META: The Problem with Cloning

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Sun Aug 31 01:49:19 PDT 2008

Human cloning presents a lot of scientific, moral and legal problems,
both in terms of the real world and in terms of fiction.  I'm mainly
concerned with how clones have been delt with in fiction.

Clones in movies are usually seen as evil.  (See The Sixth Day, Star
Wars: Episode II, The Boys from Brazil, Star Trek: Nemesis, Godsend,
Judge Dredd, Superman: Doomsday and Embryo.)  Other times, the issue
is treated relatively sympathetically.  (See Anna to the Infinite
Power, À ton image, Blueprint, Replicant, Aeon Flux, The Island, The
Clonus Horror, If, Able Edwards, Metal, Jaane Hoga Kya and
Photographic Memory.)  Still other times the premise has been played
for laughs (See Repli-Kate, Multiplicity, Seeing Double, The Clones of
Bruce Lee, Licensed to Love and Kill and Austin Powers 2 and 3.)

I haven't actually seen all twenty seven of these movies but I've seen
thirteen of them, which is almost half of them!  Some of the movies
actually go into detail about the cloning process.  (Blueprint, for
example: I saw it recently in German with Chinese subtitles.  The
woman wanted her doctor to impregnate her with her own clone and a few
scenes were devoted to having the doctor explain the cloning process
to her.)  In most of the movies I've seen, however, cloning is treated
as someting that doctors are magically able to do: most clones in
movies appear as full grown adults for heaven's sake!

Cloning isn't just science fiction: the first animal (a sheep) was
cloned in 1996 and since then horses and bulls have been cloned; you
can actually pay to have a dog cloned in Korea and the FDA has now
approved the sale of meat from cloned animals.  Basically, cloning
differs from sexual reproduction in that the egg (from the mother) and
sperm (from the father) each contain half the chromosomes that an
adult has whereas cloning invloves taking all the genetic material (ie
the nucleus from one cell) from one parent and implanting it into a
woman's egg (with its own nucleus removed) and then implanting this
artificially fertilized egg into a woman's womb.  The woman donating
the egg and the woman carrying the clone to term need not be the same
person.  Indeed, the egg doner, logically, would be someone who
doesn't want to ever have children and would be willing to sell her
eggs and the surrogate mother would be someone who loves being
pregnant so much that she would be willing to carry someone's clone to
term.  I imagine within the next ten to twenty years we will know of
at least one human clone and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't
someobody who was already born.

One thing about cloning in movies that pretty much is science fiction
is the artificial uterus, ie the gestation tanks seen in Logan's Run,
Star Wars: Episode II, Tomorrow's Child, The Matrix, The Island,
Species, The Sixth Day and various amines (Gundam, Neon Genesis
Evangelion and Battletech).  Or is it?  In the year 2002, Dr. Hung-
Ching Liu of the Cornell University Center for Reproductive Medicine
and Infertility announced that she had, in fact, created an artificial
uterus.  The Center is not legally allowed to carry a baby to term in
an artificial uterus however.  After all, what are the odds that the
baby would come out normal?

Similar research was being done by Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara at Juntendo
University in Tokyo untl he died in 2000.  His plan was to have a
fetus grow to full tem outside of the mother: the mother would carry
the baby for seventeen weeks and then the remaining twenty two weeks
of growth would take place in the tank.  The idea would be to reduce
the dangers associated with giving birth to a full gown child.  (See ).

Clones in movies are usually made into full grown adults.  Presumably
this means placing a fetus into a gestation tank, pumping the tank
full of "growth hormones" and allowing enough time for a full grown
adult clone to develop.  This "adult" would not be able to read and
write or even talk and walk, however.  The Island was relatively
accurate in this regard: the instant walking-talking clones in The
Sixth Day were absolutely ridiculous!

