What You're Not Being Told About Cloning

Conversations: Killer clone armies, government censorship and making babies.

Reproductive human cloning aims to make a baby. Therapeutic cloning aims to create embryonic stem cells that could be used to cure diseases or grow replacement organs. Scientists generally make a medical and ethical distinction between the two types of cloning, but John Charles Kunich and the U.S. House of Representatives do not. While the House has twice passed a bill banning both types (a similar bill has stalled in the Senate because many senators say therapeutic cloning should be allowed), Kunich, a professor at Roger Williams University School of Law and the author of The Naked Clone: How Cloning Bans Threaten Our Personal Rights (Praeger Publishers, 2003), argues that any ban on cloning sets a dangerous precedent. We spoke with Kunich about killer clone armies, government censorship and making babies.

Popular Science: What's the biggest misconception about cloning?

John Charles Kunich: That cloning is a way of mass-producing mindless armies willing to do the bidding of some evil genius. This can only happen in the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter. Reproductive cloning, even if it becomes feasible, will be one child at a time. It will be very much along the lines of in vitro fertilization, where you need a woman to incubate the child for nine months. And then it will be born as a baby, with the same needs as any other baby. If I try to train that baby to be just like me, guess what's likely to happen? The same thing that's always happened to parents who try to live vicariously through their kids: It's going to rebel.

PS: Why not ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning?

JCK: Then all the people who are doing research on (therapeutic cloning) are going to be under a legal obligation to destroy those early-stage human embryos before they get too far. This would be the first time in our history that the law has created a class of arguably human beings that civilians are under a legal duty to kill. That's a very big step for government to take.

PS: You don't think reproductive cloning is dangerous?

JCK: There are formidable obstacles that have to be overcome. As long as those obstacles persist, no one in their right mind would try human cloning. If you're not successful, you're not likely to win the Nobel Prize -- you're more likely to end up behind bars. The system is self-regulating. I don't think reproductive cloning will ever become common no matter how good the technology becomes, because it will be very expensive and a heck of a lot less fun than traditional coital reproduction.

PS: Why should the average person fear anti-cloning laws?

JCK: You're going to lose out on a whole lot of medical treatments that might otherwise be available to you, your spouse or someone you love.
Beyond that, it's really hard to draw lines between reproductive cloning and other things like in vitro fertilization that people have grown quite fond of. And if government can ban a whole category of research because they don't like the subject matter, that opens the door for other types of censorship.