The Children Born from Human Cloning

- Jean Kitahara-Frisch, Ph.D.
Jesuit Theologate 4-32-11 Kamishakujii
Nerima-ku, Tokyo 177 JAPAN

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 83-84.

An article by Daniel Callahan in the Hastings Center Report (Sept-Oct. 1997) discusses "the work not done" in the U.S. National Bioethics Advisory Commission Report "Cloning Human Beings". He refers thereby particularly to what he sees as "the ethical weaknesses" of the report. Those are, according to him, (1) the weak moral reasons given for recommending a revision of the report's conclusions after five years; (2) the lack of an extended serious discussions about what the children born from cloning need for a good life; and (3) the absence of a consideration on the appropriate limits of scientific research.

Among these weaknesses, I am particularly impressed by the lack of deep attention paid to the interests of the children produced by cloning. They seem to have been largely forgotten. This is true, one will notice, not only the Commission Report but of much of the discussion that appeared in mass media after the successful cloning of an adult sheep was made public in February 1997. I was thereby reminded of the title of a book written by a well known French geneticist, Jean-Francios Mattei, on new methods of assisted reproduction, Les Enfants Oublies. In that book translated since in Japanese, the author makes use of his abundant clinical experience in assisting infertile couples to conceive a child. The main point of many true stories told in the book is to show how often children are not desired for themselves but for the kind of satisfaction they bring to their parents' expectations.

That a similar "forgetting of the children" should have attracted the attention both of the French geneticist and of Daniel Callahan in evaluating the American Commission Report is of great interest. It suggests that all methods of artificial reproduction, when viewed from a bioethical point of view, raise probably questions similar to those raised by human cloning.

Reading Daniel Callahan's article I felt like asking the following questions. First, to what extent is a concern with the welfare and happiness of children indeed absent from the U.S. Commission Report? Second, is the same oblivion also characteristic of the Report commissioned by the French President?

1. According to Daniel Callahan, though the report repeatedly warns about potential physical hazards to children, it does not consider the needs of these children or the way biomedical research may respond to these needs. Whenever mention is made in the report of "reproductive rights", the accent lies mostly on the rights of the parents, not on what children rightfully require for a good life. Is this indeed the case?

Reading the introduction to the report's chapter Four, Ethical considerations (P.63), one sees how it mentions a concern about physical or psychological harms to children produced by cloning. Mention is also made of a degradation in the quality of family life if parents are tempted to seek excessive control of their children's characteristics, to value children according to how well they meet parental expectations.

This general introduction is followed by more specific testimonies of Commission members on (1) potential physical harms, (2) cloning and individuality, (3) cloning and the family. All this, however, covers only 6 pages in the 22 page long chapter devoted to Ethical Considerations. Certainly, a concern with children was not paramount in these considerations. A closer reading of the 6 pages dealing with children shows the following.

Apart from the consideration of possible physical harms (2 pages), some valuable reflections are made on the sense in which every person has a right to a unique genetic identity, and children a right to an open future. But it is pointed out that "all of these concerns are not only quite speculative, but are directly related to certain specific cultural values" (p.68). One cannot help feeling that, to the authors of the report, such "specific cultural values", including probably religious ones, ought not to weigh much in comparison to the undoubted benefits cloning would bring to infertile couples.

A further two pages deal with "Cloning and the Family". Here, concerns about the use of cloning as a means of controlling the child's personality are rightly shown to be rooted in a misplaced belief in the ability of genes to fully determine behavior and personality. Yet, such fears are also said to be rooted in the way cloning appears as a form of "making" children rather than "begetting" them. Thereby the children, in the words of Leon Kass are seen as "simply another of the man made things", while the maker stands above its product "not as an equal but as a superior, transcending it by his will and creative process". Such also would seems to be the view of Meilaender when he stresses how cloning causes a turn to be made from "the Mystery of the child" to "the child as a product of human will".

To these undoubtedly grave concerns it is replied that "children born through assisted reproductive technologies" may also be viewed in a similar way, and that there is not evidence that harm has thereby been caused to them by these technologies although, it is granted, the subject has not been carefully studied. But, one may ask, how could harm caused to children by detected if one fails to identify what values the welfare of children gives them a right to see respected? Here is an issue certainly as important, if not more so, than potential physical harms.

Answering my first question, it seems thus correct to conclude that, while a consideration of the children's interests is not entirely absent from the commission Report, Daniel Callahan rightly points out the little space given to a serious discussion of what children have a right to expect from whose who bring them into the world.

2. The French Report calls our attention on three kinds of harms that may affect children produced by cloning.

First, genetic identity, by causing the same body and face appearance, would deprive the child of an important physical support for her personal identity. While unique as persons, these children would be perceived by other, and perceive themselves, as 'copies' of other children. The more so that they would know to be genetic copies.

Second, the personal autonomy of these children would also be threatened since their biological characteristics would be due not to chance, as in sexual reproduction, but to the choice of the person responsible for the cloning.

Most importantly, however, these children would not be born of two parents, but produced by a process similar to vegetable cloning. The parental couple would be replaced by an association between two anonymous providers, that of the cell nucleus and that of the oocyte. Thus, orphans of father and mother, the children produced by cloning would be simultaneously the offspring and the twin of an adult person. The words "son" or "daughter" would thereby be emptied of any meaning.

While showing thus very concretely how cloned children would be deprived of what all children in the world possess simply by being born, the French Report allows us to better locate the weaknesses detected by Callahan in the American Report. Moreover, it also calls our attention on how similar ethical problems may already arise from the spreading practice of prenatal and preimplantation genetic screening. For here too, biological characteristics of the offspring are being chosen by the parents, disregarding thereby the autonomy of the children born as a result of this screening.

As a conclusion to this short note, let me mention how both reports make me also wonder to what extent the harms to children here pointed to do not also result from other, already widespread, techniques of assisted reproduction. If this were the case, the ethical concerns raised by human cloning ought to be for bioethics the occasion to reconsider a wider range of reproduction technologies.


Daniel Callahan Cloning: The Work not Done. Hastings Center Report, September 1997.

Cloning Human Beings. Report of the U.S. National Bioethics Commission. June 1997.

Reponse au President de la Republique au sujet du clonage reproductif. Juillet 1997.

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