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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reproductive cloning again - Udo Schuklenk (and me) on slippery slope arguments

In his bioethics blog last week, Udo Schuklenk (joint editor-in-chief of the important journal Bioethics) published some of the most sensible words written by anyone so far about the human cloning debate. He begins with the uncompromising - but clearly correct - claim that, "The reproductive cloning debate was undoubtedly 'won' by Luddites."

Schuklenk examines slippery slope arguments against therapeutic cloning research and notes that the bioconservatives offer something like this: "if we permitted therapeutic cloning research we would slide down the slippery slope to the reproductive cloning of human beings."

He sees two problems with this argument: first, there is no straightforward slippery slope; second, there are no serious reasons against reproductive cloning in any event. He does make the legitimate point that reproductive cloning is not a high research priority in a world with a terrible global disease burden and many orphans needing care. Against that background, he suggests, there may even be something "obscene" about a pre-occupation with having our "own" genetically linked kids. But he is firm that that is not a reason to prohibit reproductive cloning.

These wise comments from a bioethicist of Schuklenk's stature come as a relief. I sometimes feel like a voice in the wilderness whenever I make similar points. However, the very prominent American Journal of Bioethics has recently published an article by me in which I make them in a place that is far from being the wilderness of academic bioethics - so the message is getting out at last.

In "Slippery Slopes to Slippery Slopes: Therapeutic Cloning and the Criminal Law", American Journal of Bioethics 7, 2 (February 2007), pp. 63-64, I emphasise that slippery slope arguments have to end somewhere - they need to identify some truly horrible place where we will end up if we embark on the slope and explain why we'll be unable to avoid arriving there. Opponents of therapeutic cloning, and reproductive cloning if it comes to that, have manifestly failed in their arguments.

Yes, all over the world Luddites have been tending to win the policy debates, but they have lost the intellectual debate, as shown by their inability to win over people of Schuklenk's repute. Those of us who are not enamoured of neo-Luddism must keep expressing the dissenting position with clear, sound arguments. In the short term, reasonable views may not prevail politically - if I may be permitted an understatement - but they are a resource laid up for the future. Let the record show that we did dissent from the ongoing moral panic about human cloning, and let it demonstrate that we were right when we did so.

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