To be cloned without consent

Monday, 19 May, 2008

You may notice that on my “About the Author” page, I have said that I approve of “the use of reproductive cloning, even without the consent of the person being cloned”. I think that stance may need some clarification. After all, isn’t your genome your property? Actually, I don’t think it is.

You only own the current representation of your genome – your body. Your body is yours, and you should be able to control it in any way you want (meaning, you should be able to prevent people from taking genetic samples from your body). That is akin to owning a particular book, or DVD. But you don’t actually own the rights to that book or DVD – buying a copy of the textbook Gray’s Anatomy or the DVD boxset for Grey’s Anatomy only gives you control over that copy, but the rights to make additional copies is not yours.

Now, understandably we humans do have the right to make additional copies of our genes without having to pay royalties (nonetheless, over a fifth of the human genome is patented in the US, but these patents are not recognised internationally). After all, it is a fundamental human right that we can choose to reproduce – to have children – and that involves making a copy of some of our genes and some of our partner’s genes. Technically, a child is an unauthorised copy of patented material, so could theoretically be an infringement. However, it is widely considered unfair for some human genes to be owned by a private company. I agree – the human genome should not belong to anyone. It should be available to all. Thus, the comparison between a genome and a book works best when considering public domain books, such as the King James Bible, which are not owned by anyone.

Most would accept the idea that the human genome – the consensus sequence of our species – should not belong to any one person. But, what of my genome in particular – surely that can be argued to be mine under an extension of my body? I don’t think so.

Consider the case of identical twins. This is a special case of two bodies, but a single genetic constitution. It is already accepted that one twin can reproduce – copy some of their genes – without the consent of the other twin. Genetically, however, the twin would not be the uncle or aunt of the child, but also their genetic parent. But we do not scream about this act violating a person’s control over their own reproduction.

Of course, this only makes sense; all of our genes, unique mutations aside, come from our parents, and we do not morally require their consent to copy their genes. So, if one twin wanted to clone themselves – copy all of their genes instead of just some – would there be any grounds for complaint by the other twin (general qualms about cloning aside)? I’d say not, because there can’t be any significant distinction between passing on some genetic material to a child and passing on all (or almost all) genetic material to a child. Therefore, it could hardly be said that the right to one’s own body extends to the right over one’s genetic makeup, as such an interpretation would run contrary to how we treat natural reproduction, especially with regards to identical twins.

To summarise:

  • An individual does not own their genetic code – if they did, identical twins would have to share their control over their reproduction (and they do not, under our current legal system)
  • An individual’s genetic code is not owned by anyone else – if they did, that individual would not have reproductive freedom (and they do have this freedom, under our current legal system)
  • Nobody owns the genetic code of anyone – therefore cloning does not require anyone’s consent (though I admit it would be kind to ask first)

The fact of the matter is that you have control over yourself and your identity, but not your genetic code. The human genome is a commons for all humanity, and each and every version of it belongs to nobody. The clone of you would not be you, nor is cloning doing anything to you or your rights, and so I see no grounds for complaint if you were to be cloned without your consent (or if your cloned cloned themselves again without asking you, which amounts to the same thing anyway).

However, this does depend how your genetic material was obtained. An agreement will likely exist ensuring that your genetic data cannot be redistributed without your permission. However, this will not apply to to genetic material left in the environment. After all, we do not need a person’s consent to clean up their hair or skin left around the house or at work. It wouldn’t enforceable even if we did. So there is the real potential for somebody to obtain your genetic material and reproduce it.

But don’t worry – there isn’t much point to surreptitious cloning, because I’m sure that those who can afford cloning, but are to unkind to ask, will not want a copy of your genome seeing as they could likely afford something better.


