Cloning and the LGBTI Family: Cautious Optimism

Introduction

Despite innovations in assisted reproductive technologies in the latter half of the twentieth century, individuals and couples in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community who wish to create families that include children face many hurdles in both law and informal practice. The cloning of Dolly the sheep from an adult somatic sheep cell in 1996 signaled the possibility of new opportunities for members of the LGBTI community to have genetically-related children with minimal reliance on third parties. Cloning is thus heralded as a solution to some of the obstacles the LGBTI community faces today.

The suggestion that cloning might enable non-heterosexual couples to produce offspring has triggered debate both inside and outside the LGBTI community. Much of this discussion centers on the potential dangers and benefits of this new technology. Yet important legal and political questions about the funding and regulation of cloning research are bound up in these philosophical and moral debates. The U.S. government currently bans the use of federal funds for such research. While President Barack Obama overturned the former presidential administration’s ban on embryonic stem cell research for cell-based regenerative therapies, he has made it clear that he will not support lifting the ban on research related to reproductive cloning.

In this article, I argue that, because reproductive cloning may offer the LGBTI community the chance to have genetically-related children, bans on federally funded research that would help refine and ensure the safety and efficacy of these procedures unconstitutionally deny LGBTI people a right that is not denied to similarly situated opposite-sex couples, who enjoy generous support from the state in their efforts to conceive either “traditionally” or by using assisted reproductive technologies. I contend that these barriers to cloning research are in large part the result of fear-mongering, misinformation, and confusion. The promise of this new reproductive technology challenges the normative regulation of sex and reproduction in our society, threatening both “traditional” family structures and male dominance. Perhaps because of this, discussions about the potential harms of cloning have escalated to become, in some quarters, a masked rhetoric for homophobic assertions that cloning-particularly when used by the LGBTI community or by other “nontraditional” families-will undermine the traditional heterosexual family structure. In the midst of broader, arguably less politicized debates over the safety and ethics of cloning, homophobic and traditionalist arguments have gained legitimacy. Some opponents of cloning claim that the practice will adversely affect the welfare of society in general and cloned children in particular, especially if those children are born to gay parents. Others suggest that cloning will be detrimental to future generations by diminishing genetic diversity, and that cloning will allow the LGBTI community to deliberately produce gay offspring in order to “preserve their kind.” In making these arguments, opponents present cloning as a practice that drastically departs from natural reproduction and is therefore inherently suspect.

These arguments lack merit or empirical support and are grounded largely in homophobic assumptions. In the face of this fear-mongering, I present a more realistic and systematic assessment of the potential benefits cloning offers to LGBTI individuals. I argue that, while cloning does pose some potential risks that must be taken seriously, it can provide many benefits to society as a whole, and to the LGBTI community in particular, if properly regulated by law. The LGBTI community might be well- advised to consider lobbying for increased funding and regulation of cloning, in hopes that new technologies may make it possible to create alternative family options and new forms of kinship.

While I argue that cloning would offer great benefits to LGBTI individuals, it is important to emphasize that many LGBTI families are satisfied with the current ways available for creating families. Further, my argument is not intended to privilege or encourage genetic relations over other forms of kinship. Rather, I argue that the choice to be genetically related to one’s children should be available equally to LGBTI and heterosexual people.

Indeed, there are still a number of troubling issues related to cloning that the LGBTI community and its allies should consider. For example, given the expense of the procedure, is cloning a viable option exclusively for those families with the resources to pay for a genetically-related child and therefore only marginally beneficial to the community as a whole? Will having the option to clone place further pressure on LGBTI couples to imitate the heterosexual family, leading to a sense of shame or failure if they refuse to do so? What implications might cloning have for LGBTI rights more broadly? Does lobbying to fund cloning research inappropriately privilege the notion of a genetically-related family over all other family arrangements? Might cloning adversely affect the adoption market, leaving prospective adoptees homeless? If two men wish to clone a child together, they must rely on a surrogate egg donor; will cloning therefore only further perpetuate the exploitation of women to the benefit of gay and transgender women in need of eggs?

The structure of this article is as follows: Part II examines the difficulties that members of the LGBTI community face when trying to build families that include children and concludes that each currently available method of reproduction has some disadvantages, either because they require some involvement of third parties and/or because they do not allow for the creation of a child who is genetically related to both partners. Part III provides an overview of the science of reproductive cloning and summarizes the arguments in favor of cloning generally. In Part IV, I discuss the benefits that cloning offers to different groups within the LGBTI community and suggest that cloning provides new opportunities both for this community and more generally for all couples who seek to reproduce. Drawing on insights from queer theory, Part V examines and critiques the assumptions underlying key arguments against the use of reproductive cloning. In Part VI, I question the constitutionality of a ban on funding cloning research and suggest that a ban on human reproductive cloning may violate the guarantee of equal protection by discriminating against LGBTI individuals. The article concludes with a discussion of the role that cloning should play in LGBTI politics and legal strategy.

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