Clone ethics: What shouldn't you do with your clone?. Image 1.

Whitney Kimball


Clone ethics: What shouldn't you do with your clone?. Image 2.

Andrey Smirny




Do clones have souls? How about human rights? Can we kill our own clone? What happens if we... have sex with one? Hopes&Fears consults psychologists, geneticists, bioethicists, twin specialists, theological experts and a Raelian bishop to answer these ethical questions.

A few weeks ago, I was tasked with investigating a highly theoretical question: Can you have sex with your clone? Let's consult B movies. We know from Weird Science (1985) and its chick flick sibling Virtual Sexuality (1999), it is acceptable and desirable to genetically engineer a person to have sex with you. You can also harvest their organs, build an army, and program them to do house chores, provided said clone transmorgrifies as a parentless, fully-formed adult. (The process has something to do with “tweaking the gamma” and 3D printing, I guess). But beware: In Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956), unseen aliens hatch replicas of suburbanites in pods and emotionlessly inhabit their bodies like husks. In Multiplicity (1996), Michael Keaton clones himself to get a break from dad-hood, but personalities emerge, and hijinx ensue. Mini-Me is a clone. Clone troopers were clones. In the film canon, clones are tragically existential reminders of loved ones; in erotica, they're wife copies, and in web fiction, they're bicurious sex toys. It all typically backfires when clones turn from slave to body snatcher, usually manifesting a newfound free will in further self-cloning. As an Outer Limits episode “Replica” outro voiceover reminds us, “The desire to be an individual is one of humankind’s deepest longings—surpassed only by the will to survive.”

Though as human cloning reaches the real horizon, new depictions like Moon (2009), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Orphan Black (2013-present) show that the awareness of being a clone is even more horrific, waking up to a manipulative and brutalizing world. The added realism starts to ask questions that could, someday, be real: how would you treat your clone if he/she came over for dinner? Is conversation necessary, or even possible? Are you your clone? We put these questions to scientists, psychologists and theologists.

In 1996, researchers succeeded in cloning the first mammal from a mature (somatic) cell taken from an adult animal. After 276 attempts, Scottish researchers produced Dolly, the lamb from the udder cell of a 6-year-old sheep. Two years later, researchers in Japan cloned eight calves from a single cow, but only four survived.

Clone ethics: What shouldn't you do with your clone?. Image 3.

Why do we fear clones?

William Ian (Bill) Miller

Author of The Anatomy of Disgust (1998) and essay on the queasiness of cloning, professor of law at the University of Michigan

H&F: Why do you think cloning inspires such deep uneasiness?

If we like to think of ourselves as unique (except for the few identical twins out there) cloning will surely make it harder for us to delude ourselves on that issue. Though even now, the whole spiel about our uniqueness thrives on a healthy dose of delusion – go to a football game and try thinking you are really very distinguishable from the people around you.

But I think it’s the fact that cloning makes us pretty much indistinguishable from amoebas, which makes cloning disgusting, which again raises the uniqueness issue. Is the first amoeba that ever existed still the only one alive, but just very schizophrenic?

cloning occurs in nature in asexual reproduction and with twins. There are three different types of artificial cloning: gene cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.


Dave Myers

Professor of Psychology at Hope College, author of Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God is Good and Faith Isn't Evil and Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith.

Are there precedents for human clone relationships?  If someone is a copy of DNA, are they a person—valued by God—as anyone else?

What kind of relationship would a person have to his or her clone? Would they treat a clone differently?

Actually, we do have answers to all those questions, because there are countless thousands of such clones. We call them “identical twins.”

Clones are genetically identical individuals... and identical twins are nature’s own clones.




Would having sex with your clone
be considered incest?

Dr. Nancy Segal

Evolutionary psychologist, famed behavioral geneticist specializing in twin studies, director of the Twin Studies Center, professor of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton

H&F: How would we view a sexual relationship between clones?

