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The Subject is Cloning

Posted: 07/27/10 04:12 PM ET

In the weeks following its mid-May release, I found myself, in public and print, issuing wrong-headed disclaimers and qualifications about my novel, The Bradbury Report. I was worried that my concept, cloning (a relatively 'high' concept), might subsume everything else, i.e. the more important stuff, I meant to do in the book. I expressed concern that the word 'cloning' used in any way connected to my novel - this was, of course, inevitable - would mark it, misleadingly, as science fiction. I said that before the moment of the book's conception, I'd had no special interest in the issue of human cloning, that I knew pretty much only what every reasonably sentient non-expert might know. I was at great pains to point out I was neither scientist nor trained ethicist, and that my interest in human cloning was a novelist's interest.

In my mind and heart, The Bradbury Report remains, first, a story about doomed love(s). But it would be disingenuous and disloyal to deny that, willy or nilly, by virtue of its most conspicuous subject, my novel, in the ways a novel can, engages, participates in, the debate about human cloning. I see my own diffidence, post-publication, and I am dismayed.

In any tolerably enlightened discussion of human cloning, a hopeful distinction now is made between therapeutic and reproductive cloning, with virtually all the current ethical and political debate about the former. Therapeutic cloning entails the production of, or the use of already existing, human embryos, from which are harvested stem cells for use in research on, and potentially in, the treatment of disease. When it is perfected, reproductive cloning will be used to create a human "copy" with essentially the identical DNA as its human "original." My novel proceeds on the assumption that human reproductive cloning will not only soon be possible (may, indeed, already be possible), but, precisely because it will be possible, and because it could be used to satisfy a range of perceived needs, and because of the enormous profit for any entity that could satisfy those needs, reproductive cloning is inevitable.

George W. Bush is well known to be opposed to both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Barack Obama, a few days after his inauguration, lifted Bush's interdiction on therapeutic cloning, but categorically ruled out reproductive cloning, calling it "dangerous" and "profoundly wrong," asserting that it "has no place in our society or any society." The international community is divided on the subject of therapeutic cloning, but in broad, if not universal agreement about reproductive cloning. (In The Bradbury Report, the United States, which, for good or ill, is not unused to standing alone on difficult issues, is alone among civilized nations in sanctioning reproductive cloning.)

In my novel the clones are harvested for spare parts, an inarguably obscene and arguably unlikely future. It is reassuring, I'd add naive, to think that progress made in stem cell research on the prevention and treatment of disease will render superfluous, unwanted, all further work in reproductive cloning. My guess - notwithstanding the version of the future I posit in The Bradbury Report - is that it will not, finally, be medical need that drives us to clone human beings. Here's a sample of what might be offered you, for a fee, by your local practitioner:

Narcissism run amuck - You could have yourself cloned, and raise yourself from birth. You could do this more than once. Your clone, when he came of age, could have himself cloned And so on. Multiple demi-generations of you. Perpetuation not of your line, but of your self.

Positive eugenics - You could have and raise as your child - according to what you prize most, to the cast and measure of your vanity - Brad Pitt and/or Angelina Jolie; Kobe Bryant and/or Derek Jeter and/or O.J. Simpson; Barack Obama and/or George W. Bush and/or Sarah Palin; Phillip Roth and/or Don DeLillo or, if you were strapped for funds, me. Any combination of the above. So could your neighbors. When you have a choice, why not get the very best child? Why want the child you get, when you can get the child you want?

Death, thou shalt die - You could replace loved ones who are deceased, or otherwise unrecognizable. You could have and raise the identical twin of your dead child. You could have and raise from infancy your dead father or mother or spouse, or anyone else whose loss you grieve.

It is neither, I think, alarmist nor too soon to expand the debate. It is not too soon to ask: What form or forms will the practice of human reproductive cloning take? What purposes will it serve; what needs will it satisfy? To what degree will it be regulated, and by whom? What will the ramifications be? For us 'originals?' For the clones? For the self? For the family? For society? For the species (because it is asexual reproduction, cloning subverts diversity)? For what we might one day mean when we talk about love?

It is about love, amidst the ruins of human cloning, that in The Bradbury Report I am most interested.