Raelians hijack the scientific
importance of cloning
The front-page story does not go to disease-busting stem-cell work but to the Raelians, a religious sect founded in France in the 1970s by a former racing-car magazine journalist.
The Raelians believe humans were created in the lab by extra-terrestrials who had mastered genetic engineering. The Raelian sect has a suitably sci-fi emblem, a couple of show ponies among its membership, and a company, Clonaid, founded in 1997, that claimed at Christmas to have produced the world's first cloned baby.
Perfect timing since it's been a good 2000-odd years since the arrival of an infant has been such a hot potato.
Since the December birth announcement, there has been a weapons inspector-like operation to try to verify the presence of this child, and everyone, like the inspectors in Iraq, has come up empty-handed. But despite a lack of evidence that a human clone now exists, cloning as an idea has taken a king-hit.
The Raelian claims have added a lot of freak into how freaked-out people feel about cloning. Most people know very little about it but they know they don't like it. Cloning is another of those moral conundrums that comes down to a crazy mix of fear and personal beliefs, and whether or not science wins round the public will depend largely on how smooth a ride it has through the future development of cloning.
It's a Pandora's box that has Governments legislating science like they've never legislated it before.
And mistakes are inevitable. Dolly, the world's first, most famous and least-threatening clone, was preceded by 247 pregnancies that failed to develop properly.
One mistake to date is the Raelians have grabbed the headlines with farcical beliefs about cloning. For example, they think they can download someone's personality into their clone - and on your right, ladies and gentlemen, you are now passing Noddyland.
Although I don't believe the Raelians have enough smarties in their pick'n'mix to have actually cloned a human, it's worth pausing for a moment and considering the reality of me and my clone.
My clone will have a very different path to life than I did. She will be from a donor egg that's had its nucleus removed and my DNA added in place of the egg's own. Then the egg will be implanted in a surrogate mother. With a different womb she'll have a different set of environmental factors, nutrition and pollutants than I did. She'll hear different sounds and feel different emotions in utero.
And because we don't yet know just how much of what arrives at birth is genes and how much is the effect of environment, we can't know just how different my clone will be right from the start.
So whether my clone will look much like me, as is widely assumed, is impossible to know. Dolly was hardly a good judge - all sheep look the same.
My clone won't be raised by my parents, and parents are a hugely important and largely indelible imprint.
She'll be spared the 1970s and 1980s and instead will be raised on the ideas, beliefs and fashions of the 21st century, so her tastes and attitudes will be different to mine.
Her voice, mannerisms and personality could be very different. She won't have my experiences. She won't think like me.
So, taking away my parents and my life, just how like me can she be?
Who will raise her - me? Oh, my word. Could anything be more fraught than the idea that I would be left in charge of raising a person whom I think of as myself?
In fact, this guarantees she couldn't be a replica of me because human nature dictates I will inevitably seek to modify her life experience to prevent a repetition of my mistakes and that I'll try and replicate things that I believe were important for me.
And both of those things will be impossible.
And when my clone grows up and tells me I'm an idiot and I don't understand her - how will I answer that one?
And when my clone needs to rebel and be everything I'm not, because that's an emotionally healthy thing to do, how do I deal with the possibility that she can't - or the possibility that she will?
Tragically and stupidly, a lot of people love the idea of cloning because they are so far up their own internals they think that being cloned will be like immortality. It's nothing like it.
That's a farcical prospect, and loading the science of cloning up with such self-serving notions isn't going to have the scientists thanking you. The only people who'll take your money are the quacks and the Raelians.
The New Zealand Herald
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