January 26, 2003
Cloning, Biotech, and the Future of the Family

Stanley Kurtz argues reproductive cloning will undermine the two parent family.

Of course, a single women can have a child now, but not without facing some human complications. A woman can go to a sperm bank, but that means discomfort over the father's anonymity. More often, a Murphy Brown will have her child by a man she knows. She will get pregnant by him secretly, or on condition that he will decline to press his rights as a father. But cloning will liberate human vanity to allow at least some among us to produce a child wholly in their own image, and thus free of any legal or emotional complications related to the existence of a second parent.

Some day the technologies involved in doing reproductive cloning will mature to the point where it is no more risky than conventional reproduction in terms of rate of undesireable complications in offspring. At that point health concerns about offspring will not be reason enough to ban reproductive cloning. Kurtz is arguing that many women will opt to clone themselves rather than find someone to marry to have children with. Of course some women today can't even find a suitable mate and so their only choices are reproduction outside marriage or no reproduction at all. Kurtz further argues that since cloning makes it easier to forgo marriage it should be banned as a threat to a vital institution. I think this is an argument that deserves to be taken seriously.

I'd like to place that argument in a larger context of other technologies existing and forthcoming which will affect the attractiveness of marriage and conventional sex as a way to conceive offspring. Biotechnological advances will make it possible to use a large array of different reproductive choices which are not possible today and these technologies will bring with them many advantages for prospective parents. Also, some existing choices will become more desireable when biotech allows one to have greater knowledge of and control of their outcomes.

Certainly there are downsides to using a sperm bank. Kurtz doesn't address those downsides with sufficient detail. Why would a woman prefer (as some are doing today) to, say, pick up a guy in a bar for a one night stand as a way to conceive a child? After all, the father in that case is going to be no more involved in the upbringing of the child than is the case with sperm bank sperm. The most notable advantage of the bar pick-up over the sperm bank donor is that a woman can evaluate the physical appearance, personality, intelligence, and status of the guy in the bar. Women can form an intuitive judgement of men they meet in person. Still, there is a limit to how much one can learn from fast casual social interactions. To have even greater knowledge of potential mates some women think back on all the men they've known in their past and seek out one with desireable qualities for a brief affair for the purpose of getting pregnant. Others who want to conceive a child try to bed a celebrity who has desired qualities. Again, the advantage over a sperm bank is the ability to evaluate the man directly in greater detail.

Some sperm banks provide biographical info about donors including academic achievements, occupation, and other indicators of status, intellect and personality. Plus, they provide general descriptions of physical appearance. Still, there are many qualities of a person that are not captured by the measures that even the most sophisticated sperm banks currently provide.

The big advantage shared in common by the bar pick-ups, brief affairs, celebrity one night stands, and sperm bank sperm is that they all allow a woman to choose a reproductive mate who they wouldn't be able to get into a long-term child-raising commitment. Basically, any one woman's choice of marriage mates is much smaller than her choice of reproductive mates.

Advances in biotechnology will provide more new reproductive options aside from reproductive cloning. Many of those will allow women better choices in terms of DNA quality than they will be able to get thru marriage. If Kurtz wants to extend his argument into an opposition to all biotechnological advances that decrease the attractiveness of reproduction within marriage then he's going to have a long list of biotech advances to fight against. One big advance will be the ability to know in much greater detail what is contained in the DNA of potential mates. Sperm banks will be able to provide detailed lists of genetically determined and influenced qualities in each of their donors. This will make sperm bank donors a more attractive option to many women. The degree of uncertainty about donors will be greatly reduced. In the process some donors will be found to have many qualities that women want.

The attractiveness of men that women can not get married to but with whom they can have brief relationships with will similarly be increased. When the cost of DNA sequencing drops far enough and DNA sequencing technology becomes available to the masses then women will be able to surreptitiously check the DNA sequences of boyfriends and even of one night stands. Imagine a woman having sex with a man in a one night stand. When DNA sequencing devices become cheap enough and fast enough she could leave immediately after sex, get a sperm sample from within herself (after all, this is done in rape cases) and then do a quick test on the genes that the guy has. If she likes what she sees she can let herself get pregnant either immediately or later with some sperm she saved.

