Our inaugural matchup: Pie vs. Larry Joe! Remember, the Survey Monkey will be open for 24 hours here.
The question as it was posed to them:
PieInTheSky:What does “an individual has absolute ownership of his own DNA” truly mean? Keeping with the premise, we can assume the DNA can be seen as a form of IP.
What is DNA? DNA is simply information, data. It is codified in a certain way in organic matter, part of all living things, but, in the end, it is information.
What is a human? Is an individual just information? I argue against that assumption. An individual is defined as more than just information. A 23andme database does not have the same moral value as the human who spat in a tube. And while we can delete the database, we cannot delete the human. Your DNA does not define you fully. Who looks at a person and sees some DNA?
A human is an independent sentient biological organism, directed in development by DNA and environment and random chance. From a libertarian perspective, a person’s moral value goes well beyond the bits of data codified in DNA. No one says “all unique DNA configurations have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. A human has a body, a mind, a consciousness, self-awareness – these are the basis of moral consideration. It does, in fact, contain DNA information, but it is much more than the information in itself. The moment a clone is made, it is an independent organism with the above characteristics. While the biologically stored information is the same as the original, the being is separate. The DNA is incidental at best. Personhood is not defined by unique stored information, and as such a clone is not its DNA, so it is not under the ownership of the original DNA donor. There is no reason to think they would be.
Contributing information does not give you right to kill. While children are solely composed on the DNA of the parents, it does not mean the parents can simply jointly decide to kill them at any point through life. DNA data configuration is not relevant in decisions of personhood.
Surely some would say, “to create a human life simply to kill it is certainly immoral and murder!” They may be correct with regards to the morality of such an action; but ought it really be considered murder?
The main defense of this most libertarian of libertarians, wishing to kill a piece of himself for sport, is that we already exclude from murder many classifications of killings of humans. Self-defense of one’s own (or another innocent’s) life is a widely recognized right and justification for killing. Defense of one’s domicile, as reflected in numerous “castle” laws placing the burden of proving malicious intent on the state, is another. In a legal sense we often distinguish murder from manslaughter, typically lacking the “malice aforethought” required for murder. Finally we reach the two most relevant distinctions, those with a murkier moral position and greater social disagreement: suicide and abortion.
The general libertarian perspective of bodily autonomy is supportive of the right to self-determined suicide; it is in essence the ultimate example of such a right. The act of suicide itself is legal in most of the world, with support for assisting a person in committing suicide gaining support in some U.S. and Australian states, Canada, and some European countries, depending upon circumstances. While many may morally oppose committing or assisting in suicide, there is a growing legal movement toward decriminalization.
Abortion is a divisive issue with a long history of being considered a moral offense.
In contrast to the moral considerations, note that abortion is legal (up to various stages of gestation) without a justification in nearly every country in the Northern Hemisphere. Even one of the crowning jewels of classical liberal legislation, the United States Bill of Rights, is interpreted as protecting the “fundamental right” to abortion under the “penumbra” of the right to privacy. The Bill of Rights faces enough attacks; must we libertarians undermine it too?
Given the numerous exceptions to human killing being considered murder, it seems presumptuous to assume that the killing of a clone must be considered such. If one has complete authority over one’s DNA, how can the government justifiably restrict actions taken to property created through that DNA? How can one justify the killing of a fetus, up to the point of partial delivery, without also permitting the killing of a clone created expressly for that purpose? The moral character of a psycho clone killer is certainly up for debate, but for the government to consider him a murderer is a bridge too far.