It looks like the Raelians' cloning claims, like their founder's
revelatory 1973 encounter with extraterrestrials, will have to be taken on
faith. After initially promising genetic tests to prove they had produced a
baby with the same DNA as an adult donor, they are now backpedaling.
For those of us who see nothing wrong in principle with
reproductive cloning, this is a welcome development. The problem is not just
that the Raelians have wacky beliefs; the same could be said of any
unfamiliar religion. It's that Raelian beliefs reinforce pernicious myths
According to Rael, a former French journalist once known as
Claude Vorilhon, extraterrestrials called Elohim seeded Earth with human
life using their own DNA thousands of years ago. He and his followers view
the biblical story of creation, which says Elohim created Adam and Eve, as a
garbled account of what really happened.
Part of the Raelian mission is to emulate the Elohim by cloning
themselves, thereby achieving "eternal life." Producing a baby through
nuclear transfer -- the replacement of an ovum's genetic information with
that of an adult donor -- is only the first step. "The next step," Rael
says, "will be to directly clone an adult person without having to go
through the growth process, and to transfer the memories and personality
into this person just as the Elohim do."
Now we have left the realm of science and entered the realm of
science fiction -- or, more properly, science fantasy, since what the
Raelians want to do probably will never be possible. One could also say that
we have entered the realm of horror, since the Raelian fantasy imagines
clones as literal replicas of people and treats human beings like things.
These two elements play a conspicuous role in popular fears of
cloning. In reality, however, human clones would not be copies of people
already born, unless you take the view that one's identity can be reduced to
If that were the case, "identical" twins would literally be
indistinguishable, one person rather than two. The fact that they are not
demonstrates that people are more than their genes.
As Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey has observed, a
person and his clone would in fact be less alike than identical twins, since
they would be separated in time, probably by a generation or more, and would
therefore have quite different experiences. In any case, there is no
question that they would be distinct individuals, each with his own rights
and his own life to lead.
That is why the Raelian scenario is abhorrent as well as
implausible: The fact that someone else has the same genes as you does not
give you a right to treat him as a means to an end, as a tool in your quest
for immortality or an empty vessel for your consciousness. Identical twins
do not have license to enslave each other or use each other for spare parts,
so there is no reason to suppose that anyone would ever be permitted to
treat his clone that way.
The other aspect of the Raelian enterprise that disturbs
defenders of reproductive cloning is its prematurity. The moral objection to
cloning that carries the most weight is the concern, based on research with
other mammals, that babies produced through nuclear transfer would have an
unusually high rate of birth defects.
If so, reproductive cloning is unethical until this problem can
be overcome. Assuming that healthy babies can be produced through cloning,
however, it's hard to see why the method should be banned.
Some critics worry that clones would be constrained by parental
expectations based on their genetic endowment. This concern is valid, but it
is not different in kind from the issues raised by the usual adolescent
struggles for independence. Children produced through conventional means
also may have parents with unreasonable expectations, and that is not
generally seen as grounds for government intervention.
Likewise, parents who consider cloning might not always have the
most admirable motivations, but the same is true of people who reproduce the
traditional way. The existence of egomaniacs who want to create miniature
versions of themselves should not foreclose the option of cloning to
infertile couples for whom it may be the only way of having genetically
Nor should the Raelians' creepy spin on cloning cloud the
judgment of legislators who have the power to forbid that choice.