Clones: copies or people?

Before I started this class, my concept of what clones would be like was very similar to Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. The clones in the film are created from a Bounty Hunter named Jango Fett, but are modified to make them more compliant. The clones are created and utilized as soldiers to forcefully overthrow the Jedi order. The clones have ranks, just as in any other army, but no discernible difference is indicated that would make one clone a higher rank than another. They are tools used as a means to achieve an end and do not receive very much development in the story. The surviving clones serve as Imperial Storm troopers for the Galactic Empire. The audience is not trained to feel empathy towards the droids in episode one or the clones in episode two when they die in battle. They are not developed as characters, so the audience has no vested interest in whether they live or die. I remember thinking what a brilliant idea it was to use droids and clones in warfare rather than sacrificing real human lives. Since then, I have changed my understanding of what clones would be–not copies, but people.

During one of our first few class sessions, we discussed how identical twins are far more identical than clones would be (they share the same pre-natal environment), but we as a society never question whether or not twins have value as people or whether or not they have souls. Identical twins are unusual and rare, but their humanity is not questioned. In the dystopian novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Michael Bay’s action thriller, The Island, the clones are created to serve as organ donors for other people in society. Both stories draw focus on the human element of the characters. It is only revealed later in each of the stories that the people are clones at all. The stories tug at the heart strings, painting clones as the next discriminated against group. In The Island, the clones try to escape their fate and succeed with the help of a genocide survivor named Albert Laurent. In The Island, Lincoln meets his sponsor, Tom Lincoln, the person he was cloned from, and highlights the difference in their characters. They are both human with the same genetic material, but not the same person. In Never Let Me Go, the clones only have each other and cling to those relationships. They know about the outside world and their place in it from a very young age and do not question their role as donors. The characters in both stories are richly developed and portray the clones as real people with wishes, hopes and dreams. The stories are drawing attention to a potential future society when human cloning becomes a reality.

These pieces of art work against already existing ideas that clones are less than human and try to replace them with an understanding of clones as no less human and unique like any other human creature. Clones, like other previously and currently discriminated against groups (African Americans, immigrants, women, and homosexuals), are people too. So if the day comes that there is a clone staring you in the face, I hope you will not be able to tell that he or she is a clone and that you will treat him or her with respect.


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~ by elmore12 on February 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “Clones: copies or people?”

  1. Elmore,

    For me, this is one of the most fascinating issues which the class addresses as well. Evocative, emotional sci-fi narratives are all very well and good, but what about reality? What if we DID clone a human? Would it be an empathetic and unique individual like Kathy, or would there be some divine spark missing? I’m inclined to believe that it’s the former, with the convenient example of identical twins (same genotypes yet different phenotypes and personalities). Also, I’m not a highly religious person, so I don’t necessarily know if I believe that God hand-delivers our souls into our bodies, or anything like that. I think it’s the intersection of neuron synapses and hormones that create “personhood.”

    However, part of me is infinitely curious. We won’t decisively know what the answer is until it actually happens — until we sit down across the table, so to speak, from a human clone, and pick their brains. It has to happen before we know the absolute truth. But yes: in answer to your revelation, I also think they would be their own individuals.

    However. Contemporary society is hugely hung up about the ethical implications of this movement, and I’m not sure everyone agrees with us. Scientists are permitted to mess around with stem cell research and so forth, but they’re not allowed to clone a human. To me, THAT says worlds; that says that they’re lost in the same empty stereotypes that you say you had before you took this class. They’re assuming an inherent “difference” or “badness,” or a missing piece, that would make cloning a human unethical. But you’d just be creating a person, yeah? We’re all allowed to climb in bed with someone and do it the orthodox way, but heaven forbid we mess with a new kind of creation.

    (Actually, scratch that. Now that I’m considering it, I think that these rules exist out of fear of the implications for property law and precedent than real ethical qualms (e.g., if you own your genetic DNA, and you clone yourself, would your clone be your property? Nobody really wants to see THAT Supreme Court case.))

    Even so, I agree with your conclusion — that we need to be very careful in the way we consider clones. I feel like some mutation of this scenario is not far off in our future, and if we approach that era with the intent to alienate non-original people, we may be creating a divide where none actually exists. This literature has definitely helped to illustrate that.

    -Julia Ray

  2. Julia,
    Thank you for your comment. I had not even considered how cloning will affect the laws of our nation. I have no idea how they would decide whether or not clones are the property of the original person’s DNA. Perhaps it would be like the relationship between parent and child. Children contain some of each parent’s DNA and are effectively their property and responsibility until they turn eighteen. Perhaps it will work the same way for clones.

    I’m also interested in whether or not the clones will be raised knowing or not knowing that they are clones. Will they be isolated from society like the stories we have read so far? Or will they be raised and brought up as normal humans like everyone else? In that case, I don’t know how much questioning them would yield because they would not know what it is like to be a clone because they would not identify in that way. How they are treated probably also depends on why we are cloning people-if it is for parts or for fertility issues wiht future populations. It is interesting to speculate what, if anything, will lead to cloning, what reasons cloning is taking place, and what the clones will be like.


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