- When Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute announced the successful cloning of a sheep from the mammary cells of an adult female, the world reacted with intense emotion. Experiments in cloning had been going on for at least forty years. But the arrival of Dolly1 made it clear that human beings would soon have to face the possibility of human cloning — and it has been this idea, far more than the reality of animal cloning, that has caused public anxiety. To many if not most of us, cloning represents a possible turning point in the history of humanity. Some view the prospect with alarm; some with disgust; some with joy; some with grief for the life we used to have, and will shortly have no longer. Some, too, are calm and matter-of-fact about the entire affair, urging us to let science take its course before we conclude that dreadful things are at hand. But almost everyone is asking questions.
- What is all the emotion about? Human beings have always been afraid of their own creative power, and the idea of man-made life was scary long before science was in any position to think of procedures that might make it reality. The Greek god Hephaistos, god of artifice and metalworking, cleverly stocked his workshop with robots, making anthropomorphic metal creatures to be his slaves and lighten his burden. He fashioned tripods that could move of their own accord, rolling off to the assembly of the gods and back again, “a wonder to behold.” Stranger still, he also created young women out of gold, “just like living girls,” with “intellect” and “voice” and even “strength,” to help him in his labors. These agile workers were human bodies without regular human souls, children without parents, neither human nor bestial nor even divine. To the Greeks already, then, the idea that there was a “natural” way of reproducing, and that creatures who bypassed that route were a little peculiar, came quite easily, without science to back it up. Not that the gods and heroes were without their own peculiarities, choosing such strange means of birth as being released from the forehead with a hammer (Athena), being sewn up in one’s father’s thigh (Dionysus), getting children out of some decayed old dragon teeth that happened to fall into the fertile earth of Thebes (the Theban “sown men”), and even, with a simple economy of means, masturbating into the fertile earth of Athens to create a nation of male clones without bothersome mothers. (The Athenians were thus, in their own civic mythology, a nation descended from male clones, very proud to have no jot of the female in their makeup2.) The gods, in short, were clearly not convinced that nature had ordained just one way for human beings to be born, and they tirelessly experimented with new technologies. But gods and heroes are free from many constraints that they impose on mere mortals. Prometheus got his liver eaten out by an eagle for giving us fire, thence metalworking and other creative arts; and the idea that new arts are all new transgressions, each bringing divine punishment in its train, is a very old idea in Western thought about what it is to be human.
- The scientific advances of modernity, however, gave these anxieties new intensity and specificity. The idea of a life-form made in a laboratory that would ultimately destroy its creator underlies the horror of Frankenstein, a tale made profound by the monster’s noble simplicity and its victimization by the “normal” among us. The idea that we might make a human being without a soul was a source of horror; equally horrible, however, was the thought that we might make a being who did have a soul, but who, by virtue of its strange origin, would be doomed to live without love. More recently, the immensely popular film Invasion of the Body Snatchers associated abnormal man-made life with the soulless automata that Americans saw when they imagined a life under Communism. The people who came out of the pods were, in effect, clones of the people whose lives they took over. They looked like us, and kind of talked like us. But they didn't like jazz, they never got angry or frightened, and when you kissed one of them, then you really knew what fear was. Sex, freedom, anger, being American, and music were thus lined up on one side; abnormal origins, totalitarianism, soulless passivity, being foreign, and non-music were carefully arrayed on the other. What’s to choose? We have to stop them, before they stop us. These are some of the nightmares and fantasies that underlie the intense outpouring of negative emotion in response to Dolly's life. We want to know what human cloning would mean for the children born in this way. Would they really be creatures without souls, not fully human? Even if they weren’t, would we treat them this way? What would cloning do to the parent-child relationship? What kind of lives could, or would, clones have? If we could choose the genetic makeup of a child, would unconditional love for children become rarer than it is now? And what would the option of cloning do to us more generally? Would we stop wanting to have sex? Want sex only for superficial self-gratification? Or would we go on wanting to express love and friendship through sex? Would people’s sense of partnership even lead them to prefer natural children to clones, since they would be the mingling of the genetic equipment of both parents? What is the relationship between cloning and our various religious traditions?
