The reproductive cloning debate was undoubtedly 'won' by Luddites. You can tell already that I do believe that the other side of the argument deserves our support. What interests me in this context is how a slippery slope argument has been deployed by my learned Luddite friends against therapeutic cloning research. Of course, the Luddites have long been railing against therapeutic cloning research because it relied on the destruction of human embryos. Virtually all of these embryos are surplus IVF embryos (ie they would have been flushed down the sink anyway). I never understood the logic of this argument, because the embryos in question were at a developmental stage of about 10-14 days after conception. There is no central nervous system, brain, suffering, nothing in other words that should make us pause and ask whether the destruction of such an embryo is something to be concerned about.
I digress. What I really meant to focus on in today's commentary is a slippery slope argument. Those against therapeutic cloning research argued that if we permitted therapeutic cloning research we would slide down the slippery slope to the reproductive cloning of human beings.
There are two problems with this argument:
- There is no straightforward slippery slope from therapeutic cloning research to reproductive cloning research. Those using this kind of argument consistently fail to provide evidence for their claim. - So, really the word 'cloning' has been deployed here as a bogey woman in the Luddite fight against progress in biomedical research.
- Secondly, the Luddite rhetoric also begs the other question, namely what would be wrong with reproductive human cloning if we were capable of doing it? Surely the argument against reproductive cloning needs to succeed first in order to deploy the slippery slope related concerns against therapeutic cloning. To my mind, there are no serious reasons against reproductive cloning. It would simply give a few hundred or a few thousand people worldwide another means of non-sexual reproduction (eg infertile couples for whom IVF failed could access cloning to have a genetically linked child). In fact, there could be a good medical reason for this. What if a loving couple with a desire to have their own genetically linked child runs a serious risk of passing a genetic illnes on to their off-spring. Reproductive cloning would permit to eliminate that risk by using only the healthy parents genetic material. Good news all round, I would think, but then, hey, my initial isn't 'L' for Luddite.