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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Human cloning laws, human dignity and the poverty of the policy making dialogue

Timothy Caulfield

Author affiliations

Faculty of Law, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, Canada

Health Law Institute, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, Canada

Health Law Institute 4th Floor, Law Centre University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H5, Canada

Citation and License

BMC Medical Ethics 2003, 4:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-4-3

Published: 29 July 2003



The regulation of human cloning continues to be a significant national and international policy issue. Despite years of intense academic and public debate, there is little clarity as to the philosophical foundations for many of the emerging policy choices. The notion of "human dignity" is commonly used to justify cloning laws. The basis for this justification is that reproductive human cloning necessarily infringes notions of human dignity.


The author critiques one of the most commonly used ethical justifications for cloning laws – the idea that reproductive cloning necessarily infringes notions of human dignity. He points out that there is, in fact, little consensus on point and that the counter arguments are rarely reflected in formal policy. Rarely do domestic or international instruments provide an operational definition of human dignity and there is rarely an explanation of how, exactly, dignity is infringed in the context reproductive cloning.


It is the author's position that the lack of thoughtful analysis of the role of human dignity hurts the broader public debate about reproductive cloning, trivializes the value of human dignity as a normative principle and makes it nearly impossible to critique the actual justifications behind many of the proposed policies.