- Who would choose cloning — the infertile, the narcissistic, people with a loss they want to make good, people with a grudge against humanity, people who hate chance? Whom would they choose to clone? Themselves? Their favorite basketball star? Hitler? Gandhi? Mozart? And what would become of our world, with dozens of Hitlers running around, opposed by hundreds of Gandhis? Could we make it better? Wouldn’t it almost surely be made worse? And what about basketball and music — surely they wouldn’t remain the same either. It’s comforting to think of dozens of Mozarts and Beethovens, since music seems to be one of those goods that expands without limit, and admits of no diminution through excess. But what about a National Basketball Association filled with teams of Michael Jordans (with a Scottie Pippen and a Dennis Rodman on each, we may hope, or fear, and a Phil Jackson coaching everyone)? Would that still be the same game? Or wouldn’t the limits of the human body against which talented athletes strive lose their meaning when we could just make another Michael Jordan any time we wanted to?
- These questions can be posed by science, and science can give us the real facts, telling us that many of the possibilities we envisage are very unrealistic. We attempt to outline the basic facts about cloning here, and in a way that will be easily intelligible to non-specialists. Thus, the distinguished scientists in this volume remind us that clones occur already in nature: identical twins. They also remind us that nature’s form of cloning hasn’t yet produced horror movie scenarios, except in horror movies. Science can also shed a great deal of light on a much-discussed issue, the interaction of genetic endowment with environment, and scientists may remind us — as do several writers in our first section here — that a clone is probably going to end up very far indeed from being the same person, even farther than are identical twins with separate upbringings, given that clones will also be born into different generations. In these many ways science can set us straight about what questions we should really be asking.
- Science, however, doesn’t give us the answers to the ethical, political, social, and religious questions raised by cloning. These answers need to be worked out, ultimately, in the course of public debate. But the humanities and the social sciences can help us lay out the options in a clear way, and give us some good arguments to ponder. Our second section brings together a group of commentators from a variety of social perspectives. They think about the relationship of cloning to the psychological development of children; to our most basic feelings about our bodies and their products; to feminism and to homosexuality; to myths of the dangerous or useful double.
- Our third section turns to normative argument in ethics and religion. The authors analyze the major ethical arguments that bear on the decision whether human cloning should be permitted and ask what insights several major religious traditions offer us about the strange future we may face.
- In our fourth section we turn to issues of law and public policy, as specialists in economics, sociology, and law think about whether governments should allow human beings to be cloned. They also discuss the implications of cloning, and any bans on cloning, for children and actual or prospective parents; for the freedom of scientific inquiry; for constitutional debates about privacy and equality; for the position of existing citizens who challenge current social attitudes about sexuality; for the fertility of the species; and for other ethical issues concerning the family. Some of the arguments of this and the previous section played a role in the controversial report of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, whose recommendations we reprint here.
- But cloning, so far, is still in our future. Like the Greeks, therefore, we also feel the need for fiction and fantasy, to map out some alternative futures for us with the imagination’s flexibility and precision. We therefore end with a poem and three short stories — one by a writer of science fiction and two by fiction-writing philosophers. Deliberative, elegiac, horrifying, and happy, these pieces map the trajectory of our sentiments about cloning, even as they ponder its possibilities.
- See Wikipedia: Dolly the Sheep.
- Dolly was born on 5 July 1996, so was still fairly recent news when this Introduction was written in October 1997.
- These quotations (not indicated as such) are from Nicole Loraux The Children of Athena: Athenian Ideas About Citizenship and the Division Between the Sexes, Princeton, 1993.
- They refer to the mythical Erechtheus. I’ve not been able to validate this claim either from
→ Wikipedia: Erechtheus or the more detailed
→ Rappold - Erechtheus (Oxford Classical Dictionary)
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