  1. OMG ! I can’t believe what I’m reading ! are you kidding !? guess not :)..
    Sorry but I don’t agree with you, my genetic code belongs only to me and to my family, no one else has the right even to talk about my genetic code, except God the creator of course ! taking your genetic code and cloning your body is just like taking your kids away from you without any rights, or taking your daughter and raping her (just imagine ok?), simply because she’s actually made from your wife’s genetic code and yours wich dosen’t belong to you anyway, :) it’s insane in my opinion, but obviously I respect yours…

  2. Taking your kids away denies them their parents, whereas cloning does not. A clone of you could be born to loving couple, and be brought up in a nice home.

    Likewise, rape imposes an act on a person’s body without their consent. To clone you, somebody would not even need to touch you or anyone else. They could just take cells found on something you touched, like a door handle.

    You need to offer me some proof to the assertion that you own your genetic code, because as I explained in my post, I find that position difficult to defend.

  3. I’ll admit that I was in disagreement at first because of the opportunity for cons and doppelgangers. Upon further reflection on your arguments, however, I realized that it is the same with outlawing anything because it might become a problem. I do think that the genetic donor should be notified, though.

  4. Well I somewhat understand where you are coming from but I also have to disagree. Yes, a person is only in control of their identity but a person’s genetic code is part of their identity. Everyone does have a genetic code but everyone’s code is different. Being cloned without your consent is a violation of privacy and a violation to your identity. The other person may look like you and talk like you (the clone) but that doesn’t mean they have the same name or the same feelings/thoughts; however, people could misconstrue identities and perceive you to be your clone, which creates a mess society is definitely not ready for. Cloning is a great scientific advance that will be researched more and holds very interesting promise, but cloning without consent just seems unethical and problematic.

  5. Stephanie, cloning doesn’t create a duplicate – it creates an embryo which then has to go through term in a womb and be born. Even if a newborn was cloned, the clone would be at least nine months younger.

    So, given this I doubt that cloning will be a problem in the way you see it. I know many children who look almost exactly like their parents, but their identities aren’t misconstrued with that of their parents because of the age difference. Cloning cannot get around this age gap.

  6. Eat some poo Coz Cloning Is cool

  7. Doodle

  8. Reblogged this on annakathleenthomaswordpresscom.


  10. This is really late to the game, but somebody posted this on their Facebook wall and I had to respond.

    The flaw is the fact that someone might expend the time and energy to obtain discarded cells and copy one’s genome without consent implies a huge expenditure of conscious effort, akin to aiming an infrared camera at someone’s house to spy on them through the walls etc. which is a pretty obvious invasion of privacy.

    To elaborate: We all constantly emit radiation, discard skins cells etc. that create a record of our every movement and every aspect of our lives. Theoretically (and in some cases actually) these extrusions might be collected passively by some technology (as with an infrared camera or catching stray skin and hair cells blowing in the wind) and then used to reconstruct everything we are or had done completely erasing privacy and making our every aspect lives an open book and enabling for example a surveillance society where social pressures can be deployed to respond to every characteristic, behaviour etc. of an individual. If we premise that there is such a thing as privacy then it follows that even such passive surveillance or data gathering has to be in some sense illicit since otherwise they erase the premised idea of privacy (certain forms of autonomy also premise some sphere of privacy as when we have elections with secret ballots). The fact that such collection/surveillance can be difficult if not impossible to police is a problem for us, but it is also a problem for how to achieve privacy in a close knit village community (very easy for people in such environments to passively surveil each other) etc. The difficulty of enforcing privacy is a recurrent problem of human interrelation not a reason to give up on privacy.

    So sure if you can use the sequence of someone’s genetic code either by getting permission from their identical twin (or other preexisting clone) for a sample for cloning purposes (note that even identical twins differ somewhat in their genome and indeed due to somatic mutation different cells in your body have some slight difference in genes) or by guessing their exact DNA code without having to examine them or take a sample, no harm, no foul, but actually obtaining an unwilling person’s own DNA code to clone them without consent is going to be breaking some barriers of privacy etc., unless you just wish to deny that privacy or related autonomy are worth considering in the first place.

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