The U.N. General Assembly is unanimous on the need to ban human cloning. Unanimous. This alone should give serious pause to those who want to ban such cloning.

The United Nations is an organization that is perpetually split (at best) on such clear issues as who are the aggressors, the Israelis or the Palestinians. The United Nations is an organization that can condemn Saddam Hussein as a threat to the world in 17 separate resolutions–then balk at approving our doing anything about it.

Yet an organization that cannot distinguish dictatorship from freedom, nor rights from the violation of rights, finds no difficulty in determining the threat posed by the peaceful act of human cloning.

Threat–to whom? Whose rights would be violated by human cloning?

In reproductive cloning, the result is a baby who exactly resembles, physically, someone else. Just whose rights would that violate? Not the baby’s rights. And not the parents’.

Once we put aside the emotionalism, it becomes apparent that there is no rational or moral basis for banning human cloning.

If you were cloned today, nine months from now a woman would give birth to a baby with your genetic endowment. The cloned baby would be your identical twin, delayed a generation. Twins of the same age do not frighten us, so why should a twin separated by a generation?

Some raise the specter of the mass cloning of one individual, especially cloning of sadistic monsters, as in “The Boys from Brazil,” Ira Levin’s nightmarish projection of cadres of young Hitlers spawned from the dictator’s genes.

The error here is philosophical: equating a person with his body. A person’s essential self is his mind–that in him which thinks, values, and chooses. It is one’s mind, not one’s genes, that governs who one is. Man is the rational animal. One’s basic choice is to think or not to think, in Ayn Rand’s phrase; the conclusions, values, and character of individuals depend upon the extent and rationality of their thinking.

Genes provide the capacity to reason, but the exercise and guidance of that capacity is up to each individual, from the birth of his reasoning mind in infancy through the rest of his life.

Neither genes nor environment can implant ideas in a child’s mind and make him accept them. Only his own self-generated thinking–or his default on that responsibility–will shape his soul.

Cloning the body will not clone the mind. A mind is inescapably under the individual’s own volitional control. “The Boys from Brazil”? It was not Hitler’s body but his choices that made him a monster.

The worry about this kind of problem cannot account for the virtual panic over human cloning, nor for the fact that the cloning-ban advocates oppose human cloning across the board, in any quantity, for any reason.

The actual opposition to human cloning springs from something primordial, the fear of the unknown, the fear captured in the catch-phrase: “We can’t play God.” But why can’t we? We can and we must.

A surgeon “plays God” whenever he removes a cancer or an infected appendix rather than letting the patient die. We “play God” anytime we use our intelligence to improve the “natural” course of events. Natural? It is man’s nature to “play God” by reshaping matter to produce the food, shelter, tools, cars, and power stations that sustain and enhance our existence. Not to “play God” in this way means to abandon the struggle for human life and submit abjectly to whatever happens.

Cloning technology is tied in with stem-cell research. The United Nations has put off for a year any decision regarding cloning to produce stem cells, but the Bush administration is already curtailing it. In this research, the entity that is being legally “protected” is a single cell or a small ball of cells–not anything that remotely resembles a human being. One can argue about the status of a fetus in the late stages of pregnancy, but there are no rational grounds for ascribing rights to a clump of cells in a Petri dish. It is irrelevant that those cells may have the potential, if implanted in a womb, to produce a baby. A potentiality is not an actuality.

Stem-cell research holds the promise of major breakthroughs in saving actual human lives–yours and mine. The idea of banning such research to sacrifice actual lives to potential ones is obscenely wrong–wrong morally and politically.

At the threshold of a wide range of earth-shaking biomedical advances, we must not let irrational fears of the new slow our progress in the battle to enhance and extend human life.

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Harry Binswanger

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is a professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an instructor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute, and a Senior Contributor at RealClearMarkets.com. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free one-month trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

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