Cloned human bodies for harvesting would be awesome.

Charles Krauthammer recently wrote an article about the possibility of cloned human bodies, meant for organ harvesting looming on the horizon. The article is largely devoid of substance, basically amounting to not much more than fear of the unknown.

Let's take a look:

"These human bodies without any semblance of consciousness would not be considered persons, and thus it would be perfectly legal to keep them 'alive' as a future source of organs."

"Alive." Never have a pair of quotation marks loomed so ominously. Take the mouse-frog technology, apply it to humans, combine it with cloning, and you are become a god: with a single cell taken from, say, your finger, you produce a headless replica of yourself, a mutant twin, arguably lifeless, that becomes your own personal, precisely tissue-matched organ farm."

This sums up the argument against pursuing this - that we would be "playing god". I would argue that it's no more playing god than creating antibiotics is.

Furthermore, the quotation marks around "alive" are not ominous - they are there because the meat is just meat. It is not "alive" in the colloquial sense - there is no consciousness, no mind. There is no "soul", whatever that is. All it is is cloned meat.

I can see why the imagery of a body in a vat, growing organs waited to be supplanted into humans could strike someone as dark, or even foreboding, but I can not see a moral argument against it - at least not one that holds any weight.

As far as for what the intended argument is (in all likelihood) - that this will lead to immortality OH NOES, I don't see a problem with that. I'm willing to bet that most people will willingly choose to die after a while, and am further willing to bet that this won't grant immortality anyhow. Overpopulation? We're already overpopulated, and have been needing to look towards space colonization for a decade or so (at least) now. Humanity has a whole host of problems ahead of it, and although it could be argued that this cloning stuff may not be the best thing to focus on, it's far from humanities primary focus - and I would view the ability as a net positive, not negative.

I don't see this guy railing against any of the other methods that humans use to fight death.



  1. Hey, you have an interesting blog. I came here from Hacker News.

    I fully agree with you that he has not made any moral argument that would hold any weight with you or I.

    Did you see the recent link at Hacker News (or maybe it was Reddit) about Jonathan Haidt's theory of moral foundations? He and his team claim that all moral rules or intuitions, across all cultures, can be categorized into


    Liberals and libertarians care only about harm/care and fairness/equality (well...this is debatable). Conservatives care a lot more about purity. That is, they regard purity as a valid basis for morality.

    To some people (I think including you and I), things like cloning don't show up as even the tiniest blip on our morality radar. But it's immoral in Krauthammer's mind, and in many others.

    So for this reason, I think there is more to say to them than "fear of unknown/playing God has nothing to do with morality". Instead, the relevance of purity to morality should be addressed directly.

    I don't know what happens next. Can people be persuaded to abandon purity as an element of morality? Or at least to weight it less heavily? That's what the fundamental argument should be about anyway, I think.

  2. @michael

    I just watched the talk, and I agree with a lot of the overarching points in it, but there were a lot of individual points that I thought were poorly made, and it seemed like there were a lot of assumptions stated as fact. I may write up something larger on the individual points made in the talk, but it would take a lot of words...

    There is, of course, more to say than "fear of unknown/playing God has nothing to do with morality", although I didn't in this post - it was more of a reaction than a response.

    I would agree that a part of the "fundamental argument" is whether or not people can be persuaded to abandon "purity" as a measure of morality. I think that they can be, and I think that they are, albeit slowly. I certainly think that it can be presented as a logically sound argument.

    On a higher level, I think that we've just recently (last few decades or so) hit a point in development where our current mindsets, tendencies, our mode of living and organizing for a decent chunk of human history, etc are becoming detrimental towards survival of the species, and that they are changing because of that - but that's a can of worms that I don't have the time to open right now, maybe I'll write up a more thorough hypothesis in the future.

    (looking up at what I just wrote, it appears that I may have a lot of writing to do in the near future.)