It would be incest, just like any sexual relationship between close relatives. It would be unlikely, since the ones who do it would live together eventuating in the incest taboo, and the two are of the same sex.

H&F: What kind of a relationship or responsibility would a person have to his or her clone?

The same as for any relative of comparable relatedness. Of course, if a woman cloned herself, she is 100% related to the clone/child, while ordinary moms and kids share half their genes. Such moms may conceivably have a better understanding of their children than ordinary moms.

H&F: Are there precedents for clone relationships in human relationships?

Yes. Parents and kids who look alike, as well as sibling pairs who look alike and identical twins. None of these are clones, but they capture features of cloning, and we can empirically test whether fears of cloning, eg, loss of identity, characterize such pairs.

H&F: If someone is a copy of DNA, they are considered to be the same person as you? 

No. Identical twins have the same DNA, and they are different people. Identical twins differ in many ways, although are more alike than other pairs of people. They think and act independently.

In 1998, the first hybrid human clone was created, in which a nucleus was taken from a man's leg cell and implanted into an emptied cow's egg. The hybrid cell was cultured and developed into an embryo, which was destroyed after 12 days.

Some scientists are currently trying to lay the brickwork for cloning Neanderthals, whose genetics could give scientists the answers they need to cure certain diseases.

Source: Wikipedia, National Geographic


Karin Meiselman

Psychologist specializing in incest and trauma, mental health counselor, author of two studies on causes and effects of incest

Something may be legal, but maybe not wise. I think it would all depend on the circumstances of cloning. Is it in order to have a child, if you can't have children in another way? If that's the case, the clone-r and clone-ee would be in a parent-child relationship and separated by age. With a child, whether they're 50% related, 100% related, or adopted, there are certain roles and obligations. There is hopefully a nurturing relationship, where the parent's role is to nurture and not to obtain gratification from the child. That's what is really destructive in incest, the children are being selfishly used. I think that's the same with cloning, if there is an imposed sexual relationship in childhood…

I've had this question arise with brothers and sisters who are adults and were separated. Sometimes they are attracted to each other, and that's disturbing. The reason that's disturbing is that you have a very limited number of people in your family, and if you try to change that into something else, romantic or sexual, you jeopardize your familial relationship with those people. Romantic relationships are notoriously up-and-down and broken off, even when people are adults and at the age of consent.

It's still an open question whether things like that should be illegal; people have argued that brothers and sisters should be able to marry. As a psychologist, I see the human problems that come about when you initiate those relationships, which is why I would say don't sexualize a relationship that needs to be something else.

H&F: What if you were to meet an adult clone with no familial relationship, other than sharing the same DNA?

If I were to meet an adult clone of myself, I would think how special! I would think it's like I have an identical sibling in my life. I want a relationship, but I don't want to marry them. Of course, same sex marriage is legal, but I would consider her to be a niece.

That's one of the things we're going to discover as people get cloned; I expect that people will initially treat it as an interesting curiosity. People are very impressed with identical twins, which often causes problems for the twins because they need to develop separate identities. If people treat them as a same unit, they often have problems defining who they are.

Human cloning: Major federal decisions

October 26th, 1998: The FDA claims jurisdiction over cloning in the United States. 

December 7th, 2000: The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union explicitly prohibits reproductive human cloning. 

December 27th, 2002:  A representative of Clonaid claims to have successfully overseen the birth of the first cloned human overseas (though unproven) 

February 5th, 2003: The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003 proposes to ban cloning for both reproductive and stem cell research purposes. It's passed by the House but never passes the Senate. Several attempts to federally ban various forms of cloning are made, but do not succeed, throughout the 2000's. 

March 2004: Canada bans human cloning but permits stem cell research in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. 

January 1, 2005: South Korea enacts the Bioethics and Biosafety Bill, which permits and regulates embryonic stem cell research. 

January 4, 2005: The House of Representatives introduces the Human Cloning Research Prohibition Act of 2005, which would prohibit federal funds to conduct or support research on human cloning. The bill dies in Congress.

