The Ethics of Cloning

Testimony Before United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime, June 7, 2001.


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee. My name is Leon Kass, and I am the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and the College at the University of Chicago. Originally trained both as a physician and a biochemist, I have for more than thirty years been professionally concerned with the social and ethical implications of biomedical advance. In fact, my first writing in this area, in 1967, was on the moral dangers of human cloning. I am therefore very grateful for the opportunity to testify before this Committee on the ethics of human cloning and in support of HR 1644, the “Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001.” And I am profoundly grateful to Rep. Weldon and the many co-sponsors of this bill for their vision in recognizing the momentous choice now before us and for their courage in stepping forward to protect us from what is surely a very great danger to the future of our humanity.

My testimony takes the form of an essay written precisely to gain support for such a bill. It has been published in the May 21, 2001 issue of The New Republic, under the title, “Preventing a Brave New World: Why We Should Ban Human Cloning Now.” I begin by calling attention to what is humanly at stake in the decision about human cloning and also to the fact that we have here a golden opportunity to exercise deliberate human command over where biotechnology may be taking us. I argue that we stand now at a major fork in the road, compelled to decide whether we wish to travel down the path to the Brave New World, a path made possible by the genetic control of future generations. I next present four arguments against reproductive cloning of human beings: (1) it constitutes unethical experimentation on the child-to-be; (2) it threatens identity and individuality; (3) it is a giant step toward turning procreation into manufacture (especially when understood as the harbinger of genetic manipulations to come); and (4) it means despotism over children and perversion of parenthood. I conclude by arguing, on multiple grounds, that the only effective way to prevent reproductive cloning is to stop the process at the start, at the stage of creating the embryonic clones, just as is provided for in HR 1644, and I show the weaknesses of the other widely discussed alternative. Once embryonic clones are produced in laboratories, the eugenic revolution will have begun. And we shall have lost our best chance to do anything about it and to assume responsible control over where biotechnology is taking us. I heartily endorse HR 1644 not only because it offers our only real hope of preventing the cloning of human beings, but also because it will give us for the first time some control over those biotechnological powers that threaten to bring about a “post-human” future.

House Judiciary Committee