The Public Interest

Slavery plus abortion

Diana Schaub

Winter 2003

ON the cover of Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of  the President’s Council on Bioethics is the image of a fingerprint. It’s an inspired choice, for the fingerprint, as Leon Kass’s “Foreword” says, “has rich biological and moral significance.” The fingerprint is at once emblematic of our common humanity and our individual uniqueness. No two are alike; even identical twins have distinct fingerprints. Presumably a cloned human being also, as a sort of delayed-entry twin, would not be a perfect repeat, at least not all the way down to the tips of her fingers. DNA is not the whole of our nature. It is, however, a good deal of it, and the question raised by recent scientific developments is whether and how much we ought to stick our fingers in it. Ought we to put our own impress upon the means by which human beings come to be? As Kass points out, fingerprints are the marks left by our grasp on thingsma grasp that is sometimes illicit. This is why the police know as much about fingerprints as scientists do.  And it is why the decisions to be made about cloning are properly political decisions. It belongs to citizens and legislators to police the bounds of the human grasp, to determine what may be manipulated, manhandled, and doctored, and in what ways. While the liberty of the mind is by right absolute, actions may, with justification, be restricted or forbidden. 

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