Cloning, part five: Eugenics

But in assessing the fear that cloning will lead to eugenics, note that human mate choice is already eugenic. Lest you doubt, take an extreme example: if female, ask yourself whether, all else being strictly equal, you would rather mate with a kind, five-foot-tall millionaire man with Down syndrome than with a kind, six-foot-tall millionaire man without Down syndrome. If male, ask yourself which man you would rather father your grandchild.

Now, because both adult height and Down syndrome status correlate strongly with genotype, any significant height- or Down status-based mating bias is inherently eugenic (at least in the short term). Human sexual reproduction is no blind crapshoot (ask any sperm banker); our varied, if often predictable, preferences constantly shape the profiles of genetically correlated traits in new adult generations. We’re picky breeders of tomatoes, dogs, and ourselves — and human cloning won’t change that.

In this context, consider a law forbidding infertile or gay people, those with Down syndrome, and/or anyone else with sub-par reproductive prospects, to act to boost those prospects. State-enforced eugenics, no? Indeed, and you have just imagined a cloning ban, which would most affect those short on other reproductive options. ‘Eve’ — mint green apple of Brigitte Boisselier’s eye — was allegedly born to a clonee who foresaw little chance to otherwise reproduce; a ban might deem such folks congenitally out of luck. If unconvinced that this constitutes eugenics, note conversely that the spread of cloning, by raising the mean metabolic cost of reproduction (i.e., one might have to work more to afford clonal than sexual pregnancy) and slowing the potentially adaptive genetic diversification that sex mediates, could make the future human population more vulnerable to environmental change. This outcome is hardly what societal eugenicists claim to support (though their frequent antipathy toward human diversity certainly favors the same risk).