moral character for which Gandhi is famously known and admired for is not known to be produced by genes. Cloning would produce individuals with the same genotype (this is also debatable as nuclear transfer doesn’t produce 100% similarity) but cloning cannot replicate historical moments or the environment due to which certain individuals were extraordinary and thus admired by the majority of public. Some would argue that cloning might not lead to the same accomplishments but might empower the clone with the same capabilities. However, the capabilities too are a product of the environment and the genes together and not solely the genes (Brock, 1999). Hence, cloning is not in reality violating the right to unique identity, as just the fact that the clone is born in a different time and a different environment, that in itself provides it the opportunity to live a unique life.  This can further be supported by two examples. One, is the existence of naturally occurring identical twins with distinct personalities and no psychological harm caused due to same genotype. Second, is a bit far-fetched, but the closest to cloning, the present existence of pet clones. Pet cloning companies and owners confirm that the clones of the pet only look identical, but do not have the same personality as the original. These two examples, assure that cloning will not actually harm the right to unique identity.



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