Guest post by Joshua May
Suppose you desperately want a healthy child to build a family of your own. As is increasingly common, however, you can’t do it naturally – whether from infertility, a genetic disease you don’t want to pass on, or a non-traditional relationship. If you seek a genetic connection with the child, there are some limitations to the main alternatives: adoption, surrogacy, and in vitro fertilization. You may yearn for more options.
How would you feel about cloning? Take the nucleus of a cell from yourself or a loved one, then put it into an egg that will eventually develop into a baby that shares nearly all the genes of the donor cell. The resulting baby will simply be a kind of ‘delayed twin’ of the donor.
Most people believe this is immoral. There’s a bit more support for therapeutic uses that merely create new tissue, for example. But, at least in the US and UK, people overwhelmingly condemn cloning for the purposes of creating new human lives. In fact, a recent poll suggests there is little disagreement in America over this issue, where human cloning is among the most widely condemned topics (alongside polygamy and infidelity).
That’s what people think, but how do they feel? Controversial bioethical issues often generate intense feelings. Some bioethicists treat cloning in particular as a line in the sand that we mustn’t cross, for fear of sliding down a slippery slope to a dystopia.
Consider Leon Kass, who played a major role in public policy as chair of George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics. Kass argues that there is wisdom in repugnance toward human cloning, allowing us to ‘intuit and feel, immediately and without argument, the violation of things that we rightfully hold dear’. As opposed to mere unease or sadness, Kass and some others have argued that disgust is such a powerful and distinctive emotion that we should take it seriously as a moral guide when deliberating about ethical issues.
An empirical claim lurks. Such bioethicists assume that people in general share their reaction of repugnance. Besides, if we can uncover the emotional reactions people tend to feel toward disputed moral issues, then we can better understand why they hold the beliefs they do. Does the prospect of cloning humans make us sick? Scared? Sad? Angry? Excited? At ease?
In my paper, I provide some initial evidence that people (at least in the States) feel primarily anxious and curious about human reproductive cloning. These were the most frequently self-reported negative and positive emotions, not disgust, fear, sadness, anger, excitement, amusement, comfort, or joy. more…