Conventional sexual reproduction suffers from one big drawback: one can't control which half of one's genes and which half of one's partner's genes (or one's sperm donor's genes) one will pass along to offspring. With cloning one knows with far greater precision what one is passing along because one is passing along the almost exact replica (not exact because some mutations might have occurred in the cell that is cloned) of one's own genes. Howver, advances in biotech will eventually allow control over which of each pair of chromosomes one uses in making one's progeny. So at some point in the future it will be possible for a woman to choose a sperm donor and then to even choose which chromosome of each pair to use from that sperm donor. This will be further extended to allow chromosomes to be chosen from more than one donor. If one donor meets a woman's ideal for most chromosomes and another donor meets the woman's ideal for the rest of the chromosomes then different subsets will be able to be extracted from two different males to make the ideal donor sperm. This ability to decrease the uncertainty associated with reproduction will make reproduction more attractive to the risk averse. Given a stronger chance of a desireable outcome more will choose to reproduce.

Cloning will also eventually be just a starting point for genetic engineering. Suppose one decides to clone oneself. Well, do you have any biological qualities that you wish were different? For instance, suppose you have allergies or asthma. Wouldn't it be nice to edit your DNA to make your clone not be prone to developing those conditions? If you don't feel a need to have an exact clone (which most people wouldn't since they are already satisfied with donating only half their DNA to their offspring) then all sorts of improvements become possible. Want your offspring to avoid the need for braces that you had to wear for a few years? Edit the part of your genes that controls teeth development. Also, there are people walking around who appear to be immune to cavities and there is probably some discoverable genetic reason for that. So why not introduce genetic variations that increase the resistance to dental caries? Also, how many males will want their offspring to suffer male pattern baldness? There will be an incredibly large number of ways to improve on one's genetic endowment. Many cloners will be tempted by the sort of Cloning Plus option to improve on their own design.

The ability to genetically enhance one's clone will be a greater incentive to choose cloning. For instance, women who have a genetic predisposition to depression or anxiety and who suffer terribly from it might be reluctant to have an exact clone of themselves because they wouldn't want to have offspring who will suffer similarly. However, if offered the ability to create someone almost identical to themselves but who would be free from depression and anxiety some will find that an attractive idea.

So far most of the debate has been about women who decide to have children without a father actively involved in the process of raising the children. This is in part because only women have wombs and in part because women on average like having children more than men do. While its hard to say whether people will eventually genetically engineer their male offspring to have a greater desire for babies it seems more likely that advances in biotech will eventually lead to the creation of artificial wombs. For wealthy men who are so inclined this will eliminate their reliance on women for reproduction.

All of the technological advances discussed here will provide incentives for having children outside the institution of marriage. While some people would choose to have children within marriage even while using these technologies any of the choices that would leave one member of a couple contributing nothing to the genetic endowment of progeny will in most cases cause that person to see little reason to involve themselves in the raising of such a child. Also, some women who can't find a suitable marriage mate who currently are electing not to have offspring at all will find single parenthood much more attractive if they can be guaranteed to have a child that will have all the qualities that they highly desire.

The net effect of all of these reproductive technologies appears to be to increase the incentives for single parenthood. Granted that the social science literature shows single parenthood is correlated with a large array of social pathologies such as higher crimie rate of the children, less educational attainment, etc. (a separate debate is the question of how much of that is the result of single parenthood and how much is caused by the same factor(s) - genetic or environmental - that cause single parenthood?). Will reproductive biotech's encouragement of single motherhood then result in greater social pathology? Not necessarily. The reason for this is that the kinds of children being born will be different on average in intelligence and personality than children being born today. What these offspring will be like will depend largely on the choices that the mothers make. If women choose genetic variations that increase intelligence while also choosing personality characteristics that tend to make one more studious, law-abiding and hard-working then the result may well be a far more civilized society. The actual result depends greatly on which mental characteristics women choose for their offspring.

We should probably be more worried about the results of the use of reproductive technologies in male-dominated societies. In male-dominated societies the choices made for offspring mental characteristics will tend to be quite different than those made in societies that grant women greater power. My guess is that males will favor aggressiveness in offspring more than females will. (though I could be wrong about that) The great unknown in all of this discussion is just what sorts of mental characteristics will people in different societies choose once they have the ability to control offspring mental characteristics. Personality genetic engineering is the area of human genetic engineering that we should be most concerned about.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 January 26 12:52 PM  Biotech Society

jimbo said at January 26, 2003 4:22 PM:

Hmm - sounds a lot like "Gattaca", doesn't it?

Personally, I think it it won't get to this. AIs and Machine/human hybrids will have replaced us long before such things become common. Cloning is by comparison an absurdly primative technology. Protoplasm? Please!

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, meatbeings - it tolls for thee...