What are the rights of a clone?

Jacob Appel

Bioethicist, physician, lawyer, playwright, widely published biothetics writer

H&F: Should clones have the same human rights that other people do, even if they were created for the sole purpose of tissue and organ donation?

Savior siblings are already created as tissue donors, and no mainstream thinker argues they should have any fewer rights than anybody else. People have children for all sorts of reasons - some noble, some selfish, some nefarious. Presumably, the same will be true with clones. The motive behind the creation of a child or clone should have no bearing on his/her rights as an autonomous being. In fact, while one might hope a clone would donate a tissue or organ out of altruism, or possibly gratitude, if that clone were an autonomous adult, one would be hard to pressed to justify forcing him or her to donate...

In a just world, the only difference between non-cloned and cloned humans will be their biological origins. The notion that we might enslave clones, or wield power over them, is profoundly disturbing - but also not particularly realistic. Maybe I'm naive, but I'm hopeful that we have reached a point of enlightenment as a species that slave ownership is no longer palatable to most of us.

You also might want to think about the potential cloning of Neanderthals or similar non-homo sapiens humanoids. This prospect raises far greater ethical concerns. I am not particularly troubled by the cloning of humans (assuming we can perfect the technology and eliminate the health risks) - although it's hard to see why most people would want a clone, except for medical purposes like tissue donation. Neanderthal cloning concerns me, as I think there is far more potential for abuse of the created beings and also a strong likelihood that the Neanderthals created would suffer considerable emotional distress.

human cloning: Major federal decisions (Continued)

March 17, 2005: The House introduces the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2005, which prohibits reproductive human cloning for reproductive purposes. The bill dies in Congress. 

April 26, 2005: Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2005 is introduced, which would prohibit cloning, while protecting stem cell research.The bill died in Congress. 

March 8th, 2007: The House introduces the Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2007. The bill dies in Congress. 

June 6th, 2013: Dr. Shoukrat Mitalipov reports in the academic journal Cell the successful cloning of human embryos for the purpose of tissue transplant.

June 13th, 2013: Supreme Court rules that human genes cannot be patented.

Can we clone to live forever?

Mehran Saam, PhD

Biomedical scientist and bishop of the UFO-based Raelian church

H&F: If someone is a copy of DNA, they are considered to be a person, the same as anyone created by nature or the universe– and even, have a soul? If so, would a clone share one's soul?

Raelians believe that the genetic code, the DNA, is the soul. At the time of Jesus, people did not know about DNA or genetic biology. The word "soul" is an outdated idea that's thousands of years old… the genetic code is the soul, it was discovered only a few decades ago. With DNA, you can create a person and bring them back to life.

Eventually people will think of cloning a new young body for themselves the same as getting a new set of clothes. You will be able to clone yourself and then implant your memories into a younger body, and therefore potentially live eternally and perpetually in young cloned bodies.

We're not there yet, but we may be in twenty or thirty years. There have been studies in which scientists have been able to implant the memory of one mouse to another. People have always been against scientific advances at first - people didn't want organ transplants... people used to think that in vitro fertilization was against God, but now you hear very little argument against it.

That's the idea of genetic code, you can implant all the memory and experience of that person, and then you are that person. But if that person is going to be the same as you for only that second, as they'll have different experiences from that moment on.

H&F: Say you clone yourself, implant eighty years of your life's memories into them and then that person makes a third clone and continues to upload their combined memories into future clones. How far does that go? 

It becomes a matter of memory space. Just like a computer, the brain only has so much space for memory, so you can choose which memories to delete. You can change your memory, too, with new memory and experience which brings joy and happiness to life. You can learn art and music, you can fulfill yourself with philosophy or literature. You can live several lifetimes, you can live eternally, live for your own creation and fulfillment.

H&F: Would you clone yourself?

I hope so, yes. If that technology becomes available, my name will definitely be on the list.

