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Human Cloning (2003)

Anthony McCarthy: A concise argument against cloning. This extract is from A. McCarthy: Cloning (Linacre/CTS Explanations series, 2003). A pdf is available here.

Cloning means the production of a living being that is genetically identical to the one from which it originated. Specifically, human cloning is the artificial production of a genetic replica of another human being. This is achieved without the contribution of two gametes (sperm and ovum), and is therefore a form of asexual reproduction. Whereas IVF is a form of reproduction achieved by fertilisation of an ovum (egg) by a sperm outside the body, sperm is not used in cloning.

Purposes of cloning

For the sake of clarity, and given the fact that all cloning is reproductive in itself, I will refer to cloning for research/transplantation (or experimental cloning), and cloning for birth (or live-birth cloning). In the term cloning for birth is included both cloning done with the intention to implant and bring to birth, and also any implantation of a clone embryo for this purpose.

Cloning for birth

Given what we presently know from animal cloning, it is clear that this procedure would cause physical harm to human clones. Many of these human beings would have severe genetic or other disabilities, which might only become apparent at late stages of pregnancy. Many babies would miscarry and those making it to birth would be likely to suffer premature death or major health problems caused by the means used to produce them. Nearly all scientists working in the field would accept this. On top of these problems, clone human beings who were discovered in the womb to be disabled would be at a much higher risk of being destroyed through deliberate abortion.

Women choosing to gestate clone children would be exposed to grave physical and psychological harm. The high rate of miscarriage would carry health risks for the mother, aside from the trauma that would result from either miscarriage or neonatal death. Observation of animal clones has shown that malformed or oversized foetuses could constitute a direct physical threat to the gestational mother. In such cases as these, as well as in cases of genetic disability, mothers would be under pressure to abort the child they were carrying. Abortion, in addition to taking the life of the child, would carry health risks for the mother, both physical and psychological.


The most obvious threat posed by somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning is to the nature of human procreation and the rearing of children. Cloning, as a form of asexual reproduction, completely displaces the procreative act between a man and a woman. As human beings we are bodily beings. Our living bodies are intrinsic to our unified personal experience. Sexual procreation between a man and a woman is a single act performed by a pair. In this regard the man and woman form, in the words of philosopher Germain Grisez, a single reproductive (or procreative) principle. It is because as persons we are a dynamic unity of body and soul that our bodily acts carry an inherent meaning. In light of the couple forming a single reproductive principle, we can see that an organic unity of persons is present in the procreative type of act. The meaning of these acts is therefore not absolutely reducible to the personal projects of the couple. These acts have an inherent connection to the good of the transmission of life. To deny this and to claim that the meaning of sexual union is determined simply by the desire/will of the couple, is to deny the basic purpose of sexual union between a man and a woman, and with it the normative meanings of our sexual differentiation and complementarity.

By giving themselves in love to each other and bringing together their gametes (sperm and ovum) through a personal sexual act, the couple each give genes to form a completely new human individual. The new human is genetically unique, related to the parents but distinct from them. He has come to be as a result of the procreative act of his parents and his genetic make-up is unpredictable. He is genetically linked to the past, yet open to the future. These features carry the valuable message that the child is the gift and fruit of sexual procreation, who, as such, must be unconditionally accepted in all his contingent and unplanned characteristics. He is not produced or chosen as a particular child with particular features according to a particular template. He is not custom-made according to the will of his parents. The fact that the child is a unique and contingent gift, the result of sexual union, invites acceptance of a different yet equal and related person, not someone the parents own, or who exists only for their own purposes. The sense that a child is not a possession is an important one for parents to have, lest they be tempted to treat him as if he were. In rearing a child the parents should guide and to some extent mould the child, but only so that he or she may develop a truly separate identity from them.



The clone child, while being a near genetic replica of the adult cell donor, will be an entirely separate individual. We are not reducible, as human persons, to our genes. Human identical twins occurring in nature are closer to each other genetically than a clone and its adult cell donor would be, but remain completely separate persons and undergo separate experiences. Radical similarities between persons do not make them identical as persons. One can only talk of similarity against a background of difference.

But the point is not that a clone would not be a distinct person from his/her adult cell donor. It is rather that he/she will have been deliberately produced as a replica of another human, and thus will appear to be a replacement copy of someone, and not a unique original. To attempt to replicate someone genetically is to attempt something that radically removes genetic differences between people. Such differences certainly symbolise the uniqueness and separateness of persons, and protect us against the idea of treating people as replaceable. Cloning, which makes mass replication possible, would undermine this important symbolism and thereby handicap the formation of a sense of individual identity.

Motherhood and identity

Familial relations