The United States is galloping toward the inevitable: the cloning of a human being.
An Austin, Texas company, ViaGen Inc., has cloned two horses, and has future plans to clone a hundred horses per year. Some people are quite excited about a future of fun and profit with this technology, but there is one aspect of cloning that I fear is a drastic misconception, and one that we won’t understand once it’s too late.
For one example, some people think it would be a jolly good time to have ten Michael Jordans on the basketball court, or two Muhammad Ali’s in the ring.
Ah yes, but if you cloned Muhammad Ali, for example, would you necessarily end up with a boxer with a skill level of “The greatest of all time”? I have my doubts.
Not long ago, a pet-cloning company called “Genetic Savings and Clone” in California created two cloned cats. The company said that the clones, Tabouli and Baba Ganoush, were similar to the clonee, Tahini, in every way, perhaps even including the propensity to suffer a first-name-induced nervous breakdown when driven near a Lebanese restaurant.
That news came just a couple of years after researchers at Texas A&M successfully cloned a domestic cat, named “Copycat.” The researchers had already cloned a pig, a bull and a goat, and now, odds are, they’re working on duplicating a can of Carpet Fresh.
There are several things about the quest to clone that I just don’t understand. Maybe, in a way, I don’t want to.
Some scientists say that the cloning of the cats, for example, goes far beyond some frivolous scientific game just to see if they can do it. Cats have a feline variety of AIDS that they say would be a good model for studying AIDS in humans. Okay, but still, why spend countless years and millions of dollars tinkering with complex genetic code when they could just put out a can of tuna outside their door?
Somehow, somewhere, cloned humans are on the way in the U.S., but the justification for the creation of clones is where the argument runs into problems.
Many scientists say we could be saving our own lives by creating embryos of ourselves with perfectly matched cells to be implanted in our bodies, with the healthy cells overriding our diseased cells. Detractors say that creating embryos to save our own rear ends is nothing but cannibalism. The pro-cloners say that the embryo isn’t a person at all. The anti-cloners say it is. Clonemayto, clonemotto.
Perhaps the most hideous of cloning scenarios is the possibility of cloning ourselves so that someday we could be our own organ donors. If you have a clone that knows he’s around for that purpose, chances are he’s sleeping with the lights on and a tire iron under the pillow.
How’s that going to work, anyway? Will we be at a baseball game with our clone, turn to him during the seventh inning stretch, and say, “Sorry bud, but I’ll be needing that heart and liver now” and expect him to just hand it over? Besides, if we were genetically identical, wouldn’t he have a bad heart and liver, too, assuming he had the same taste for fried cheese, bratwurst and vodka tonics?
We often assume that our clone would be just the original in every way. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case, be they horses, boxers, or anybody else. Genetic predisposition can be altered by environment. If you cloned, say, Ted Kennedy, chances are the clone would have the same features, but despite all the genetic similarities, life doesn’t live in a vacuum. Environment can trump genetic preprogramming. Just because Ted’s clone would be a genetic duplicate doesn’t mean that the clone couldn’t turn out to be thin, Republican, and able to drive safely across a bridge.
The next time somebody says, “Imagine how far we could advance the world if we could clone Einstein or Copernicus,” remember that cloned copies of these geniuses, due to upbringing and environment, could turn out vastly different.
Under the wrong circumstances, Einstein’s clone could be intellectually and physically lazy, getting up off the couch only for “gettink zee beer and zee Prinkle chips,” and Copernicus’ clone might only use his mathematical ability to figure out how many Nextel Cup Series points Sterling Marlin has (482 at the time of this writing — you’re welcome, Copi).
The converse is also possible. What if our clone somehow ends up a bit smarter than we are? If we created a clone to have a perfect match from which to farm livers and kidneys, and your clone is a bit craftier than you, guess which one of you may wake up one morning missing bodyparts?
Human cloning could be a slippery slope for many reasons. When you horse around too much, eventually somebody gets trampled.