There Ought to Be Clones

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This is a letter to my next "self," and maybe to multiple "selves." I've assumed that I'll be cloned eventually, that my clone will be cloned, and so on. Because such iterations are like a scientific variation of reincarnation, it's only proper that I try to pass on the accumulated knowledge of a lifetime. It would be nice if you future Todds have some idea of what the first one learned, to give you a head start (you won't, needless to say, share my memories or live in an environment identical to mine). In particular, you deserve insight about the narrow-minded political forces that sought to prevent your very existence forces that may plague you in your own time.

Not that there was ever any way they could stop cloning, short of bombing every laboratory on the planet.

But first I'll correct a mistake: I shouldn't call you all "Todd." Even if I name the first of you "Todd," there's no reason to believe that Todd, Jr., will make the same decision. Faced with different environmental influences and a different culture, he might not even choose to have himself cloned. Even if he does, and even if he likes the name "Todd," his wife may prefer another name; cloning, after all, entails childbearing.

Or Todd, Jr.'s wife may bear several of you within his lifetime, in which case you'll almost certainly have different names. Although "Todd Seavey III" is a possibility, I doubt your parents would willingly affix numbers to the same first name. Parents of triplets don't. I further suspect that no parents in your time will christen their child "Number 6" or "THX-1138."

So I assume I'm addressing people with different names, different histories, and depending on the degree to which nurture outweighs nature somewhat different personalities.

My initially calling you all "Todd" is just one small example of how quick we are in my time to consider clones perfect carbon copies. Genetically, you are virtually identical to me. Identical twins are more identical genetically, yet their existence doesn't inspire the fits of outrage and paranoia that the prospect of human clones inspires in 1997.

Fools Rush In

Within hours of the announcement of the cloning of a sheep, the pundits of the left and right a thing of the past by your time, I trust were spinning out nightmare scenarios about how humanity would likely abuse cloning technology. Trapped between pro-religion and pro-regulation forces, our culture's consensus on cloning right now seems Luddite.

Few of these nightmare scenarios make sense. Consider the following headlines:

Iraq Clones Army!

Probably you're thinking: They were afraid of Iraq? But that's another issue. Apparently, the fear is that the ability to make "copies" of people will inspire dictators to churn out countless clones of their soldiers and use them to attack other nations. The question that seems never to occur to people is: Why would a dictator want to clone soldiers? He'd have to wait more than a decade for the clones to grow up; and encouraging conventional childbearing, promoting enlistment, drafting more citizens, and/or hiring mercenaries would be far more costeffective. People afraid that the Iraqis will clone an army should be more afraid that Saddam Hussein will encourage Iraqi wives to get pregnant. But pundits never raise the possibility of such encouragement as an argument against childbearing.

Since China has been known to treat humans as expendable resources, I presume that, in the minds of anti-cloning pundits, the Chinese are ripe for the production of clone armies. Yet it is highly unlikely that China would embrace cloning when it's been so keen to restrict the old way of making people.

People Without Souls!

I won't pretend to know how people draw clear-cut conclusions about things on which they have no observable data. Why must a clone lack a soul when identical twins twins formed by cell division that occurs after conception supposedly have one each? I suspect that some religious people, especially those of an authoritarian bent, just make this stuff up as they go along, depending on what seems most likely to increase the impression that human life is sacred.

How do they know that God doesn't send souls earthward whenever and by whatever means the proper combination of DNA and egg occurs? Or that the soul doesn't enter a sufficiently developed brain during gestation, regardless of how that brain originated?

Some materialist heathens might even characterize the soul as a metaphor for, or as a function of, neurohormonal processes.

But, regardless of one's religious or irreligious views, there is no more reason to call you clones soulless than to say that humans conceived in climate-controlled buildings are less human than those conceived in log cabins. People are people, regardless of how the DNA strand got into the egg. Maybe you're laughing about people today worrying that you have no soul. Or perhaps, offended, you're using terms like "clonophobes" to denounce your critics (though I doubt it's in your nature to respond that way, since it's not in mine).

Living Organ Banks!

The approach of human cloning so rattled one of our pundits, Rush Limbaugh you may not have heard of him that he made seemingly opposite statements about it in a radio broadcast: First he bellowed, "You'll never be able to clone a human soul!" implying that human clones will necessarily be subhuman. Minutes later he mocked the possibility of producing mindless clones for organ transplants, insisting that producing human bodies entails creating minds and personalities.