The fact that most of what you see in most of these movies is, in
fact, possible. makes one wonder about what the legal implications of
cloning would be.  I suppose the biggest question would be the rights
of the surrogate mother: in most countries, the woman giving birth to
the child is considered the child's mother, regardless of where the
baby came from.   Compensated surrogacy arrangements are illegal in
Washington, Michigan, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and New York but legal
in California, Oregon, Texas and Arkansas.  Commercial surrogacy is
also illegal in Canada, France, New Zealand and the UK but legal in
Georgia, India, Israel, the Netherlands and Belgium.  Thus, your clone
would not be _your_ clone depending on where you had the procedure

The above scenario would be different if a woman were carrying her own
clone or if a man had his wife carry his clone (say, for example, if
they couldn't otherwise conceive) in which case the only question
would be the moral one.  Ignoring for a moment the ludricrous question
of whether or not clones have souls or not (because clones would be
human beings just like twins are human beings), there's the fact that
cloning would be pretty much hit and miss: with regular in vitro
fertilisation ("test tube babies") the success rate is only 27% (33%
leading to pregnancy but some of those ending in miscarriages).  Some
may question having three fetuses die so that one baby might live.  By
comparison, a 2000 study published in the found that women by the age
of 45 have a 75% chance of miscarriage (See, a risk factor
eight times as great as for women aged 20-25.  One would imagine the
success rate for cloning would be less than that of regular in vitro
fertilization but there's no way to know in advanced what that rate
would be.

Another question would be, say, if a woman wanted to carry the clone
of a famous actor or actress.  Would there be enough women (if any)
interested in such a procedure for it to become a viable business?
Would they continue to sell the cloned embryos after the donor is
dead?  Or what if they could actually produce adult clones like they
do in the movies?  Would any famous supermodels want to have
themselves cloned so that they could continue to get an income after
thet are too old to model themselves?  And if you could clone somebody
and get that clone out into the world and working as a model, wouldn't
that violate child labour laws?  Isn't your age calculated started
from when you are born regardless of how old you look?  I guess
there's not much point cloning porn stars then.  Bummer.

With in vitro ferilization, often more than one embryo is viable but
only one is used.  The remaining viable embryos are frozen.  An on
going court case in the UK (See
) has a divorced couple fighting over frozen embryos: he wants them
destroyed (because he doesn't want to become a father now that he and
his wife have split up) but she wants to go ahead with the procedure.
There are currently 500 000 frozen embryos in the United States and it
is legal to donate a frozen embryo, say to a couple who cannot
conceive by themselves.  Embryo donation would be legal just as sperm
donation and adpotion are legal.  So what would be to stop one from
donating an embryo that was a clone?

Of course, in such a case, one would lose all rights to the embryo.  I
would imagine part of the fun of having yourself cloned would be to
watch it grow into a younger version of yourself, which is basically
one of the reasons why men frequently want to have sons whereas some
women would prefer to have a daughter.

In movies like Photographic Memory, The Island and The Clonus Horror,
clones are basically bred to be slaves, with the latter two movies
having the clones created for no other reason than as "spare parts"
for "real people".  If a clone were created as a fully grown adult, it
could not function as an adult and would either have to attend regular
kindergarten, some sort of special school for clones or else they'd
spend the rest of their lives as uneducated second class citizens.

Of course, a clone's mind would eventually mature so having clones
living as slaves in society simply wouldn't work.  One of the stories
I had in mind for Superfreaks was that a man would kill his wife and
then clone her only to find that her clone would eventually be as much
of a nag as his wife was.  When the clone ended up dead, the police
became suspicious of his wife's death and reopened the case and were
eventually able to charge him with killing his wife twice.  I never
wrote the story because, frankly, if there was evidence that he had
killed his wife then the police would have been incompetent for not
arresting him when his wife got killed.  I know this sort of thing
happens in real life (ie a man kills his wife, remarries and kills his
second wife and the police charge him with both crimes) but I do think
it makes the police look bad.  Anyway, the point is that there's no
point cloning your favorite porn star in the hopes of having a "sex
slave" to play with.  Again, bummer.

Ah but there's hope for all the young perverts out there!  Last
November, Waseda University in Japan introduced a robot that can
"cook, talk, obey verbal commands and use its soft, silicone-wrapped
hands -- each equipped with 241 pressure sensors -- to interact with
humans" and there's a company in Japan, Axis, which is producing life
sized robots "made from surgical-grade silicone and resin, and
equipped with voice-emitting sensors in each breast". Pinch the
nipples, and Cindy (or Soari or Maria, depending on the model) "will
react with a squeal and whisper pre-programmed sweet nothings in one's

I don't know.  It just wouldn't be the same.


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