To clone or not to clone: That shouldn’t be the question

Peter Gillette

After the group calling themselves the Raelians proclaimed the birth of the human race’s first two supposed clones last December, this week may seem like the most opportune time in the world’s history for Freshmen Studies classes to be studying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.Of course, if you ask certain faculty members or ex-freshmen—I imagine, by this stage in the term, certain current ones as well—there is never a good time to be studying Frankenstein.

You may have missed the news of the disputed first cloning altogether. Maybe you just had your head buried in Frankenstein. Plus, this announcement fell through the cracks. You know, the media was just so excited that Strom Thurmond turned 100. . .

That hundredth birthday, drama or not, would have been a big deal. A major American figure, for better and, er, worse, hits the century mark. He’s adjusted with the times, and survived. . . Maybe the Raelians could clone Strom, and we’d have two 100-year-old senators, right? Voices of wisdom, a voice not unlike Yoda’s, right? Chew over that moral dilemma at 11:10 Monday.

Cloning Strom, if Strom could become the Strom he was now, would be a great service to Strom. Just like Victor had noble aspirations, the Raelians, perhaps, would have compassion on this–for better or worse–public servant.

If you have been bitten by the Frankenstein cultural bug, you might think that the Raelians could lay old Strom on the table, and he would (as we have all feared of the South ) rise again. There would be two of him.

That is a frightening thought. Less frightening, though, when you think of baby Strom. Only, he wouldn’t be baby Strom. He would just be baby-whose-genetic-code-is-taken-from-Strom’s. But of course, in America, that means that little baby-whose-genetic-code-is-taken-from-Strom’s would forever suffer an identity crisis, and feel forever indebted to Strom.

That is the legacy of Frankenstein, unfortunately: connecting genetic engineering with the identity crisis. I will leave her possible literary faults to better and more well-read critics. Faults aside, one has to marvel at the cultural resonance that images extracted from Frankenstein have come to receive.

The moral of the story, from a scientific one, is to respect hierarchies. This is a helpful moral to keep in mind. At this point I feel inclined to say that I see cloning as pointless and narcissistic. I think it is a bad idea, and I see no reason to clone. Other forms of genetic engineering have been successful. Why do we even need any more human beings than are already being produced? Last I heard, natural production wasn’t lagging behind in popularity.

I suppose a major reason I wrote this is because I fear that this week so many freshmen studies classes would turn Shelley’s awkward if auspicious fiction debut into a referendum on some French freaks who, a few weeks ago, helped the revisionist Shelley-was-writing-about-cloning camp reinforce the notion of Mad Science.

I oppose cloning because it is silly. It is an excuse that thinkers on all sides of any number of social, literary, religious, and political divides use to ask silly questions. Will the clone have a soul? Will the clone end up exactly like its match? Will the clone marry its mother? Can’t we just kill a clone, since it’s not “real” anyways? Can they only clone women? Will the clone be of the same religion? All of these are variants of the old nature versus nurture question.

Underlying that is the conflicting influence of genetics and free will, which will undoubtedly come up in many a classroom this week. When it does, just ask yourself this: if little baby-whose-genetic-code-is-taken-from-Strom’s were born today, would it be a segregationist?

Then ask yourself, are you talking like a smart person, or a Hollywood screenwriter?