The child-of-the-famous, parent-child resemblance, the "replacement" child, and the namesake analogues are the most relevant by analogy to anticipating expectations of a clone. If the progenitor is a person other than the clone's rearing parent—someone the parents consider ideal, such as a lost loved one—would they expect or even insist that the child be just like that person? Such expectations could be both conscious and unconscious and enacted transferentially.
Crucial to expectations concerning clones is the fallacious assumption that close resemblance or even genetic identity causes or is a sign of personal sameness.15 The expectation that empathy between progenitor and clone would be enhanced may well be an example of this fallacy.
Empathy or "vicarious introspection"16 should be superior between an identical self and other. But even though genes and their expression are vitally important, a person’s self and genetic identity are not the same, just as close physical resemblance or bearing an identical name do not make two people the same.
Dr Segal tells us that identical twins tend to feel especially close and attached to one another, but this is not exactly the same as empathy. For the sake of argument, let us suppose that possessing a genome identical to his clone would, in fact, bestow on the progenitor an enhanced ability to understand the child. Would this necessarily be to the child's benefit?
Such parents might be less likely to admit the possibility of error, emulating a common pattern with narcissistic parents. They presume to know what and how their child thinks and feels without ever bothering to find out.
Of course, an individual choosing to self-clone might well be narcissistic to begin with. However, a parent's knowledge that his child is a genetic self-replica might accentuate any parent's propensity to enact narcissistic transferences toward the child. Such transferences are incompatible with parental empathy.17,18
Whatever the case may be, any understanding held with conviction can overwhelm a child, whether it is true or false. And of course, such a conviction itself imposed on the child would not be empathic.
But even superior parental understanding most empathically applied might not be advantageous for the child clone. The child might be better off in the long run with a parent, who, in Winnicott's terminology, is simply "good enough."19
A clone's expectations of himself would hinge only partially on knowing that he is a clone—his understanding of which is likely to evolve over time. But even if his clonal status has not been divulged to him, or if he so young that he barely grasps the idea, there is another equally important factor: whether the clone's parents consciously or unconsciously try to shape him to conform to the expectations they have of him as a clone.
Reason for caution
In conclusion, psychological problems based on a child's status as a clone would not be a given. However, it might be very hard for a parent to resist inducing psychological "clone-ness" in the child. After all, a desire for a genetic replica of the self or a particular other would probably be part of what would have drawn the parent(s) to cloning in the first place. Parents rearing a clone would be highly likely to perceive and relate to that child as if he were someone else.
That said, it would not be impossible to parent a clone well, and if Dr Segal is right, there could even be some potential advantages. However, the parenting of a clone would present challenges over and above the usual challenges of parenthood. If cloning should ever become another ART, let us hope that those interested in it carefully examine their motives. Perhaps insights gained in psychotherapy might lead them to explore other paths to parenthood and if not, to better manage their transference propensities toward the child.
The prospect of human cloning puts a number of fundamental psychological assumptions and concepts in a new and seemingly alien frame. For this reason, it has the potential to provide fresh perspectives, not only on the issues it raises, but also on the situations and phenomena serving as analogues to it. There is a need for psychological research on these situations and phenomena designed specifically to better anticipate the psychological consequences of cloning. In her Viewpoint, Dr Segal shares some fascinating ideas for a few such studies.
In the meantime, even if the medical risks could be substantially reduced, it would be foolhardy to introduce asexual reproduction as a new ART. Though no single psychological analogue of cloning is thoroughly convincing, taken together they do suggest that a clone would be at increased risk for psychological harm. It would not be in a child's best interest to be linked genetically to only 1 person. Such an exclusive linkage could well put the clone's psychosocial development at risk.
Only in sexual reproduction are genes contributed from two individuals and uniquely recombined in the offspring. This fact may well be the basis for enough, but not too much, parental investment in a child.11
Dr Levick is clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia and author of Clone Being: Exploring the Psychological and Social Dimensions (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). He reports no conflict of interest regarding the subject matter of this article.