Ranting about clones

Ever since that fellow in Scotland announced that he'd cloned a sheep, I've heard an amazing amount of nonsense on the subject. So have you, probably, though you may not have identified it as nonsense. This is one of the places where reading science fiction helps: we got to worry about all this stuff decades ago.

The main thing we know so far is that, at least with sheep, it's possible to clone a new one from an adult cell. This doesn't seem to be possible with mice--they've tried. And nobody knows if it's possible with humans, or what it would mean if we could do it.

Personally, I don't think we need clones of humans. I also don't think we need in vitro fertilization, fertility drugs, or sperm banks for humans. There is no shortage of human beings. But, by the same token, I don't see anything wrong with any of these approaches. Humans are a species of animal, and many of us have a strong drive to make more animals like us.

This is probably a good area in which to proceed cautiously: proceed cautiously doesn't mean dynamiting the bridge before we cross it. We should sit down and think, as calmly as we know how, about what cloning might mean, and how we should deal with it. For example, would it be possible to clone individual organs? Wouldn't that be nice? Salvage a few cells from a damaged liver or heart, and grow a transplant that your body wouldn't reject.

That's nice, safe, and medical: organ transplants are now a routine part of our thinking, and few people still object to them. Cloning humans is the big question. A lot of people seem to object by reflex. I'm guessing it's a reflex because the arguments don't make a lot of sense to me.

The most popular anti-cloning argument, being offered in the newspapers by people who are being interviewed because of their previous experience as governor of New York, or other irrelevant things, is that it would be egotistical to want to make another human being like you. Okay, it would. Having a child is also egotistical, for exactly the same reasons. And that's not necessarily a problem. The same people who would try to turn a clone from one of their cells into a carbon copy are the ones who do the same thing now, to children born the old-fashioned way. We don't know how much of who we are is genes and how much is environment, which there'd be no way to duplicate. I'd like to find out. Someone was also arguing that it would be wrong to make a clone to replace a child who'd died. Funny, I think that's a standard consolation people offer to parents whose children die, that they can have another and then they'll feel at least a little better. Children are already born for a variety of odd reasons--what reason can you really give for having children, or not having them, that isn't primarily emotional?

And then there are the people who say cloning is against God's will. I don't happen to believe in that God, but for those who do: it says right there on the label that he's omnipotent. That means that he can do anything he wants. If God really doesn't want us to clone humans, he won't let it happen. If, 100 years from now, we have flocks of cloned sheep, and jungles full of cloned monkeys, and zoos full of cloned tigers and leopards, but no cloned humans, we can talk about God's will. There's no need to restrain our curiosity out of fear. Audre Lorde pointed out that our silence and our fear will not save us: we can be good boys and girls all our lives, however we perceive that, and we still won't live forever. Cloning won't let us live forever either, but it might make the world a more interesting place.

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