Attack of the clones?
The announcement (still not verified) that a cloned baby has been born seems likely to produce the usual handwringing about Brave New World and technology running ahead of the law. In fact, while it will be almost impossible to stop human cloning, my assessment is that the net social impact will be close to zero.
The basic premise for this claim is that hardly anyone wants a fundamental alternative to the traditional method of conception. All the popular applications of human reproductive technologies have involved making the traditional method work more reliably – either by enabling infertile couples to have children or by preventing the transmission of genetic defects.
Conversely, most of the supposed ‘Brave New World’ applications have been feasible, using low-tech methods, since the dawn of time, or at least since the basics of genetics became properly understood around a century ago. The only widespread example of genetic selection has been the use of amniocentesis, followed by selective abortion, for sex selection. This is just a marginally modified version of selective infanticide, though for some, the differences are crucial. A similar point applies to the most likely non-therapeutic use of cloning, to permit lesbians to have children without male intervention.
With these marginal exceptions, interest in human applications of genetic engineering, both high-tech and low-tech, has been close to zero. From attempts at promoting eugenic breeding in the early 20th century to the ‘genius’ sperm bank of the 1980s, hardly anyone has been interested in improving the genetic quality of the species, and particularly not if it involved removing their own genes from the pool (of course, as the famous Darwin awards attest, many of the less-fit manage to find creative ways of removing their genes from the pool before reproducing).
Coming back to cloning, if a science-fiction version of cloning were possible, producing exact adult copies of a given individual, there would probably be men rich and egotistical enough to go for it (I can’t imagine women being interested). But I doubt that many men would really want an identical twin thirty years younger than themselves, and whose inevitably disappointing behavior can’t be blamed on anyone else.