H&F: What if you could meet your clone and live separately from him?

In that case, I don't see any reason. It's almost like having a child. I would want one toward the end of my life so that I could live on through it.

— Raelism is a UFO-based religion adherents of which believe that all living things on Earth were created by extraterrestrial beings.

In December of 2002, Brigitte Boisselier of Raelists' Clonaid claimed that the  facilitated the first baby clone, whom they called Eve. Clonaid has yet to provide proof of the clone baby. (Following the announcement, then-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan spoke on behalf of president George W. Bush and said that human cloning was "deeply troubling" to most Americans.)

Source: Wikipedia, Rational Wiki, Dazed

Clone ethics: What shouldn't you do with your clone?. Image 4.

Does a clone have a soul?

Somparn Promta

Buddhist ethicist, author of Classical Indian Philosophy and An Essay Concerning Buddhist Ethics, has written several studies on Buddhist views of human genetic research, including Buddhism and Human Genetic Research, currently teaches at Chulalongkorn University, Center for Ethics of Science and Technology

H&F: If someone is a copy of DNA, they are considered to be a person, the same as anyone created from nature?

Broadly, Buddhist philosophy belongs to a kind of philosophy called ‘naturalism'. Buddhist naturalism is rather unique, as it claims that everything which is possible in nature (that is, it is allowed to happen in the world) counts ‘natural’ in the view of Buddhism. In this sense, a human clone is natural. In Buddhist texts, it is said that there can be several kinds of birth, besides what we have known today. Cloning is not strange thing in Buddhist perspective. Buddhism argues that the birth of human and animal beings as seen generally has been chosen by nature for some reason. But this does not mean that this only is natural. We can never claim that. Exactly, the birth of identical twins is a kind of cloning—natural cloning. What done by human beings is counted by Buddhism ‘natural’ if it is allowed to happen—like cloning. It is natural because it has been allowed by nature. So, in the view of Buddhism, there are two kinds of cloning: natural and manmade. Both of them are natural. The latter is natural as it is permitted by nature like the former.

For above reason, a human clone is person in its fullest sense in Buddhist perspective—like a baby created from other manmade technology such as IVF. 

H&F: Can you share a soul, or an essence, between two people?

No. Suppose I decide to clone myself, and as a result I have a clone baby. In Buddhist teaching, my clone has his separated soul and that soul does not come from me. The cloning process just provides us with biological data—my clone just shares my DNA, and not my soul. Soul may be a thing that we cannot prove. The best way to understand this belief of Buddhism is to question: do identical twins share the same soul? I think no. They have their own unique souls. In sum, Buddhism believes that man can share biological data, but cannot share the soul.

H&F: Does the quandary of “playing God” factor into Buddhism? Or is this mainly a monotheistic concern? 

No. Buddhist naturalism has its other unique ethical principle which states that natural world exists without the creator. So, natural world has no center or anything playing the role as the center of things. God is not needed in Buddhist teaching because there cannot be one single entity to create and regulate the whole universe. On the contrary, as we have seen, universe is a web of beings. Everything inside the web counts equally as member which is equally needed to make the universe balanced. However, Buddhism believes that the universe as a web of beings has some rules naturally created by the existence of things and these rules have some moral implications. For example, man has not created this world. So, man has no rights to claim ownership over the world. If man does not accept this rule and tries to treat the world as the slave of man, man will suffer from such immoral action. Note that immoral action within this context has nothing to do with the concept of ‘playing God.’ Immorality in Buddhist teaching is an action which does not follow the moral guidelines of nature. This is natural—like not following natural rule which says that ‘to be healthy a person must eat good food’ would result in the bad health of that person, God has nothing to do with this.

Fifteen states currently have laws regulating or prohibiting cloning. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey permit cloning for therapeutic or research purposes.


Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina

Professor and IIIT Chair in Islamic Studies at George Mason University, author of numerous books on contemporary Islamic views including Biomedical Ethics, author of Human Clones: An Islamic View for The Fountain

H&F: Would many religious thinkers consider "playing God" an inherent wrong, even if a clone could grow up to donate tissue or organs to save his or her genetic copy? Does this vary between various beliefs, especially monotheism and polytheism? 

Interestingly, Islam encourages human endeavors to improve quality of life and to garner the natural and technical resources for the benefit of all humans. Cloning technology to replicate tissues, etc, is not problematic. It is the psychosomatic dimension of human existence that is ignored by the researchers. There is some level of scientific arrogance which is criticized by religious thinkers.

H&F: How would a soul be viewed in the case of an exact genetic replica of another person? Can you share a soul with a clone? Can a clone go to heaven?

Soul is infused in anything that has life. Death is prescribed for all when the soul shall return to the Creator. Whether cloned as a being or for any different reason, there is the final return to God and all that will happen to other beings shall happen to a cloned being.



Rev. Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner

Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ, a founding member and vice president of the International Society for Science and Religion, has authored and edited several books on religion and science, specifically, human cloning

H&F: Why do you think people have a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase "playing God?" Do you think that's more of a common worry in monotheistic religions? Do you think it interferes with people's idea of a soul?

The soul is a hugely complicated question because of confusion by what we mean by "soul." For a lot of people, a soul is a separate substance, a thing that's added to a body. At its core, Christianity kind of pulls back from ideas like that. Many people think it's a useless term at this point, but I still use the word, by which I would mean the center of life, personality, awareness, a set of capacities- the soul is the inner sense of my identity. It's something that develops and rises slowly in months upon months of prenatal development and certainly throughout the early years of life, as it becomes more conscious, more aware of itself, more capable of interacting. It's not so much a thing that's there or not there; consciousness is a center of life that develops over time.  

Apply that to cloning; suppose a cell is taken from your body and is used to generate a new life. The girl born - I used “girl” there because I was speaking to you. You might want to change it to child - would resemble you in a lot of ways physically, but not so much mentally, emotionally, spiritually. You might see resemblance in surprising ways, in inherent capacities– probably in the same eye color, hair, size, height. But I guarantee you if that child grew up in Russia, she would not be speaking English the way that you are. The environment is hugely important, and in the case of the clone, the  environment goes all the way down to the cellular level of the egg from a different mother, with different mitochondrial DNA which delivers important instructions for the development of the cell. It's a different uterine environment,followed by different traumas, language, foods. All that environomental stuff adds up to make you who you are, and your clone would have an overwhelming set of differences.

H&F: So you can't really replicate a person?

No, you can't. Absolutely not. In a way, nature comes close with identical twins, and you see how different they are. That's as close as you can get– it's the same egg, same uterine environment, all of the nutrients in the same first nine months. And nobody would ever say they have the same soul, or one of them doesn't have a soul. God forbid, you would kill one of them; you wouldn't kill one in a traffic accident and point to the living one and say, I didn't kill that child, there she is. They are two different people.   

H&F: So would an identical twin be closer than a clone?

Significantly closer. With twins, there is a high level of biological similarity, not just in genes but in environment. And as alike as identical twins are, nobody ever says one of them's not for a real person.   

You mentioned the "playing God" thing. A lot of people in theology don't like the phrase. It's often used by people outside theology to work up worry, It’s not clear that they really care at all about God, they just don't like the technology. God really wants us to imitate God, if you believe in God.

How do you play God? By being compassionate, honest, concerned about justice, peace, the environment, and the dignity of each human life. Also by showing a kind of flexible, adaptable compassion which isn't obsessed with writing rules like thou shall not clone. It's looking at potential biomedical advances and saying fund it! Find out how to treat cancer, nerve degenerative diseases like dementia. If you can attack these through stem cell research, then by all means do it. I think God is cheering us on.

scientists in Spain brought back an extinct species for the first time in 2003: a Pyrenean ibex (wild mountain goat). The clone only survived a few minutes.

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