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Any attempt to channel the sexual act requires that society
first dismantle the devilish scaffolding of taboos, phobias,
neuroses, and fetishes that has been erected around human
reproduction.37 Given the fundamental continuity of the human
animal with the entire biological kingdom in general
and with mammals specifically – including such intimately
related species as the higher primates – the revolution in developmental
and molecular biology is resetting the intellectual
climate by conceptualizing human reproduction in accordance
with the principles of animal breeding.
Genetic selection presupposes genetic variation; otherwise there would be nothing to select from. Heritability is the yardstick by which both natural and artificial selection are measured. Heritability scores are mathematical correlations ranging from 1 (a parental trait is inevitably passed on to the children) to 0 (the children are no more or less likely to possess it).
The heritability of economic traits has been intensively studied for farm animals. For example, milk production is 0.25, yearling body weight in sheep is in the range of 0.2 - 0.59, and feedlot gain in beef cattle is 0.5 - 0.55.38 The heritability for height among white European and North American populations is 0.9.39 Using data from twin studies, Thomas Bouchard and colleagues at the University of Minnesota have placed the overall heritability of personality at about 0.5. Heritabilities of social attitudes are even higher: 0.65 for radicalism, 0.54 for tough-mindedness, and 0.59 for religious leisure time interests. Occupational interests correlate at about 0.36.40 One study of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins showed that monozygotic twins showed a significantly higher correlation than dizygotic twins for being frank, active, talkative, gregarious, extroverted, assertive, calm, self-confident, even-tempered, emotionally stable, kind, polite, pleasant, agreeable, thorough, neat, systematic, conscientious, inventive, imaginative, original creative, open to experience, refined, sophisticated, and flexible. Model-fit analyses suggested about 40% genetic, 25% shared environmental, and 35% nonshared environmental influence.
Although the heritability of any trait or combination of traits can be measured along this same scale, it is the intelligence controversy which has attracted the most heated attention. Low estimates of IQ heritability in human populations are generally on the order of 0.4, with 0.8 being the ceiling for high estimates.
How to disentangle nature from nurture? The correlation between the IQ scores of the same person taking the same test a second time can serve as a benchmark; it is 0.86.42 The prominent English psychologist Cyril Burt located a number of identical twins who had been raised separately. In 1966 he reported an IQ correlation of 0.77 among 53 pairs of identical twins whom he had studied. When Burt, who died in 1971, was posthumously accused of having falsified his data, the purported scandal made for major news. Now, however, a great deal more research has been done on the topic, and Burt’s findings have been replicated repeatedly, including Bouchard’s study of 8,000 twin pairs, which came up with a correlation of 0.76 for identical twins reared separately and 0.87 for those reared together. 43 In another study of adopted children, conducted by Sandra Scarr and Richard A. Weinberg, also at the University of Minnesota, the adoptees’ IQ scores correlated significantly more positively with those of their biological than with those of their adoptive parents.
Natural selection depends not only on genetic variation but also on environmental variation. The greater the range of the two forms of variation, the greater the intensity of selection – that is, the faster the rate of evolution. For millennia now, without any knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution, people have been able to pursue artificial selection successfully in plants and animals by simply breeding the most desirable individuals with each other under the principle “like breeds like.” This is still the chief methodology of animal breeders. When, however, low variation or low heritability impede selection, modern genetic tools are employed: frozen semen, separation of male- and female-producing sperm, su-perovulation, embryo storage and transfer, in vitro fertilization, and transfer of genetic material.
The use of artificial insemination renders eugenic measures applied to males far more effective than to females. For example, by employing modern techniques a bull can theoretically be made to produce 200,000 breeding units of semen per year.45 One bull already has 2.3 million granddaughters.46 Furthermore, sperm can be frozen for long-term storage and later use.
If there is no shortage of premium-quality sperm, the same is also true of eggs. Only a tiny percentage of the eggs created in human females at birth are ever fertilized. In vitro fertilization, with resulting embryos implanted in a womb other than that of the original mother, would make it possible to achieve a revolution in population quality without creating a quantitative bottleneck. Cloning is a still newer technique. During the process a genetically identical copy of a biological organism is produced by asexual means. Cloning is common in nature. Any plant that can grow from a cutting, or animal tissue that can reproduce itself in a Petri dish, in the process also produce clones.