In any case, there are easier ways to obtain organs for transplantation. If one wanted to be fiendish, one could take them from ordinary human slaves a reason, of course, to forbid slavery, not cloning.

The question of whether producing brainless humans is ethical applies just as much to childbearing as to cloning and therefore cannot be used as an argument against cloning. The debate over whether a pile of human tissue without a brain is in any sense a person is certainly worthwhile, but it is separate from the issue of cloning.

By the time we can grow brainless, mindless clones, we'll probably also have the technology to grow specific tissues for transplantation without going through all the trouble of creating anything resembling a person. Whether Rush will object to creating livers without souls or say that even livers have souls and shouldn't be tampered with, I will not try to predict.

The End of the Institution of Marriage!

Some women already think they barely need men, as sperm banks and the great number of single mothers attest. And, again, it's easier to get pregnant the conventional way than to have DNA artificially placed in an egg. Besides, most women still like having men around. So there's no logical reason to expect that cloning will accelerate marital breakdown or make men redundant.

People Become Mass-Producible!

The birth mother must carry the developing clone for nine months. That Dad needn't be in the room during conception hardly strikes me as a major reducer of the labor-intensiveness of reproduction.

Evil Dictators Cloned!

Most dictators are largely products of timing and circumstance, not innate genius. Without specific, "well-timed" environmental factors, Hitler (as the classic thriller The Boys from Brazil reminds us) might have ended up an obscure painter. I am perfectly comfortable with the prospect of someone who looks exactly like Saddam Hussein running a business in downtown Baghdad (several dead ringers for him already are).

Forget Saddam

While the potential adverse effects listed above are far-fetched, cloning does have a decided upside:

"Replicating" a deceased child

Since cloning does not replicate memories, the best "duplication" results will be achievable with children, whose experiences are more repeatable than those of an adult. Such a clone wouldn't erase a child's death, but I won't be the one telling mourning parents they have no right to try "starting over."

Multiple versions of admired geniuses and, for good or ill, pundits and supermodels

It would be interesting, for instance, to watch "sextuplicate" pundits debating one another.

The chance to pursue separate interests "simultaneously"

Don't have time to pursue the career in visual arts that you once considered? Or has your investment-banker position left you no time to hone the archery skills you exhibited as a child? Well, someday we may encourage our clones to divvy up lifestyle options and follow all the paths we might have chosen. This is realizing one's potential!

Love Thyself

Of course, human cloning is sure to create new problems, though not those typically talked about. The likely problems include:

Arguments over whether one has property rights in one's own genetic code

Will scavengers clone you from skin or hair cells?

Running into the "same" egomaniac several times

If I were an egomaniac, I'd make as many of "myself" as possible. And surely someone will use the narcissist's new ability to love "himself" physically as a bad argument for prohibiting the cloning of homosexuals.

Efforts to curtail children's rights

If one pays for the cloning of a genius, one will probably want to reap some benefits. Today no one can be bound for decades by contracts their parents signed. Some people may try to change that and, ironically, they may feel encouraged by conservatives who imply that human clones will be soulless and subhuman.

In the March 13, 1997, issue of Catholic New York, John Cardinal O'Connor stated:

A clone is not begotten, but manufactured. To "beget" is to continue the creation of human persons. To manufacture is to produce not persons, but things. Where will the soul come from in the cloning process?

And O'Connor apparently thinks he's staving off the callous, dehumanizing attitudes that might result from cloning!

Back to the Future

I just want you in the future clones and nonclones to know that not all of us in the twentieth century were afraid of every strange innovation that came along. Not all of us felt we needed to control the world through governmental or religious authority.

Of course, those who lash out at cloning also condemn other technological innovations, occasionally with the help of filmmakers. One of our most popular movies, Jurassic Park, depicts biotechnology not as a means of making food superabundant or of creating new medicines, but as a potential source of killer dinosaurs. The novel on which the film was based explicitly laments the lack of regulation in this area.

Next, people may object to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's development of cybernetic limbs or to the Human Genome Project. Some will surely condemn nanotechnology the engineering of reality at the molecular level when it arrives. They'll say, "Humans were not meant to create new elements," mountain ranges, etc.

But that's still a long way off. In the meantime, many of us are keeping a close eye on our sheep and are prepared, as you no doubt are in your time, to protect them against wolves.

Periodicals that have published Mr. Seavey's work include Chronicles, Liberty, National Review, New York Press, and Spy. An extra "self," if he had one, might like to write science fiction.

(From Priorities, Vol. 9, No. 3)