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COLUMN

How to Mastermind A Cloning Hoax

Guest Column
Gabriel Weinberg

Here is one way Clonaid could pull off a hoax of this magnitude. Suppose ova were extracted from a mother 20 years ago, and one was used to produce a baby via in vitro fertilization in 1978. Before implantation, the embryo is usually eight cells. Suppose it was divided by Clonaid (in the laboratory), creating two unborn identical twins. This is essentially what happens after conception (in a woman) when natural identical twins form.

Next, suppose that one of the twins is implanted into a uterus, and is eventually born healthy. The second embryo is frozen and remains frozen for twenty years until it is implanted into the now twenty-year-old first twin. When the woman gives birth to this second child it could seem as if the child was an artificial clone of the mother, but in fact the child would be the mother’s identical twin.

This scenario is an example of how Clonaid could get an independent panel to verify that they have artificially cloned a human being. It’s a perfect scam.

It raises two questions for me: pragmatically, why would Clonaid try to scam the scientific community and general public? Ethically, if the child is in fact a clone and she turns out to be healthy, what is the problem?

The first question attempts to decipher motives of an obviously strange cult, a mission as hopeless as an attempt to decipher motives of irrational despots like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il. If Clonaid believes they are not going to get called out, which seems likely, then the question becomes: why would Clonaid clone a human at all?

The most obvious answer is publicity. Other answers could involve the groups’ secret charters and grand plans supposedly handed down from aliens. A more subtle possibility includes being taken more seriously by the scientific community, thus opening the gateway for resources such as grants and collaboration. After all, they didn’t need to form a company (a credible entity) to clone a human.

The more interesting question is ethical. Suppose that Clonaid has figured out a way to artificially clone humans in a relatively risk-free manner that results in healthy babies. If Clonaid hasn’t actually accomplished this feat, then some group will within a few decades (at most). Next, suppose that these healthy cloned babies could turn out to be as well-adjusted as any other subset of the population. The result is simply more people in the world who arrived here in a slightly different way than the rest of us. So what? As long as we treat them under the law just like everyone else, I see no reason why artificial cloning is unethical.

Two potential problems come quickly to mind: outlandish schemes such as creating body part farms from clones; and the first wave of clones proving unhealthy because of an unperfected technique. The first problem should be eradicated by legislation, just as it should be illegal to have a child for the express purpose of using its kidney. The second problem is real but irrelevant once a cloning method has been perfected to our desired standard.

Furthermore, what just “seems wrong” about clones? So they have almost the same DNA. We all have almost the same DNA. Clones will be a slightly closer genetic match to each other, just as I am a closer match to my sister than to a random stranger.

However, I can see cloning impeding the pace of human biological evolution. Since clones bypass our traditional reproductive process, they have less a chance for genetic variation than those babies created through normal reproduction. Yet again this hardly matters since the time scale of biological evolution is millions of years, a timeframe made irrelevant by our cultural evolution through the passage of oral and written history.

If Eve (Clonaid’s code-name for their supposed clone) really is a clone, I wish her well. If she is indeed healthy, then the least of her problems are her genes. Her real problems are that she was born into a cult and that the rest of the world will look at her differently even though she isn’t very different.

Gabriel Weinberg is a member of the Class of 2001.