FW: Slate on cloning (really funny)

Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Sat, 1 Mar 1997 16:30:15 -0800


The Week/The Clones
How Dolly Was Designed
Cloning, Nature, and Nurture

Hitler the Philanthropist, Clone Your Wife, and other tales from a
week of media clone madness. A Newt in Every Home?

By William Saletan

<Picture: T>his week, a Scottish scientist confirmed that he had
cloned an adult sheep. He insisted that his only goal was to improve
sheep's milk--about the level of imagination you'd expect from a guy
who wrote his doctoral thesis on the freezing of boar semen.
Nevertheless, the news has inspired journalists, pundits, politicians,
and ordinary citizens to propose far more radical applications. Here
is a roundup, starting with the most mundane.
1. Animals as drug factories. Cattle would be genetically
engineered and then cloned to produce drugs to treat human diseases.
The drugs would appear in the animals' milk--and who knows what else.
The engineering part of this is well underway; the cloning might take
just a couple of years.
2. Animals as food and clothing factories. Meatier pigs,
woollier sheep, cows that give more milk. Farmers have been doing this
forever through selective breeding. And "forever" is how long
selective breeding takes. But once we know the right genes and how to
clone the animals, we can mass-produce the perfect pig immediately. No
more screwing around. The catch: Uniformity is a weakness. If every
pig has the same genes, one virus can wipe them all out. And if we
miss a good gene, we might inadvertently clone it out of existence.

