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The Pod People Gingerly Approach

Genetic Cloning Kits

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 26, 1997.

Today, we have reason to view each other with some unease, for the Pod People approach. Sure, we’ve been baking off proto-children in test-tubes before inserting them into willing wombs for years, but now, we are only a few years from having the ability of duplicating ourselves exactly.

As you no doubt know, Scottish doctors finally found the woolly genetic Xerox capability and have the duplicate animal to prove it, dutifully shown on television. They do this, apparently, by pre-shaving the genetics going into eggs. The egg grows naturally, and save stress within the womb, each lamb can be exactly the same, physically and emotionally. Sheep only come in one size, brain-wise, which is near dead, so it is not like science could make them smarter or stupider.

In England and France, scientific types announced that they had been doing similar stuff with goats for some years, and no new science had been required to produce the Scottish lamb. So there, haggis breath.

The lamb and its successors are designed not so much for the food and wool industries as they are for incubators of human medicines, allowing vaccines to be produced more cheaply. Nevertheless, journalists have helpfully pointed out that human genetic duplicates cannot be far down the road, something science has apparently known for years since a full grown sheep is not all that different, genetically - we think - from a human. Estimates suggest that a human Xerox is only a few years down the pike, if that.

Imagine. Now, not only can infertile couples with enough cash defy nature and provide us with badly needed children, but can provide us with exact duplicates of themselves! Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine encountering duplicates of someone you hate - me, for example - in various stages of growth throughout your life. It will, however, make socializing easier. “Honey, lets have the thirty-four year old Ethel over for dinner. She’ll still be vivacious without the dewlaps. We can have the thirty-seven year old Fred over, too. He doesn’t know he’ll be bald in a year. Should be fun.”

And won’t the Montgomery Burns of the world have a blast, replicating themselves forever?

My question is, would this be any different than an exact twin? Is there something genetically closer? I don’t believe there is, so we’ll just have to proceed with that assumption. I know several sets of twins, none well, and although physically I am often confused, I don’t know if I could mistake them in prolonged conversation for each other. I am not aware that their personalities are all that much closer than normal siblings are. They are so different that I cannot say that genetics play any large role in the development of individual personality. I keep reading about how twins are so close they can be separated and still feel, physically, the other’s emotions. If true, I also read the same things about parents and children, husbands and wives, public and politician. Whatever the bridge is there, it doesn’t seem to be genetic, merely the closeness of shared joy and trauma.

So, for that reason, clones do not scare me, we have had clones throughout our existence, and they have not managed to terrify us or to act predictably. The only difference now is that we would have the ability to produce, infinitely, our twins. It would be just like producing four children at once, saving three for later.

It does not scare me except for this: it will be an expensive procedure, a womb will be needed, and we are overpopulated now. The image of rich, vain, and bored people hiring the wombs of foreign, underage women to reproduce themselves exactly is, well, not much more frightening than things are now, when you think about it.

In short, this great advance, for which government and industry have declaimed requires ethical guidance and moral lessons, seems to me only an incremental nudge beyond where we are now, with the sperm banks, surrogate wombs, fertility drugs, and lawyers. Whatever future dawned after the Scottish lamb was born, it seems neither darker nor more foreboding. The color of the sunrise was altered years ago, when we decided that the limitations of natural reproduction could be end-runned.