Leon Kass, The Wisdom of Repugnance (1997)
- REVIEW OF FACTUAL ISSUES
- How reproductive cloning works
- Natural twins: identical & fraternal
- Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) used by tens of thousands of
people, in over 200 clinics
- In vitro fertilization ("test tube babies")
- Embryo manipulation
- Embryo donation
- Surrogate pregnancy
- Question: If cloning is opposed, must we oppose these other ART too?
- CLONING AND CONSERVATIVE FAMILY VALUES
- Kass ties objections to cloning to a host of traditional, conservative,
so-called "family values"
- Shift away from traditional, conservative"family values" makes it
harder to explain why cloning is wrong
- Cultural changes make it hard to express a common and respectful
- Sexuality, procreation, new life, family, meaning of
- Changes include:
- Legality and widespread use of abortion
- Sexual revolution brought on by pill and other birth control
- Reproductive rights of single women, homosexual men and
- SPECIFIC FAMILY VALUES THREATENED
- One: Monogamous marriage threatened by new repro tech:
- Is monogamous marriage a good thing? (Kass: yes)
- Defenders of stable monogomous marriage give offence to
those living in new family forms and to those children who
(even w/o assist repro) have 3 or 4 parents or none at all
- If accept divorce and out of wedlock birth, then stable
monogamous marriage as ideal home for procreation is no longer
agreed upon cultural norm
- Clone is the ultimate "single parent child"
- ARTs "undermine the justification and support that biological
parenthood gives to the monogamous marriage"
- If having children is possible only in monogamous
marriage, this encourages such marriage
- If you support monogamous marriage, should oppose
cloning (and other ARTs)?
- Two: Cloning helps divorce sexuality and procreation (and
traditionalists want these tied)
- "If sex has no intrinsic connection to generating babies (birth
control, sex for enjoyment), babies need have no necessary
connection to sex" (ARTs, including cloning)
- Three: Babies W/o sex confuse normal kin relations
- Who is the mother?
- Egg donor, surrogate who carries and delivers, one who
- Isn't there a good case for saying it is the last?
- Applies to cloning but also other ART
- What about adoption? Same questions? Same objections?
- Four: Cloning undermines heterosexuality
- Kass objects to seeing "natural heterosexual difference" as a
matter of "cultural construction"
- If male/female not complementary (normatively-in terms of
values) or generatively significant, babies need not come from
- WORRISOME CLONING SCENARIOS
- Nucleus (DNA) banking (like sperm banks)
- Famous athletes and other celebrities market their DNA as they
now do autographs and about everything else
- Embryo and germline genetic testing and manipulation in order to
obtain "better" babies
- People genetic testing now to avoid deformed babies
- Cloning to "upgrade" the gene pool and replicate superior types
- DIMENSIONS OF CLONING PEOPLE FIND REPULSIVE
- Mass production of human beings,
- Clone look-alikes
- Compromised in their individuality
- Are identical twins "compromised" in this way?
- Perhaps if they were mass produced?
- Mother-daughter, father-son twins
- Why is this repulsive if sibling twins are not?
- Does it depend on idea that earlier twin did cloning?
- With identical twins you don't have one twin creating the
- "Bizarre prospect of woman giving birth to and rearing a genetic copy
of herself, or her deceased father/mother"
- "Grotesqueness of conceiving child as exact replacement for another
- "Creating embryonic genetic duplicates of onself to be used for tissue
and organ transplantation"
- Is this gross or a good idea?
- "Narcissism (excessive self-love) of those who clone themselves"
- "Arrogance of those who think know who deserves to be cloned, which
genotype a child-to-be would be thrilled to receive"
- Is it arrogant to think that some human traits are better than
- "Frankenstein hubris of creating and controlling destiny of a human
life; man playing God"
- Overstatement of power of this technology? How does the cloner
control the destiny of the clone's life?
- INSIGHT OF STRONG EMOTIONAL REACTIONS WITHOUT
FULL REASONS: "WISDOM OF REPUGNANCE"
- Cloning is: Offensive, grotesque, revolting, repugnant, repulsive
- These are not arguments and things we have found repugnant in past
are often calmly accepted today (though this is not always good)
- "Man gets used to everything-the beast!"
- Sometimes repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom,
beyond reason's ability to articulate it
- No argument can fully explains the horror of:
- Father-daughter incest (even with consent and contraception)
- Sex with animals
- Mutilating a corpse
- Eating human flesh
- Raping/murdering another human
- A person's inability to give a full rational justification for why these
are revolting does not make that revulsion ethically suspect;
- We know they are wrong even if we can't say why
- Is it true that we can't explain why?
- Is he right? Shouldn't strong negative emotions that are not
backed by reasons be seen as questionable?
