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The Law of Unintended Arguments

Instapundit links to a column by Henry Miller that leaves me unable to respond more eruditely than, "Say what!?!?"

OK, I can say a bit more than that. Miller first:

Not only is the U.S. position [on cloning] - complete prohibition - extreme, but even the more conservative, limited ban is insupportable.

I suppose "extreme" applies in the sense of "as far as it is possible to go," but it still strikes me as odd in this context. It suggests a "moderate" and an opposite extreme. For simplicity's sake, take the moderate position as banning reproductive cloning, but not "therapeutic" cloning (which is really the same thing, only the scientist destroys the incipient life) and the opposite extreme as anything-goes cloning. Guess where Miller's position lies? If you guessed "extreme," you're right.

The reproductive cloning of humans raises vexatious technical, ethical and practical issues, to be sure. A technical failure could lead to grotesque deformities or the premature "death" of the clone, and subtle anomalies in gene expression - which are known from animal experiments to occur in clones - could show up as unacceptable traits in human offspring.

Ever see that movie, SSSSSSS? I don't intend to suggest that the B-flick ought to be taken as a warning. However, the crux of the movie was that, in evil Dr. Stoner's quest to create a snake with a human mind, there were missteps, some dangerous. What do we do with the results of incremental failures? Execute them? As I recall, the man-snakes were put on display in a circus.

Even if the procedure were wholly successful, questions could arise as to who is responsible for the clone's development (to say nothing of its upbringing and college education).

Or, what if nobody is responsible for the clone's development? It is merely a product of science, after all. Perhaps they could be slave labor. Perhaps they could be put to military purpose. Or maybe they could be used for medical testing. Grow them with sufficiently hobbled brains, and maybe they'd be useful for testing mascara — to give the chimps a break. Science fiction? Not really. It seems to me that it is incumbent upon proponents of cloning to describe the mechanism that will prevent such realities.

Finally, there is no clear medical necessity for the procedure, no patient whose life or limb is at risk without it.

Then what are we talking about it for? Why not ban it, in that case?

But legal prohibition - national or international - is a poor answer. Even if a new law or treaty were able to eliminate reproductive cloning from most of the world, practitioners would likely spring up in places with minimal regulation, next door to the quack cancer and fountain of youth clinics. The actions of rogue cloners in these wholly unregulated milieus could be disastrous.

So a ban would drive "rogue cloners" into the unregulated corners of the world, and legalizing it would... what? Inspire those rogues to give up their mad visions? It hardly seems likely that nations and people willing to defy a ban wouldn't be but so concerned about shrugging off regulations. Furthermore, expediting discoveries that would facilitate their work could only encourage a more rapid pushing of the envelope, perhaps convincing the "quack cancer and fountain of youth clinics" that what they seek can be found in the cloning department.

The potential problems of cloning are, arguably, best left to the forces of the marketplace and the existing protections of national legal systems. If, as experts expect, reproductive cloning is largely unsuccessful, its practitioners will find themselves without clients. If they fail to deliver on their contractual obligations or cause death or injury to an infant, they may be subject to various civil and criminal legal strictures, including fraud, breach of contract, criminal negligence, and manslaughter. They might even be subject, ultimately, to "wrongful life" suits brought by the clone or its agents.

This reads to me as if Mr. Miller is suggesting that, essentially, a ban exists. Only those scientists willing to risk the litany of "market protections" will accept the challenge, so wouldn't those likely be the "rogue cloners," as well? Once the reality of this situation permeates society, the pro-cloning movement will have no option but to seek to mitigate the risk to cloners, morphing a non-ban into a policy of certain allowances for researchers. On the other hand, an explicit ban would only further strengthen the barriers to atrocity of which Miller seems approving.

If bureaucrats pursue a legal prohibition , it is likely that they, the research community and society at large will be confounded by the law of unintended consequences.

Here's the "Say what!?!?" moment. A ban on cloning would surely bring about unintended consequences, but the alternative — legitimizing a wholly new experimental research into an area in which our knowledge is entirely inadequate and that promises to shift human reality in ways that are unimaginable at present — is exponentially more likely to do so. This brings us around to Mr. Reynold's assessment on Instapundit:

I keep waiting for some clear explanation of why cloning is so awful that it must be banned, but nothing I've heard really gets much past the "it gives me the willies" argument. Which isn't an argument at all.

Preserving corpses into poses and calling it art "gives me the willies," but I'm not going to insist that an international summit be called to ban the procedure. Personally, I'm on the lookout for an explanation from proponents of cloning about what makes them so confident that its effects will be benign, if morally intricate. Manipulating the nature of the clone is inherent in the process of perfecting the technique. Deriving applications from the process will be an inevitable impetus of researchers and a market necessity.

This isn't going to the moon to see what's there and to prove that we can do it. This isn't modeling DNA on a computer. It isn't even experimenting on species that most people value primarily as dinner. This is hands-on experimentation with the nature of humanity in action. This is "let's irrevocably plunge society into unknown results for no good reason." Well, whether my motivation is dismissed as an irrational feeling of "willies" or is credited with being more circumspect, this is my world — my reality — too. Let some evil Dr. Stoner prove himself monstrous enough to give that no consideration. Legitimate, ethical scientists, where they prove unable to impart their own boundaries, must be told where the "unenlightened" stand in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Stoner won't get nearly as far as fast without the motivation of an IPO.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:05 AM EST