Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Send in the clones

So now they're talking about cloning humans, and who do you think is lining up to be the first experimental prototypes? Megalomaniac bad guys in need of Mini-Me's? Eccentric millionaires seeking immortality? Evil dictators looking to create genetically perfect armies?

Nope, although those folks are probably watching the story closely. Who we really find out there on the bleeding edge of science is a whole lot of infertile couples looking for one more way-out-there option in their quest to conceive. And boy, have they found one.

The Italian doctor who's causing the current cloning furor is an infertility specialist previously best known for helping a 62-year-old woman become pregnant. He sees this whole path to reproduction as just a nice way for infertile men to become fathers without having to use somebody else's sperm. How much better to just lift your own DNA and implant it in an egg?

According to a Reuters report, some 700 couples are lined up to participate in the experiment, with more hopefuls turning up every day. So determined are they to have children that resemble themselves that they are willing to overlook the severe ethical questions surrounding cloning.They're willing to put aside fears that the procedure won't work at all, or will produce a severely deformed child. And you can bet that they're willing to shell out a whole lotta lira.

You can also bet they don't watch many horror or sci-fi movies, because man, people, you don't just go cloning yourselves. Nothing good will come of this.

I'd like to say I can sympathize with people who just want so badly to have a child. I've certainly been there, though I've never been there -- at that place where you will do anything, anything, regardless of cost, life disruption, messing with Mother Nature. My husband and I stopped fairly early in the infertility-treatment process. That process already goes further than it ought to, and now it's just going to go right off the deep end.

So as I say, I'd like to sympathize, but I can't. I'm deeply uncomfortable with this notion that everybody has a sacred right to create a mini-them, no matter what it takes. I'm uncomfortable with it on moral grounds, and I'm uncomfortable with it on the grounds that there are lots of perfectly lovely children already born who could use some parents but don't have the bucks to clone them a set. What happens to them when everybody's out Xeroxing their offspring?

If cloning works, and becomes the instant answer to everybody's infertility needs, it will be a tragedy for waiting children. And if it doesn't work, or work well, it may create a whole new class of needy children, born out of a bad idea and saddled with special needs we can't even imagine. Really, do we need to be that desperate?

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