How would you feel about finding your very own clone in your stocking next Christmas, or rather wearing your stockings? For $130,000 Clonaid, which describes itself as the first human cloning company, will make a carbon copy of you or your loved ones. Eventually, the company hopes to produce a fully-grown clone into which it plans to download the memories and thoughts of the clone’s exemplar. In this way, the group believes it can achieve eternal life.
It all began with Dolly the sheep when scientists predicted that inevitably human cloning was just around the corner. We have had years to become accustomed to the idea and yet, many of us, including politicians, religious leaders and scientists, are outraged, even horrified, by Clonaid’s yet to be proven, genetic coup.
Geneticists warn that clones could suffer from a weakened heart, liver or lungs, be susceptible to disease and meet with an early demise. Clonaid accuses them of envy and negativity with Rael the company’s French-born leader, and head of the Raelian sect, saying that his company’s clones could just as well be healthy and beautiful.
Let’s suppose that Rael is right for a moment. Let’s say that the baby recently born to a 31-year-old American woman is a normal child with a full and productive life ahead. Does this mean that cloning should be accepted as an alternative method of reproduction? If so, what are the possible repercussions?
In the short term, there is the prospect of confused family inter-relationships with the biological mother of the clone also being its grandmother, while the mother, who carried the baby to term and donated her cells and ova, also being the clone’s twin sister. The child is likely to grow up under a media spotlight and could even suffer from being called an abomination, as a British doctor recently described its alleged birth.
Its mother will provide a constant living blueprint as to its probable future. If the mother/sister contracts cancer, multiple sclerosis or heart disease, at some time down the road, the child will be left expecting a similar fate. And how will a mother/sister feel about a child who is her exact copy? Is she likely to have a greater understanding of how the child thinks, feels and reacts? Could she be tempted to merge their identities in her own mind and smother the child as though they were one person?
In the longer term, of course, the male role in the mystery of birth could become obsolete. A potential mother would only need her own reproductive system and her own cells to produce a baby. This could affect the world’s delicate male/female demographic balance as well as the man’s place in society. The nuclear family could completely disintegrate with ‘me and my clone’ taking its place. Human emotion could be altered forever with narcissism reigning supreme.
In the event that cloning became popular, evolution could be slowed down or even halted. Over the millennia we have become less hirsute, our brains have changed size and our physical stature has grown. Most of us are taller than our parents and are likely to live longer. These are just some small examples of how the human race has changed and evolved but if we are simply going to make photocopies of ourselves as we are now, then evolution probably stops here.
If the Raelians actually manage to clone adults, then all kinds of worrying scenarios appear. One person could have, say, 10 look-alikes or more, all with the exact features, irises and fingerprints. If one of the clones committed a crime how would the exemplar and the other clones prove their innocence? Further, what would prevent one or more of the clones stealing the identity of the cell donor along with his social security number, bank account contents and credit cards?
This could prove useful for leaders, for example, who could produce many clones to be used as decoys for would-be assassins. If we put this into an historical context, we might have been delighted if President John Kennedy had had a clone or two but what if there were tens or even hundreds of clones of Adolph Hitler in Europe bent on emulating their evil ‘brother’?
Eventually the human race may decide that they must distinguish between themselves and their clones. How will they do that? An electronic chip implant maybe? A special government-approved tattoo? The enforced wearing of a leg-iron? Clones would become second or third class citizens, or maybe not even citizens. They could, instead, be viewed as mere slaves, existing just to do our bidding.
We could order them to go to work on our behalf when we had a hangover, we could give them our shopping lists and send them off to the supermarket and provide them with mops, buckets and dusters when the house needed cleaning. In countries where conscription is the norm, government might allow clones to report for duty in our stead. Alternatively, modern-day armies could be entirely made up of clones. Imagine battalions of Colin Powells, Peter de la Billieres and Tommy Franks!
In Germany, which is suffering from a dwindling population and doesn’t know how it will pay its pensioners in the future, test tube clones could well provide a working population, obviating it having to import yet more guest workers from third world countries.
We could be tempted to clone our children in case anything happened to them and some animal lovers would no doubt choose to clone a beloved pet. It is possible that people could be cloned without their knowledge. An elusive lover perhaps? A movie star?
The famous and the beautiful would be able to sell their DNA for the purposes of cloning on the Internet. If cloning had been available in the second half of the last century, we can only imagine how many copies of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe would be alive today.
The clones could, and probably would, rise up against their look-alike captors and take over the world. That would probably be easy to do since we would have become fat and indolent by then.
Putting a bridle on our imagination for a moment, there is much support around the world for embryonic stem cell research, which would enable human spare parts to be grown. Such research brings hope to people like Christopher Reeve who has been wheelchair bound since a fall off a horse. He has always been determined to beat his paralysis and walk again with the help of medical science.
Human cloning is prohibited in much of the world, mostly due to ethical considerations. Pope John Paul II and the George W Bush are at the vanguard of the technique’s opponents and have made their views public. Many people consider cloning unnatural, an affront to the Creator and just another step on the West’s road to decadence.
Others point out that if God didn’t want us to do it, then we wouldn’t have been given the ability to do so. Proponents of cloning often cite the brouhaha over the first test tube baby Louise Brown and explain that nowadays thousands of babies have been born thanks to this once controversial method.
One thing is for sure once the doors of knowledge have been opened, there is no turning back. Nuclear energy is the proof of this. Countries can sign up-to as many treaties as are put before them but those bits of paper will not stop them from manufacturing nuclear weapons if they so choose. Nuclear energy can be considered as one of the greatest gifts to mankind when it is used to produce electricity or one of the human race’s greatest blights. It all depends how we use it. The same goes for cloning. We are the final arbiters as to whether such a procedure can be called good or evil.
The bottom line is that we must realize that a clone is a human and although it may not have unique fingerprints, it will still possess its own free will and will have its own destiny ahead. Whoever feels that the technique itself is an abomination should not feel the same way about the clone, born into a hostile world through no fault of its own.
Says Rael: “People are afraid of what they don’t know. They were afraid at the beginning of electricity, of the steam engine and of in-vitro fertilization. It is the continuation of this fear. People are afraid of new discoveries.” Rael, however, does not believe that a clone will have a soul. The cult leader says that he is not religious and does not believe that the soul exists.
On this planet where nuclear powers are flexing their muscles and our world is in danger of being radiated and depopulated, perhaps then the technique of cloning would come into its own and save our species. In the meantime, I for one, intend to treat the process with a healthy dose of skepticism, a modicum of curiosity and an element of mistrust. Whether cloning is ultimately a benefit or a curse only time can tell.
Linda Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org