tarav: Under what circumstances would cloning of a human be beneficial to society?
I can't say that it would be beneficial to society so much as beneficial to the interests of the parents, but cloning has a fairly obvious appeal to couples who wish to have children but are clinically unable to reproduce. If they merely want to raise a child, adoption is the better solution from society's point of view. But if they want to have a child that is a continuation of their bloodlines, then adoption is cold comfort compared to the possibility of having a child that carries half of each parent's genetic code. That's about the only reason I can think of to clone with the intent of actually producing a person.
Of course, the potential drawback is that there is technically nothing, so far as I know, to prevent shifts in gender balance. Among identifiable groups who are clinically barred from producing their own offspring, for instance, are homosexuals. If it should turn out -- and I'm not at all sure that this would be the case -- that homosexuals would tend to prefer that their children be the same sex as they are, and they use genetic manipulation to garuntee that preference, what we may observe is the division of society into clusters of mutually exclusive gender-sexuality constructs.
Alternately, we may see the rising popularity of single moms who produce offspring through cloning, without input from a partner of either sex. That's not terribly worrisome for half of the population, I suppose, but to tell men that their contributions to the survival of the species won't be needed in the near future will tend to give them the sweats.
Those are objections that can be met in other ways, though, and I'm not sure that they're strong enough on their own to deem cloning dangerously unethical.What potential problems might arise in society as a result of human cloning?
A bigger concern, from my point of view, is that we may find that the actual results of cloning are either physically, mentally or socially problematic.
The physical concerns are the most easily dispatched. If it turns out that cloned children are more prone to certain deficiencies, to premature death, to illness, then we can treat those specific cases as ethically problematic, but the continual promise of science is that we'll learn from our mistakes. More often than not, that means will build a better machine, not stop trying. So if we end up with a few instances of Frankenstein's monster, you can bet that we'll find ways to make future models less monstrous.
To some degree, the same may be said for the mental problems. But fixing mental aberrations gets a little problematic, because at that point, you're basically talking about taking responsibility for the identity of a child. If that's necessary, we'll find ourselves not merely cloning humans but programming them as well, which raises all sorts of issues.
The most problematic of the three, it seems to me, because it is the most likely, is that there will be social problems that arise from cloning. It is almost inevitable, for instance, that some form of social prejudice will arise over cloning. And if we're hardwiring certain traits into the cloned humans, there may be good reason for those prejudices. There is already some juvenille prejudice against adopted children, for instance, but that tends to slacken a great deal as the children progress into adulthood. But if the child who is teased and bullied for being cloned grows into an adult who is predisposed towards athleticism, say, or leadership, the prejudices are likely to intensify rather than abate. All sorts of variation on this theme come to mind, and I'll leave it to others to imagine their own scenarios.
Secondly, it isn't terribly clear what sort of psychology will be produced by the interaction of cloned humans with their environment. Gazzaniga says that at least half of the development of personality is a matter of social interaction, so this is a problem that we're not likely to sort out through genetic screening and so forth. The question boils down to, what effect is the knowledge of having been cloned likely to have on the cloned human's identity? We might end up producing groups of people who view themselves as intrinsically inferior, or superior; as inextricably subordinated to another person's will, or as entirely divorced from the social norms.
So on the one hand, we can be sure to some degree that we can eventually weed out a lot of the mistakes that might make cloning de facto unethical. Even so, the mistakes are likely to lead miserable lives, and we have to treat those as instances of unethical cloning. Those cases would be comparable, it seems to me, to the cases in which our piecemeal understanding of certain forms of birth control have led to the birth of humans with severe deformities -- the major difference being that we're actually hoping that a child will be produced in the case of cloning. In that light, we can be fairly sure that there will be at least a few cases in which we're compelled to deem cloning unethical, and we can count ourselves extremely lucky if it's restricted to only a few.
On the other hand, it may turn out that there are factors for which we ultimately cannot adjust -- most of them social -- and that we will never be able to create a fully ethical institution dedicated to human cloning.