The man who cloned a sheep said it would be criminally irresponsible to clone a human

Sir Ian Wilmut and Dolly the Sheep. Image: PA.
Sir Ian Wilmut and Dolly the Sheep. Image: PA.

The man who cloned a sheep is Prof Sir Ian Wilmut and he is in The Times obituaries today as she died on September 10, 2023 aged 79 after a long illness. I’m therefore able to say a few words about this embryologist’s famous work in which he created Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. These are my instant thoughts, no more. I welcome the thoughts of others in comments.

In a book cowritten by him and the journalist Roger Highfield, entitled After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning published in 2006, he wrote: “Although I am for the use of genetic modification to treat disease, I would be the first to admit that there will be endless arguments over where to draw the line.”

For him, drawing the line was in cloning humans. The him it was clear that it would be “criminally irresponsible” to clone humans. He even argued for the banning of designer babies but he said that it would be immoral not to use cloning in medicine to help alleviate suffering.

So clearly the line for Prof Sir Ian Wilmut is drawn along the barrier between humans and animals. He sees them as completely different species of animal. I mean fundamentally different because on the animal you can experiment as you wish whereas on the human you can’t. And I don’t see that difference.

What he is saying is that he would accept animal testing experiments. Whereas someone like me and other animal advocates would argue that if you want to improve the health of people you test people. In any case animal testing has been proven to lack efficacy because it’s very difficult to transfer animal tests into improvements in human medicine.

And in any case, there are alternatives nowadays such as modelling using computers and other technology. But I’m digressing. Why should Ian Wilmut think that it is criminally responsible cloning human? He is saying that if a person cloned a human they should be prosecuted for a crime and be put in jail.

Cruel to clone humans but not animals?

That seems very extreme to me. Is he saying that it is cruel to clone a mammal? In which case he’s been cruel to sheep. So why hasn’t he been prosecuted for animal cruelty? I don’t think he is saying that it is cruel to clone a mammal and if so, why is it criminally irresponsible to clone a human?

Slippery slope

Perhaps he is saying that if you created clones of people, you would be on the slippery slope to something which more may lead to very dire consequences. It may be the thin end of the wedge towards an Armageddon scenario over which non-cloned humans had no control. That I think that is his argument.

It is a similar argument to artificial intelligence and the demands by many people to create regulations worldwide to control it as there are many people who think that AI systems could create an Armageddon type scenario the human race.

In science causing animal suffering is okay but not for humans?

But if he thinks that cloning a sheep has medicinal benefits then surely it is not beyond the powers of humans to clone people and use that system for medicinally beneficial purposes? I think he was concerned about the difficulties of cloning and the fact that it might create unhealthy clones who suffered.

In that case, if I’m correct, he sees human cloning as irresponsible because it would cause suffering but he is able to accept that suffering in animals that he cloned. And this is about speciesism and the “us” and “them” argument that humans always bring up namely that it is okay to abuse animals or cause suffering in animals but not to do it to people. And this goes to the root of our relationship with animals which allows a humongous amount of abuse and exploitation of animals over the centuries and which still goes on today.

Peter Singer quotes have clarity

Peter Singer the Australian moral philosopher has this to say about animals in this context:

There is no doubt that there is a huge difference between human and nonhuman animals. But what we are overlooking is the fact that nonhuman animals are conscious beings, that they can suffer.

Peter Singer

Animals, or at least those who are conscious and capable of suffering or enjoying their lives, are not things for us to use in whatever way we find convenient.

I have never really been fond of animals. I certainly wasn’t an ‘animal lover’ when I became involved in the movement. I just came to be persuaded that animals should be treated as independent sentient beings, not as means to human ends.

As you can see, I disagree with Sir Ian Wilmut and agree with Peter Singer. I think Singer has a better brain and clearer thought.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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