Why must cloning be criminal?

June 4, 2004

The reasons that Ian Wilmut gives for justifying the criminalisation of human cloning are unconvincing and slightly disturbing (Books, May 21).

Present techniques are, he says, inefficient, and probable outcomes of any attempt to clone include late abortions, stillbirths and a high proportion of babies with physical abnormalities. He says: "This alone should lead to the prohibition of human reproductive cloning at the present time."

It is far from clear why Wilmut makes this claim. It might well be unwise and unethical to use such techniques if they are as he describes them, but nothing Wilmut says establishes or even suggests that it should be illegal to do so.

Apart from anything else, various instances of normal sexual human reproduction are likely to result in late abortions and so forth. This alone is no reason, not even a weak one, for making sexual intercourse either in general or in particular cases illegal.

Wilmut says, too, that he is concerned about the psychological pressures and problems that would be faced by such clones. Since it is, I would presume, better to be born with such problems than not to be born at all, Wilmut's point is unclear. If cloned children suffered severe enough psychological disorders to make them a problem to the rest of us, would this be a reason to make human cloning illegal? I don't know. I doubt it.

If it were, it would be a reason for thinking about making normal human reproduction that produced disturbed people an illegal activity. This is not a comfortable line of thought.

Hugh V. McLachlan
School of Law and Social Sciences
Glasgow Caledonian University

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