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Cloning: Copying the Self?



Can the self be cloned? Where does the self reside: brain, body, or somewhere else? Is a clone a perfect copy? If cloning can be done, should it? These are questions which are becoming widespread since the 1997 cloning of the sheep, Dolly, in Scotland. I have thought about this before, but not in as much depth as I have been thinking about it lately. The public media would lead us to believe that the cloning of human beings is imminent. However, in looking at some articles from the New England Journal of Medicine, I have come to a different conclusion.

First, I will look at some questions raised by the Critical Thinking at the end of Module 3 in Rod Plotnik’s Introduction to Psychology (1999, p. 64).


The self is the thing within a human being that makes them distinct from other human beings. A person’s personality, preferences, dispositions and inclinations would be involved in the self. One possibility is that the self is part of the brain. This would mean that if your body was mutilated beyond recognition, your brain could be implanted into someone else’s body (for example, someone brain-dead), and you would still be you. If the self is part of the body, then you might have some memory, at least physically, of being the other person. The third possibility is that the self is not contained in either brain or body, but is a sort of overarching entity encompassing both brain and body in some way. This could be called the soul.

Considering that all of our sensations are interpreted by the brain, the first possibility is certainly believable. Humans do have what is known as “muscle memory.” This is, a person’s muscles “learn” how to do certain things automatically, without the person having to constantly think about doing them. But although it could be thought that this memory is in the body, all memory is actually in the brain. So-called muscle memory is actually a working of the subconsious mind. Therefore, if your brain were implanted into another’s body, their muscle memory would have disappeared with their brain.

There are also arguments for the second possibility. After all, people can be identified by their DNA. Does this not mean that the self is contained in the DNA structures of the body? Since certain traits of intelligence and personality are hereditary, through DNA, perhaps the identity of the hybrid person of the above scenario would be defined by the body instead of the brain.
This brings up the question of cloning DNA. If a person could be cloned, how does that affect the sense of identity and self?


There seems to be a consensus in the medical world that a clone is not an exact copy. Even though the DNA is identical, a person’s identity is made up not only of physical and hereditary formulas, but of the environment and combined experiences of his life (Eisenberg, 1999). A natural example of this is identical twins. Identical twins come from the same egg and share DNA structure (Cole, 1997). However, they are not exactly the same in personality, disposition or preferences. Often, they are quite dissimilar. Adding to the argument, twins generally grow up in the same environment—clones would not. It would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for a clone to be an exact replica of the original person.

There are numerous other medical arguments against clones being exact copies, but I will not go into them here. Suffice it to say that if a human clone were created, it would not be exactly the same as its DNA donor.

But there are ostensible reasons for cloning besides the replication of “desirable” people. These include improvements of the human race, children for couples who are infertile, replacements for children who have died, and creation of organ donors for the dying.


Some have advocated cloning as a way to help out the evolutionary process by weeding out the weak and duplicating the strong. Even from a non-Christian viewpoint, this is a dubious possibility. This would have the effect of restricting genetic diversity—that is, with more and more clones, we would have fewer and fewer distinct DNA patterns, creating a danger of inbreeding and mutations (Eisenberg, 1999). As a Christian, I do not believe that there is an evolutionary process at all, and by trying to improve the human race artificially, we are playing God—and that job is already taken.

A possible more acceptable possibility is the cloning of DNA for infertile couples to be able to have children. This merely provides an alternative to in vitro fertilization. However, cloning would be asexual replication of one parent whereas in vitro fertilization is sexual reproduction combining the DNA of both parents (Annas, 1998).

The last two ideas almost made me physically sick when I first heard them. Both of them (replacing children who have died and creating organ donors) take away all individuality, dignity and worth from human beings. The first says that it does not matter if someone dies, because you can have a copy made—just like off of an assembly line. The second says that clones, although they are people, have no value other than to donate their organs to save the lives of “real” (i.e. naturally born) people.

It seems to me that cloning has no plus side and many minus sides. All of the articles I found in the New England Journal of Medicine agreed. Basically the only reason that doctors will clone human beings is because they can.


Cloning obviously does not duplicate the self, but creates a new and different human being, with its own personality and dignity. I have no doubt that despite the warnings we have from fictional books (Brave New World, etc.) and certain members of the medical community, the cloning of humans will happen. When it does, we must remember that clones deserve the same treatment as other human beings, even though their creation was different.

However, cloning is fundamentally taking the work of God into human hands. People have loved to play God ever since the Fall, and this is simply a very drastic form of it. No matter how much we may think we are able to create another person, it is God who breathes life into all of us.


Cloning would have to have a profound impact on the psyche. Probably people would be cloned because of some outstanding characteristic(s) that he or she might have. Would this not create terrible psychological turmoil in the clone? Children with famous parents often feel as thought they are identified with their parent and have trouble finding their own identity. Would not a clone have an infinitely greater sense of frustration?

Considering the question of cloning to replace dead children or to provide organ donors, think how this would make a clone feel. “I only have worth because I am like this other child who is dead.” He would have no sense of intrinsic worth. “I have been created only as a harvesting-ground to save other people.” Granted, this could be construed as heroism, but does not heroism call for at least the consent and usually the action of the hero? Human beings cry out for individual worth and dignity. Cloning threatens to take this away.



Cole, K.C., (1977). "Upsetting Our Sense of Self". Los Angeles Times. In Plotnik, R., Introduction to Psychology, 5th Ed. (p. 64). New York. Wadsworth, Brooks/Cole.

Eisenberg, L. (1999). "Would Cloned Humans Really Be Like Sheep?". New England Journal of Medicine, 340

Annas, G.J. (1998). "Why Should We Ban Human Cloning". New England Journal of Medicine, 339


This paper originated as a paper for General Psychology, Missouri Baptist College, Spring, 2000.

©2000 by Jandy Stone