Mary Warnock: The Ethics of Cloning as an Acceptable Infertility Treatment

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Ethics philosophers debate the morality of extending cloning from sheep to people. Image by hotlack

Ethics philosophers debate the morality of extending cloning from sheep to people. Image by hotlack

Is cloning acceptable? It depends on your philosophy.

Ethics philosopher, Baroness Mary Warnock, addressed the dilemma over whether cloning could ever become a morally acceptable treatment for infertility.

Warnock’s ethics philosophy concluded that cloning should be off-limits until it is proven safe and risk-free, while others have embraced the idea of duplicating humans, regardless of potential complications.

Baroness Mary Warnock: Ethics Philosopher

Warnock, born in 1924 in Winchester, England, has a distinguished career behind her, as she champions philosophical issues related to human rights, morality and education. Her specialty, ethics, examines issues of human values, how we live, how we decide between right and wrong and similar moral concepts. She has also written extensively on existentialism, a relatively modern philosophy which holds that all people have freedom of choice and are responsible for their own lives.

What is Ethics Philosophy?

Ethics and morality change the way we view the world. What one person regards as their “right” might grievously offend another person on purely moral grounds. From a public perspective this “right” might be seen as unjust, as in the case of the right of a woman to have an abortion as opposed to the right of the human foetus to be protected for its own sake.

Warnock points out that “Rights are part of the structure of a society; in nature there are neither rights nor duties.” She makes an important distinction between legal and moral rights.

Legal rights are those supported by law, such as the right to ‘free speech’ in the United States Constitution, whereas moral rights “belong to all humans in view of their humanity.” Moral rights are not necessarily related to law. Instead, they would find their roots in principles and a sense of moral obligation. Warnock admits this can be a difficult distinction.

The Morality of Human Cloning

Mary Warnock addresses whether the cloning of humans would be intrinsically wrong. She acknowledges that, though human reproductive cloning may not be possible within the foreseeable future, it would be wrong to subject fellow humans to such risk and uncertainty. According to Warnock, even if there are willing participants, scientists should not, in their pursuit of such a radical procedure, exploit people’s desperation for children.

However, assuming the risks involved have been eliminated, is human cloning still morally unacceptable? After all, identical twins sharing identical DNA are common; they don’t cause moral outrage. So what is it about the human clone that makes us edgy?

It’s not relevant, for example, to claim that a clone would be born without a proper human identity. “Even Siamese twins are commonly held to have distinct identities,” as Warnock says.

Another objection is that it would be tough for a cloned child to see a parent age. Watching this aging, the child would know “know” the outcome of his or her own life. Warnock dismisses this with some disdain. “There are already numerous sons who inherit genes from their father… such as a tendency to early baldness.

Cloning: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope theory is the belief that if “X” happens, then “Y” and “Z” will automatically follow. “X” is fairly harmless – we can live with it. However, if “X” leads to “Y” which is more challenging, then “Z” will follow. “Z” is the most undesirable outcome.

World-famous Dolly the cloned sheep was born in 1997. Sadly, for Dolly, the cloning process didn’t result in good health; she died at only six years old, prematurely aged and suffering from arthritis. According to NBC News, Canadian dentist, Michael Zuk, has purchased and preserved one of John Lennon’s teeth.

Allegedly, Zuk has begun the process of sequencing, hoping to transform the Beatle’s DNA from tissue to stem cells. Zuk firmly believes he will eventually present the world with a clone of the famous Beatle. Is it right to create a person with the same technology that resulted in Dolly’s unfortunate end?

Warnock points out that “Producing a human clone seems to be the ultimate and most extreme example of the manipulation of human beings. It is not that each individual clone child would be deprived of free will; he would be as much free and as much determined as the rest of us… The fear is rather that some person, or some regime, might one day exercise such power that people could be born to their command, in the numbers they dictated, and, worst of all, with the characteristics they thought desirable.”

Should there be laws against cloning people to create the perfect baby? Image by octaviolopez

Should there be laws against cloning people to create the perfect baby? Image by octaviolopez

Designer Babies and Parental Vanity: Morally Wrong?

The idea brings to mind Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, and current arguments about designer babies, born to satisfy the vanity of the parents. Does it feel morally wrong that we should have this kind of power over another human being? As always, it depends on your personal philosophy.

Wesley J. Smith says, in his article, The Time Has Come to Outlaw Human Cloning, “It is the ultimate in desensitization… the problem, one could almost say, is not what cloning does to the embryo, but what it does to us… If everything is permitted then there are no fences, no safeguards, no bottom.”

Many people find the idea morally abhorrent, and Mary Warnock herself welcomes the “efficient methods of licensing and control that we have in the UK.


Warnock, Mary. Making Babies. (2002). Oxford University Press.

Smith, Wesley J. The Time Has Come to Outlaw Human Cloning. (2013). Accessed August 23 2013.

Dawn, R. Owner of John Lennon’s tooth hopes to clone the late Beatle. (2013). NBC. Accessed August 25, 2013.

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© Copyright 2013 Janet Cameron, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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