Randall Parker said at January 26, 2003 6:00 PM:

Jimbo, some of the technologies I'm talking about are going to happen decades before AIs happen. Cheap DNA sequencing is going to happen much sooner. Go read my archive category entitled Biotech Advance Rates and read about the various approaches that promise to reduce DNA sequencing costs by orders of magnitude. That technology is most important of those I discussed. Lower the cost of DNA sequencing, compare millions of people in as many ways possible (IQ, personality, every detail of physical appearance, medical history, etc), and then the meaning of many genetic variations will be apparent. Once we know what the genetic variations mean then people will look at prospective mates in whole new ways.

We are approaching a historical threshold where DNA sequencing results will be used to influence mating choices. The key question I have is when will this begin. 5 years? 10? I take the number of university research groups and venture capital start-ups working on the problem as a sign that cheap DNA sequencing is going to happen in the next 10 years.

Steve Sailer said at January 27, 2003 12:57 PM:

The more immediate issue will be sex selection. In America, England, and even Japan, where men tend to cede family-related decisions to women, most sex selection techniques are attempted to create daughters. In more patriarchal societies, the goal is to create sons.

Cam said at March 10, 2003 5:26 AM:

Im at university in Scotland and have a topic to research and present. The question is. "Parents should have an inalienable right to select the genetic characteristics of their offspring, discuss."

I don't know much about the subject and wondered if anyone has any views they could share with me?

Angelina said at January 30, 2006 10:40 AM:

Dear Mr.Kurtz,
I am doing a project on cloning and was wondering what your point of view on cloning was....I mean I've got your article but what do you think about its benefits, are there any strangely shocking facts that you know about cloning, what do you think of the history of cloning, current cloning, and cloning in the future? If you could answer these questions I would be highly greatful and etc. so yeah...please and thank you.


Ronald said at March 16, 2006 1:13 PM:

If you can not do normal or artificial insemination, then you should just forget it.
Cloning is bad, because of genetic reasons, and will lead to extincion of the species.



susan jones said at March 26, 2006 9:58 AM:

The false assumption you make is that most women who are migth choose between sperm banks and one-night-stands is that the woman (often older, whose biological clock is ticking down, leading to the need to take more drastic measures to become pregant) would be able to get pregnant after a one-night-stand. Some women take many inseminations to finally be impregnated, say 10, 20, etc. I doubt most who would turn to a sperm bank could necessarily get pregnant after ONE try.

Randall Parker said at March 26, 2006 10:23 AM:

Susan Jones,

I know a woman who managed to get herself knocked up in one night by a guy who she picked up in a bar for that purpose. Her daughter recently graduated from a moderately prestigious college.

But a lot of single women certainly can manage to get the same guy to go to bed with them more than once. They can have an affair with a married man or get a regular boyfriend for a relationship that lasts a month or two.

If one guy doesn't hang around long enough they can move on to the next guy.

Whether a woman can do this depends on her physical attractiveness, where she lives, where she works, how much she socializes, how much energy she's willing to invest in pursuing guys, and other factors. But some women can pull it off.

Megan Rae said at June 1, 2006 7:33 AM:

Dear Mr. Parker,
Will, or do, the clones have feelings? are they like humans? can they talk and love? If so is it really that important to build a copy of your self to fix something you don't like then kill them to take it away from them. forget longer lives and fixing something as stupid as teeth. its murder. and even if you do use it to help animals, they're endangered for a reason, fix our earth and the protection of animals. the world seems to have enough problems with out adding over population, losing money, and more people starving. please explain the severe need for cloning. in all respect your not god, no matter what you can create.

Megan Rae

Randall Parker said at June 1, 2006 4:28 PM:

Megan Rae,

How is cloning any more playing God than regular reproduction?

Amber Ferguson said at January 5, 2009 3:19 PM:

Human cloning is unbelievably irrational. People are approaching this with a blind eye! Don't they knotice a recipie for disaster when they see one? Yes, there are numerous pros to the situation, but there are also highly dangerous cons. Yes, i may be only 14, but doesn't everyone have a voice in this country? Listen to me when I speak. I make sense. The cloning of humans should not be followed through with! JUST BECAUSE ONE IS CAPABLE OF DOING SOMETHING DOES NOT MEAN THAT THEY SHALL DO IT. We are not completely informed of the complete human body. The human brain and chromosomes are so enigmatic. I feel stongly about this. What will happen if we forget a chromosome, or there is a faulty chromosome? What will we do with all of the clones that are unsucessful attempts? I truly hope that I can make a difference in this world that man kind is drawing to self destruction. Is cloning humans really the resolution? Id it the end to mankind as we know it?

Owen P Bomar said at March 22, 2010 2:12 PM:

I agree with amber that it is a bad idea research has shown that repeatedly changing dna can cause degradeation and encourege mutations lol im also 14

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright