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What If Cloning Was Common?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
What was once the stuff of sci-fi is becoming science fact. Real world cloning could be big business in the future, but how would it change our lives? If everyone could clone themselves we'd never have to go to work; never have to go to school; and we'd always be on time for every appointment - because our clones would take care of our daily duties. But, is there a darker side to the story?

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What if Cloning was Common?

In 1996, genetic history was made when Dolly the sheep was born, the first ever mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell. But, despite the relative success of Dolly’s case – she lived for almost seven years – there was uproar around the world from people and institutions terrified that human cloning may become a reality next. So much so that a ban was placed on it almost immediately, and it’s still in place in over 70 countries. With every new cloning success, like the two monkeys born in China in early 2018 and the first human embryo cloned in 2013, the fear of cloning multiplies almost as quickly as the cloned cells do. But what if things weren’t that way? What if cloning didn’t have a 95% failure rate, didn’t pose a serious risk to mother or child, and wasn’t illegal around the world?

It’s highly likely that the controversies surrounding cloning, and especially human cloning, would not go away. In some ways, the practice could face similar concerns to something like the issue of abortion which, despite being legal in many countries, is constantly protested. The use of stem cells within most cloning approaches would sit at the centre of the debate, as human embryos would be used or ‘harvested’ to make cloning happen. On one side, there’d be people who’d want absolutely nothing to do with cloning, who’d reject the chance to breed life this way, and wouldn’t want a cloned organ transplanted into them.

Socially speaking, inequality could feasibly be exacerbated by cloning, as clones themselves could potentially be considered second-class citizens. In Aldous Huxley’s seminal work of dystopian fiction, “Brave New World,” parents no longer exist, and all children are cloned and categorised into pre-determined castes. Though published in 1932, some believe that this bleak future looks more and more likely to unfold, as scientific advancements are made in genetic research. For many, Huxley’s disturbing vision is one of the more scientifically realistic portrayals of cloning. But, unlike the ideas pervasive in popular culture – i.e. that people could grow entire, adult duplicates of themselves in only a few seconds from a tiny DNA sample – cloning is much, much more complex. And any cloned individual would likely be created as a baby.

Achieving instant cloning as it’s seen in the movies would require growing a fully-mature adult as well as imparting memories and life experiences into that adult body, and consciousness transference is just something nobody is anywhere near accomplishing yet. There are other biological issues that seem to go hand-in-hand with cloning, too. Dolly the sheep, for example, suffered with arthritis for most of her life – a condition typically linked with old age – despite Dolly being just a lamb. In 2005 the world’s first dog was cloned, a puppy named Snuppy from an Afghan hound named Tai. Snuppy lived to age ten before succumbing to cancer.

Little is reliably known about the health implications of cloning right now, or if a cloned animal will definitely develop the same problems as its donor. But, for cloning to be commonplace this would all need to be understood. In 2017, Snuppy’s stem cells were used to make four more cloned puppies, all as part of an ongoing study. If it is found that certain diseases are always passed from donor to clone, then the ethical implications mount up. Would anyone who is ill be disqualified from cloning? Would anyone who isn’t be encouraged to clone themselves multiple times? It’d clearly be a human rights conundrum.

On the other hand, cloning could make organ waiting lists a thing of the past. You’d possibly have an organ grown for you on demand without needing to wait for a donor, so organ failure and organ diseases would no longer be a potential death sentence. That said, producing replacement organs and body parts is sure to be an expensive business… So, it might only be available for richer people. Staying within the hospital, cloning could also give infertile couples another way to ‘have a child’. But once more, there’d be countless ethical issues, as prospective parents might assume total control over how their child looks and behaves.

Within the animal kingdom, widespread cloning could mean no more endangered species – as any animal at threat could be duplicated until the numbers rise. As part of an especially ambitious endeavour, scientists have been trying to clone mammoths from preserved DNA found in fossils. If studies such as those yield results, then we might even see the re-emergence of previously extinct creatures. The resistance against such developments is again sure to be strong, though – with detractors damning those responsible for ‘playing God’.

The darker side of cloning brings other problems, too. For a start, entire armies might be artificially manufactured. Even if every cloned person begins life as a baby, the prospect of someone reared solely for war is pretty terrifying. It’d equip all nations capable of cloning with cloned cannon fodder to be used on the battleground, thereby removing much of the risk of starting a war in the first place – and dampening fears over loss of life. Should only a few governments have access to clones, it’d make conquering the world incredibly easy. Although the fighting between clone-capable countries could go on forever, as there’d never be a need to surrender because clone armies could be continually ‘restocked’. And that’s before we’ve even considered ‘tweaking’ a clone’s design. Controversy around designer babies would reach terrifying new heights as perfect soldiers are sought to populate these armies – leading to one super-soldier cloned endlessly to make an invincible and dedicated military.

A less obvious but also chaotic problem would surround biometrics. Currently hailed as the pinnacle of security, the ability to clone yourself (or the possibility that you could be cloned without your consent) could clearly put your safety at risk. A ‘clone you’ could easily bypass retinal scanners, fingerprint readers, and facial recognition software, because they’d be entirely identical to you. Depending on how many clones of every individual there are, it would also make police work much more difficult. Forensic evidence would only prove that a clone was at the scene, eye-witness accounts would be meaningless, and a clone lying about their identity would be almost completely undetectable. In this new climate, people could literally get away with murder, as well as fraud, theft – and any crime under the sun.

Finally, even death has the potential to become meaningless. With clones, we’d live endless lives, heal ourselves forever, and become to some degree immortal. You could die but immediately be regrown or even start your life over again. But again, it’s an ethical minefield, built on the central question of whether or not we have the right to do it to ourselves? Perhaps cloning could be used to save the life of someone who died too soon, but the prospect of science determining who should live and who should die is difficult to stomach.

Of course, a world without cloning is far from perfect, either. Wars are still waged despite the tragic loss of life, couples are still unable to have children, and people still get away with crimes they’ve committed. Perhaps it’s worth forgoing the risks to solve these problems, and usher in a new age of scientific advancement? Ultimately, it’s a future that could be right around the corner, but it’s a question that will continue to divide opinion.

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