<Picture: Clickable image map> 3. "Natural" health food. This
combines ideas 1 and 2. We could manufacture pigs with less fat, cows
that make low-fat milk, and chickens that lay low-cholesterol eggs.
4. Animal eugenics. This is like the preceding ideas, except
that it aims for physical perfection beyond utility. Horse racing is
the obvious example. The popular fantasy is that cloning will reduce
this to a contest of genetic manipulation (as though it weren't
already). Experts note that the opposite is true: Once the perfect
horse is cloned, the race boils down to how each clone is raised and
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 5. Animal experiments.
Cloning allows these experiments to be perfectly controlled, by ruling
out genetic differences that might cause the animals' responses to
vary. One idea is to produce identical animals, give them an
environmental disease (say, AIDS), and test various treatments on
them. Another is to clone an animal that already has a genetic
disease, then test therapies on the copies. Identical sheep with
cystic fibrosis seem to be a common fantasy. It's so much easier to
manufacture wheezing sheep than to find them. And if you don't have a
wheezing sheep, you can make one by inserting the bad gene into an
embryo, and then cloning it. Animal-rights advocates, and even normal
people, find all this horribly cruel. But defenders point out that
since cloning reduces the chance of experimental error by eliminating
genetic variation, we wouldn't need as many test animals.
6. Animal-to-human transplants. This is a short step from No.
1. Instead of engineering a pig to produce drugs that will fortify
your liver, we'll engineer a pig whose liver can be "harvested" to
replace yours. This requires fiddling with the pig's proteins so that
your body won't reject its liver. Four companies are working on this.
Enhanced pig organs have already been transplanted into primates.
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 7. Saving endangered
species. Kids love this idea. Adults, too. No more guilt over cutting
down forests full of spotted owls.
8. Resurrecting extinct species. This is a short step from No.
7. For years, scientists thought adult DNA was too degraded to yield a
successful clone. Now that they've been proven wrong, they're saying
DNA from a dead cell is too degraded. Or, at least, that the dead
tissue would have to have been frozen. We know where this is going.
Requisite literary allusion: Jurassic Park.
<Picture><Picture><Picture: Hello, Dolly>Hello, Dolly 9.
Preserving and resurrecting pets. This is a short step from ideas 7
and 8. It's just more personal. You can't stand to let Rover go. And
thanks to cloning, you won't have to.
10. Human fertility. Say a couple wants kids, but the husband
finds out that he's sterile. Their doctor offers to remove an egg from
the wife, fertilize it by replacing its contents with the husband's
DNA (taken from a blood cell instead of a sperm cell), and return it
to the wife's womb, where it will grow into a healthy baby. Otherwise,
the couple will never be able to have a child related to either of
them. Would you permit them this one chance at happiness?
Congratulations. You've just authorized human cloning.
Or, consider a lesbian couple who can have a) a child
genetically copied from one partner (through cloning), b) a child
genetically unrelated to either partner (through adoption), or c) a
child genetically copied half from one partner and half from a male
third party (through the traditional technique) whom the child will
perhaps never know. Should the first option be illegal while the
second and third are legal?
Some analysts have observed that sexual orientation
notwithstanding, this practice would render men superfluous to the
replenishment of the human race. Pundits are divided as to whether
this would be a) an offense against God and nature or b) the greatest
thing since mammograms.
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 11. Preventing genetic
diseases. This scenario is similar to the one described under idea No.
10. A woman has a catastrophic genetic defect. Should she be permitted
to bear a child using only her husband's DNA? Or should the law forbid
that--while allowing her to produce, by natural means, a doomed child?
12. Cloning human organs. This is a more advanced version of
idea No. 6. Instead of stealing a pig's liver, you clone your own.
When your old liver stops working, you have it replaced with the
healthy, cloned liver. The pig is relieved.
13. Human eugenics. This combines ideas 4 and 11. Giving your
daughter lungs free of cystic fibrosis is good. Giving her the lungs
of a diva or a champion swimmer is better. Even now, using in-vitro
fertilization, doctors routinely create multiple embryos from a
couple's DNA and implant the ones that look strongest. Cloning would
allow the production of many more embryos. Doctors could then try to
fix or improve certain genes in each embryo, and implant the embryo in
which the "operation" seems to have worked best.
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 14. Preserving and
resurrecting family members. This is an extension of idea No. 9. The
commonly discussed scenario involves a dying newborn whose parents, by
cloning the child, can essentially turn the clock back nine months and
give the child a second chance at life. The next question is whether
you'd grant the same second chance to a 1-year-old, a 2-year-old, etc.
Or whether you'd forbid cloning a newborn just because it stopped
breathing moments before doctors could begin the cloning process.
Eventually, this line of questioning gets around to bringing back
Grandpa. Requisite literary allusion: Frankenstein.
15. Self-replication for its own sake. This is like idea No.
10, except that your motive isn't infertility. You just love yourself
so much, or crave immortality so desperately, that you insist on
creating a new person, or maybe a whole bunch of people, exactly like
you. Pundits and average citizens agree on the script: A rich
egomaniac evades anti-cloning laws by hiring a black-market lab on a
tropical island, the same way he'd skirt taxes by using a bank in the
Bahamas. Requisite literary allusions: Future Shock and In His Image,
a 1978 novel (purporting to be a true story) about a billionaire's
attempt to clone himself.
Analysts see two problems with this idea. Problem No. 1: Rich
egomaniacs are the last people the world needs more of. Among those
singled out by the media: Dennis Rodman, Donald Trump, Madonna, Lee
Kwan Yew, and Newt Gingrich, whose spokeswoman told the Wall Street
Journal she'd like to put a clone of Newt "in each family's home."
(Bill Gates told the Journal he didn't want to be cloned because it
would violate "the uniqueness of the individual.") Problem No. 2 is
that your clone would share your genes but would grow up with separate
environmental inputs and would therefore turn out different from you.
On the bright side, this solves problem No. 1.
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 16. Replicating living
or dead geniuses. This combines ideas 13 and 14. The Chicago Tribune
points out that a sperm bank is already selling the semen of Nobel
laureates. Popular nominees for cloning: Jesus, Mozart, Lincoln,
Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jordan. All
you'd need from the dead ones, theoretically, is a bit of old bone or
dried blood. Requisite literary allusions: Sleeper (the Woody Allen
movie in which a great leader's nose is preserved so he can be cloned
back to life) and Joshua, Son of None (a book in which Kennedy is
The problems here are the same as before. Problem No. 1: An
evil genius can be cloned just as easily as a good one. Experts figure
that since cloning a genius is madness, madmen and their followers are
the people most likely to try it. Hitler is the obvious candidate.
Requisite literary allusion: The Boys From Brazil. Problem No. 2:
Genes alone won't reproduce the genius. Without the Civil War, Lincoln
won't be Lincoln. Without the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy won't be
Kennedy. But again, problem No. 2 solves problem No. 1. "A cloned
Hitler, for example, might turn out to be a philanthropist," the
Tribune suggests cheerfully.
<Picture><Picture: Clickable image map> 17. Human-to-human
transplants. This combines ideas 6 and 12. Who knows what organ or
limb you'll need to replace as you grow older? The simplest solution
is to clone your whole body. Ethicists note that some parents of kids
who needed bone-marrow transplants have conceived new children in the
hope that the second child can donate marrow to the first. The
"donor," of course, is below the age of consent. And a clone's organs
are even better than a sibling's, since they're guaranteed to match
the recipient genetically. As with idea No. 15, the best arrangement
is to have your clone grown and frozen in a black-market lab on a
tropical island. Whatever you need--perhaps a new spleen or
pancreas--will always be handy. Requisite literary allusion: The
Picture of Dorian Gray.
18. Multitasking. If you'd rather not stand in line, show up
for work, or serve your time in jail, send your clone instead.
Requisite allusion: Multiplicity, the movie in which Michael Keaton
clones himself so he can handle simultaneous obligations. One little
boy interviewed this week suggested this would be a great way of
creating a decoy if you're a spy or a soldier.
19. Cloning slaves. Some writers have suggested this, but it
makes no sense. Who needs cloning? The old-fashioned ways of acquiring
slaves are easier: Buy them, subjugate free people, or have kids.
20. Cloning sex objects. This makes more sense. Once you know
what you like in a hunk or babe, why put up with imperfections?
Perhaps you're reluctant to dump your spouse. If so, an average guy
interviewed by the Tribune offers a compromise: Clone your wife, and
re-experience the younger version.

"The Week/The Spin" contributor William Saletan is writing a book on
the politics of abortion.

Photograph of Dolly from Reuters