Ever since scientists in the 1970s first began cloning experiments on simple organisms, ethicists and lawmakers have been wringing their hands in Ludditean fear and existential angst over what to do when cloning technology approaches the human barrier.
On Friday, Brigitte Boisselier, the scientific director of Clonaid -- associated with the Raelians, a group that believes that life was seeded on Earth by aliens from other worlds -- announced that her team had done just that with a 31-year-old American woman who, they claim, gave birth to the world's first human clone, nicknamed, appropriately, Eve.
Whether the Raelians succeeded is irrelevant. It is clear that someone, somewhere, some time soon is going to generate a human clone. And once that happens, others will be quick to follow through the door and we will learn whether medical complications make cloning impractical as a form of fertility enhancement.
What I find disturbing is not cloning per se but three fundamental myths about it: the Identical Personhood Myth; the Playing God Myth; and the Human Rights and Dignity Myth.
The Identical Personhood Myth is perpetuated by those who say: "It's a horrendous crime to make a copy of someone." But what they should be saying is: "Clone all you like; you'll never produce another you because environment matters as much as heredity."
The best scientific evidence to date indicates that roughly half the variance between humans is accounted for by genetics; the balance is by environment. Because it is impossible to duplicate the near-infinite number of environmental permutations that go into producing an individual human being, cloning is no threat to unique personhood.
The Playing God Myth has numerous promoters, the latest being Stanley M. Hauerwas, a professor of theological ethics at Duke University who responded to the Clonaid announcement with this unequivocal denouncement: "The very attempt to clone a human being is evil. The assumption that we must do what we can do is fueled by the Promethean desire to be our own creators."
He is not alone in his belief. A 1997 Time/CNN poll, conducted on the heels of the news that a cloned sheep, Dolly, had been born, revealed that 74% of Americans said it was "against God's will" to clone human beings.
But cloning scientists don't want to play God any more than fertility doctors do. What's godly about in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer and other fully sanctioned birth enhancement technologies? Absolutely nothing. Yet we cheerfully accept these advances because we are accustomed to them.
The Human Rights and Dignity Myth is embodied in the Roman Catholic Church's official statement against cloning, based on the belief that it denies "the dignity of human procreation and of the conjugal union."
The same sentiment is also found in a Sunni Muslim cleric's demand that "science must be regulated by firm laws to preserve humanity and its dignity."
The reality is that clones will be no more alike than twins raised in separate environments, and no one is suggesting that twins do not have rights or dignity, or that twinning should be banned.
In the interest of assuaging these and other fears, I propose the Three Laws of Cloning.
* A human clone is a human being no less unique in his or her personhood than an identical twin.
* A human clone is a human being with all the rights and privileges that accompany this legal and moral status.
* A human clone is a human being to be accorded the dignity and respect due any member of our species.
Instead of restricting or banning cloning, I propose that we adopt the Three Laws of Cloning.
The soul of science is found in courageous thought and creative experiment, not in restrictive fear and prohibitions. For science to progress it must be given the opportunity to succeed or fail.
Let's run the cloning experiment and see what happens.