Monday, March 3, 1997

Week of 03/03/1997

Hold me, Kiss me, Thrill me, Clone me
The good and bad about cloning
- by David Matthews 2

This past week all the rage was about cloning. A sheep was cloned in Scotland, and just this Sunday American scientists announced that they were able to clone a monkey.

This has, quite predictably, caused an uproar about the ethical reasons behind cloning. And let’s face it, we have been filled with horror stories about cloning from "The Island of Doctor Moreau" to comedies like "Multiplicity." Even two comic book legends - Superman and Spider-Man - were cloned more than once.

Some people have even entertained the notion that "we’re not ready" for cloning. Look, when WILL we be ready for cloning? When we’ve entered some futuristic utopian society? I think I can safely say that there will NEVER be a time when we will be "ready" for cloning - even in some apocalyptic future where we have to clone ourselves in order to save the human race from extinction. I really don’t think this is one of those situations that we can really be "ready" for - only deal with as it comes along.

So let’s get to some bare facts about cloning, shall we? Let’s start by hypothetically cloning myself - a clone of David 2 that we’ll call David 2A.

To begin with, although David 2A will be genetically identical to me, it won’t really be a copy of me. There are some physical differences that my theoretical clone won’t have, such as scars from surgery and accidents, torn ligaments and muscles from a high school accident, and even his dental patterns won’t match mine because of the extractions, filings, and crowns in my mouth. He may have my slightly superior eyesight and my singing voice, but he won’t have the ears that have been blasted from too many concerts and stereo speakers cranked up too high.

My clone would not have my history either. How we grow up and how we see the world are an important part of our personality. Think about it. I was born in 1966 - with memories of everything that went on for thirty years. Things my parents did, things I did, things that happened in the world were all unique to that period of time and cannot be duplicated. My clone - using today’s technology - would be born in 1997. David 2A would be growing up in a completely different world than me. Even if he were to be raised by my parents, they would be parents who are completely different now than thirty years ago.

So let’s suppose we could clone me, and accelerate David 2A so that he would be starting out thirty years old, with all my memories and experiences. And let’s further suppose that he be given the exact same surgical scars, blasted hearing, dental patterns, and torn ligaments as I experienced. Would he then be an exact copy of me?

No he wouldn’t. Because there is something else that is unique that isn’t part of history or biology - and that is our personal likes and dislikes. This is the random part of ourselves. Who is to say that David 2A will like science fiction? Or anchovies on his pizza? Or cats? Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll like country music, dogs, and cheese-only pizzas. Maybe after watching his parents smoke for twenty years and spending years dealing with people who smoke that my clone decides to take up smoking. Maybe instead of being a libertarian he decides to go back to being a die-hard republican? Or worse - how about a born-again militant Baptist spouting delusions that make him sound more like David Duke and not David Matthews 2? It’s this randomness that helps make up who we are that can’t be duplicated.

And that leads me to an interesting theoretical question - would David 2A have a soul? Major religious figures - including the Catholic Church - are pro-life but are anti-clone because they believe that man should only reproduce the old-fashioned way. But does that mean that clones would not have a soul? That somehow they would be considered less than human? If we’re not careful, we could end up with another civil war over clone rights.

Ethical questions notwithstanding, there are some benefits to cloning. Consider the number of endangered species that could be saved by cloning them. We could bring back the buffalo and the whale from near-extinction. Breeders won’t have to worry about pedigree if they want to duplicate their dear prize-winning purebred cat or dog - just clone them. (I’m waiting for the pedigree breeders to balk about this.) Being able to clone people can also lead to genetic engineering that can help us remove certain diseases or disorders. Imagine what we could do if we could determine the gene that causes baldness or obesity or some mental conditions. We could alter those genes and clone people who would be free of those defects.

But whatever the reason, it’s irrelevant for us to say we’re not "ready" for cloning. It’s here. It’s also silly to suppose that now the genie is out of the bottle that we won’t try to clone humans. If we can clone monkeys, I’m sure cloning humans is only a test-tube away.

Look, the last time we stuck our heads in the sand about a significant scientific discovery we ended up with the atomic bomb. And if we really want to prevent the genetic equivalent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening we need to first accept the fact that cloning does exist, it is possible, and realize that nothing aside from personal ethics will stop someone from cloning humans. And once that’s a reality, we need to think about what makes us who we are - is it biology, history, our personal tastes, or a combination of all of them?

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