- Repugnance toward human cloning in this category
- We intuit and feel, immediately and w/o argument, violation of
things we rightfully hold dear
- Repugnance revolts against human excesses that transgress
something unspeakably profound
- Wisdom of repugnance: "Shallow are the souls that have forgotten
how to shudder"
- Repugnance only voice left that speaks up to defend central core
of humanity in an age in which everything is thought to be
permissible as long as it is freely done and our given human
nature no longer commands respect.
- Strong emotional reactions might not be "unspeakably profound" but
- Eg: Some still find kissing someone of another race repugnant
- NATURALNESS OF SEXUAL REPRODUCTION AND
UNNATURALNESS OF CLONING
- Sexual reproduction (genesis of new life from two complementary
elements, one male, one female via coitus) is "established" not by
human decision, culture or tradition, but by nature
- Natural way of mammalian reproduction
- It is the way nature has given us to reproduce
- Precise genetic constitution of offspring determined by
combination of nature and chance, not by human design
- There is human design in sense of choosing partner
- Natural here means:
- (Relative) absence of human design (not absence of human
- Achieving results in the way nature has designed us to achieve
- But even if cloning is clearly unnatural in this sense, that doesn't by
itself show it is wrong
- Things might be unnatural and right
- Like other ARTs(e.g., birth by c-section) or medicine (fighting natural disease)
- Need further argument
- THREE TYPES OF CONCERNS/OBJECTIONS TO CLONING
- One: Threatens to confuse identity/individuality
- Even small scale cloning does this
- Our genetic individuality is not humanly trivial
- It gives us our distinctive appearance by which all
- It foreshadow the unique never to be repeated character of
each human life.
- What about natural identical twins? Though they are genetically
identical, they have a unique never to be repeated character
- Two: Cloning represents a giant step (though not first one) toward
transforming procreation into manufacture
- Toward increasing depersonalization of process of generation
- Toward production of human children as artifacts--products of
human will and design
- Problem of "commodification" of new life
- Assumption here is that procreation should be significantly natural
(significantly undesigned by humans)
- That this is an area of human life that should not come under the
(complete? too much? ) province of human engineering, design,
- Just as for those who intrinsically value wild nature, the natural
world should not be manufactured and turned into an artifact by
humans, so too human beings should not be turned into human
- Of course cloning a person is not to design him/her from scratch (as
would be genetically engineering each of their genes and then totally
controlling their environment)
- It does give us a kind of control over genes of our offspring we have
never had before.
- Three: Cloning misunderstands nature of parenting (which
involves giving up significant control)
- Cloning tries to keep control (hence is despotism)
- Couples who choose to procreate, say yes to emergence of new
life in its novelty, say yes not only to having a child, but to
having whatever child this child turns out to be
- Some truth to this, but aren't there limits here?
- Suggests that abortion of severely deformed fetuses-e.g.,
without brains--is unacceptable
- What if your child turns out to be a drug addict and
- Four: Cloning is despotism
- Embracing the future by procreating means we are relinquishing
our grip, even as we take our share in what we hope will be
immortality of human species
- Thus we confess the limits of our control
- Our children are not our possessions/property
- Children are not supposed to live our lives for us, or anyone's
else's lives but their own
- Much harm done by parents who try to live vicariously
through their children
- Children compelled to fulfil broken dreams of unhappy
- Cloning parents will have expectations for their children (not just
the hopes ordinary parents do)
- Cloning parents will be overbearing parents
- Child given a genotype that has already lived
- Will be full expectation that this past blueprint ought to
control life that is to come
- Thus, cloning is inherently despotic
- Seeks to make children after ones own image or after an image of
one's choosing and their future according to one's will
- But all parents try to make their children have the traits parents
think are good ones
- Doesn't this conceive of the cloner as having more power than
she really does?
- Cloning is a step on the road to eugenics (improving the
- Choosing the perfect baby
- Instead of cloning your child you could choose a donor nucleus
- Not a child of your own, but of your own choosing
- Look through catalog of cloning donors: pictures, health records
and accomplishments of those whose tissues are in deep freeze
- Right to be born with sound heritage based on sound genotype
- To do this with quality control, human conceptions/gestation will
have to be
"Brought into the bright light of the lab: fertilized
nourished, pruned, weeded, watched, inspected, prodded, pinched
cajoled, injected, tested, rated, graded, approved, stamped,
wrapped, sealed, and delivered"
- KASS ON PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY
- Tech imperative: If it can be done it must be done.
- Argues against technological fix mentality for technologies that
deeply affect humans
- Confidence in our ability to fix unwelcome outcomes of tech
advance, usually by means of still newer and better techs
- Questions how successful we can continue to be in such after-the-fact repairing
- With technology used on human body and mind, that will surely effect
fundamental and irreversible changes in human nature, relationships,
and meaning of being human
- We should not be willing to risk everything in naive hope that if
things go wrong we can later set them right.
- Will we be slaves of unregulated progress and ultimately its artifacts
or remain free humans who guide our techniques to enhance human