During laboratory cloning (“nuclear transfer”), the genetic code of an individual organism is inserted into an egg that has been stripped of its own nucleus, and that egg is then implanted in the womb of a “birth mother,” just as is already done in cases of in vitro fertilization. The child who is born is the donor’s identical twin. The first animal clones were produced in the late 1950s. In 1993 US researchers experimentally cloned a human being as a possible treatment for infertility, but the experiment raised a storm of criticism. The cloning of the sheep “Dolly” did not take place until 1996. Other mammals already cloned by scientists include horses, dogs, rabbits, cows, goats, deer, pigs, cats, rats, and mice.
The current debate on cloning is focused on therapeutic cloning. For example, it may be possible in the future to clone cells from a person suffering from cardiac insufficiency, develop those replacement cells into heart muscle, and then transplant that muscle back into the same patient without fear of rejection.
The real issue, however, is reproductive cloning – conceiving babies who will be brought to term and who will enter the general population as independent persons. Reproductive cloning can be pursued for two reasons: first, as a device to combat infertility, and second, to enrich the human gene pool. I refer here to the latter as “eugenic cloning.” Cloned embryos, as well as embryos produced during in vitro fertilization, could be implanted in a womb which might be human, animal, or even artificial. “We can see all too clearly where the train is headed, and we do not like the destination,” wrote Leon Kass, chief of George W. Bush’s Bioethics Council.47 Revealingly, Kass, who is an observant conservative Jew, has also come out against the dissection of cadavers, organ transplantation, in-vitro fertilization, cosmetic surgery, and sexual liberation. Virginia Postrel, editor-at-large of Reason magazine, responded to the views expressed by Kass by commenting that “This isn’t about the 20th century. It’s about the 16th
Much of the criticism of cloning stems from a fundamental misunderstanding – that there is an intent to produce a race of identical creatures lacking any and all individuality. This is definitely not the case, and no such practice has ever been advocated. Rather, it is the expectation that persons born as the result of a cloning process would enter into normal sexual relations with the vastly greater population of individuals born as the result of traditional sex and would multiply in the traditional fashion, thus increasing the frequency of advantageous genes in the following generations
Despite some well-publicized successes, there remain a number of difficulties to be worked out, and the failure rate is still high. For example, cloned animals often have abnormal placentas – a factor that affects size and survival. Part of the problem evidently lies in abnormalities in gene expression. Much of the resistance to cloning comes from religious groups, but is not limited to them. Aside from a fully legitimate fear that we may still not be knowledgeable enough to proceed immediately to human cloning, the resistance to cloning per se is startlingly reminiscent of the traditional argument against evolution – that it is “an assault on human dignity.” That was precisely the text and heading of an open letter addressed to President George W. Bush in the Washington Times in January, 2002, signed by 29 conservative political and religious leaders.
The media have waged an energetic campaign against cloning. We have examples in the 1976 novel, The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin, made into a film starring James Mason in 1978, and most recently in 2002, with the appearance of Star Wars Part II: Attack of the Clones. There is even a canard as to whether human cloning methods might be patentable.
The New York Times is entirely correct: “Opposition to reproductive cloning is universal in Congress, and if any senator or congressman secretly harbors a more benign view of the procedure, the chance that he or she will express that opinion publicly is absolutely zero. In 2001, the House of Representatives voted to ban all forms of cloning, but the Senate resisted a total disallowment. Congress has thus resolved to criminalize reproductive cloning, even though Congress’s unanimity in this area is not shared by everyone in the scientific and scholarly community. According to the Wall Street Journal, “some diplomats said they believe the U.S. stand in the U.N. was primarily intended to score domestic political points with religious conservatives and antiabortion activists. But such moods are hardly limited to the United States. On November 6, 2003, by a 80-79 vote, with 15 abstentions, the United Nations narrowly resolved to delay by two years a vote supported by the United States and the Vatican to outlaw both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. A number of other countries supported a Belgian proposal to ban reproductive cloning while permitting therapeutic cloning.
Animal breeding methods usually amount to producing a specific type on the basis of very strict characteristics. The same is true for plant selection, in which a rich variety of strains is usually replaced by a few monocultures. Nothing of the sort would be appropriate for human populations. Human selection, as proposed by proponents of eugenics, would be aimed at a far more limited reduction in genetic variance. Diversity is viewed not simply as a great source of strength but also as an integral part of what we are and want to be. A certain reduction of this variability, on the other hand, is the mathematical goal. Eugenicists argue that even a very significant channeling of motherhood and a far more stringent selection among men would still leave billions of people reproducing. By comparison, all thoroughbred race horses stem from three Middle Eastern stallions, and natural selection can be even more draconian.
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