Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2003 / 3 Shevat 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Here come the clones (Vincent Price, where are you?)

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The news columns are semi-agog with the latest announcement that still another species has been cloned, this time the most dangerous of all: homo supposedly sapiens.

It doesn't exactly add to the credibility of this latest, oh-so-scientific announcement -- A Clone Is Born! -- that it should come from someone who (a) believes human life was brought to Earth by extra-terrestrials and (b) is French.

The quality of French science has been deteriorating steadily since Mme. Curie, till now it begins to approach the level of French politics. The trend is personified by Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, the head of something called Clonaid, which sounds like a corporation out of Woody Allen's "Sleeper." On the whole, I'd put more stock in Steven Spielberg's E.T., who at least wasn't trying to start up his own religion, clone farm or IPO.

Dr. Boisselier is also Bishop Boisselier of the International Raelian Movement, which isn't easy to describe. Think of Amos 'n' Andy's Mystic Knights of the Sea conflated with a UFO fan club. The only surprising thing about Mme. la docteur's announcement was that it wasn't made in Roswell, N.M. (The Raelians preferred Hollywood, Fla.) But the good doctor and right reverend bishop promises that more clones are in utero and ready to pop, so there's still time for her to make it to Roswell and Area 51 for the next more or less blessed event. It would be the perfect locale.

Everything in this scenario was perfectly predictable, right down to the nickname of the new baby -- Eve. Or as I've often thought while relishing really bad sci-fi flicks, "Who writes this stuff?"

It isn't the nutcases that scare me, any more than the B movies did. And for the same reason: All the special effects seem so phony. They don't seem to have changed basically since the days of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless. The sheer commercialism of it all is as transparent as ever. Much like the special decoder ring that, after considerable effort on our young part, decoded only the name of a breakfast cereal. Talk about anticlimax.

One suspects that all this hyperventilation over the First Human Clone will lead to a similar letdown. And that all these great scientists behind Cloning for Fun and Profit will turn out to be more Inspector Clouseau than Louis Pasteur.

What worries me are the quite respectable advocates of cloning. They come in an impressive number of models: The guys in suits and ties who appear before congressional committees and look, talk and act as if they were clones, all duly outfitted with the same techno-condescending vocabulary. The celebrity victims who seek only the good of mankind by duplicating it (mankind) for research purposes. The university administrators who explain why cloning isn't cloning when it's Therapeutic instead of Reproductive, lest we be confused on noticing that in both cases the technique is exactly the same.

Then there are the politicians who think they are striking some sort of solomonic compromise by proposing to create life with the assurance that it will soon be destroyed which is supposed to be comforting instead of doubly frightening. Scary, too, are the entrepreneurs who have no doubt that, once this profitable little genie is out of the bottle, it'll be a cinch to get him/her/it/them back in once they've cashed in their stock options.

On balance, I'd prefer the old-fashioned Vincent Price of the drive-in movies -- somebody chortling and frothing at the mouth as he tries to outfit a fly with a human head and vice-versa. Or a vampiric Bela Lugosi rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of draining the fresh blood he desperately needs from some photogenic babe.

The mad scientists in the movies didn't prepare us for the real ones, who appear so sane. They may think themselves in quite a different category from the Dr. Boisseliers and Raelian company, but they're up to the same thing. They, too, are talking about moving beyond outdated ethical limits and becoming our own Creators, but their vocabulary is scientific and their euphemisms practiced as they calmly explain the benefits of putting these clusters of embryonic cells to good use at last. Hey, youth is wasted on the youngest of us, and they were going to be destroyed, anyway .

When Goethe said that nothing was so frightening as ignorance in action, he may not have considered the results of knowledge in action, especially when divorced from wisdom.

Allow me to put in a word for the zanies. However dubious their claims, however full of hubris their aims, their objective is the most marvelous thing in the world: a human baby. And while they're trying to produce somebody's identical twin instead of child, at least they don't propose to sacrifice it in order to extend the lifespan of the rest of us. Their baby isn't just a means to our end. It is its own reason for being. Immanuel Kant, who had a thing about using persons as things, would be pleased.

But what is one to say of the eminent scientists, the sympathetic actors and the oh-so-moderate and reasonable political figures who explain that, while nobody in his right mind would be in favor of allowing a human clone be born, there's nothing wrong with creating one to serve our own purposes -- so long as we kill it at a very early age. Maybe after just a few days in vitro, or a week, or a month, or three, or

There's the real horror.

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