In the June 2010 issue of Scientific American, an article called “12 Events that will Change Everything” discusses the likelihood by 2050 of naturally occurring and human-made events that may dramatically change our world and how we perceive it and ourselves. Authors ranked each event on a scale from “very unlikely” to “almost certain”. Events spanned from the wondrous and “less likely” discovery of extra dimensions and first encounter with alien intelligence (Hey! Isn’t that ME? Big grin) to the “more likely” possibility of machine self-awareness, the polar meltdown and the “almost certain” 7.8 magnitude pacific earthquake (Better move to high ground, Margaret!).
The cloning of a human was rated “likely” and creation of life “almost certain”.
In a post entitled “Designer Organisms Promise New Life…at What Cost?” I discussed how researchers in the emerging field of synthetic biology (called synbio) envision microbes customized with artificial genes to let them turn sunlight into fuel, clean up industrial waste or monitor patients for the first signs of disease. Ways to combat global warming include a new species of bacteria that can break down cellulose to produce ethanol or soak up carbon dioxide.
Defining Diana or my own short story, Julia’s Gift.
Which brings me to the “likely” event of human cloning. You’ve all heard of the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996. Despite the extremely difficult process and the obvious ethical and moral issues, scientists remain eager to clone a human. They’ve already cloned human embryos, but none has yet developed past the morula stage. Scientists agree that incredible challenges remain in the reprogramming, culturing or handling of embryos, never mind other potential glitches that prevent a cloned human to come to term. Scientists are also looking beyond Homo sapien to cloning the Neandertal. Bringing a cloned extinct species to term in a modern species is even more challenging than normal cloning, considering mismatches in womb environment and gestation. So, why do it? What is the motivation and the benefit to humankind and the planet?
Who will be cloned and for what purpose? Who will do the cloning? What rights will the clone have vs. the original? Science fiction stories have already traveled that ground and back again, making excellent commentary. While the list is almost endless, beginning with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, to Bladerunner and Star Wars and the highly disturbing “Boys of Brazil”, I want to focus on one motion picture that illustrates my discussion: “Aeon Flux”
“Some call Bregna the perfect society,” Aeon tells us in the opening scenes of the motion picture, “Some call it the height of human civilization…but others know better…We are haunted by sorrows we cannot name. People disappear and our government denies these crimes…But there are rebels who…fight for the disappeared.”
At the end of Kusama’s movie, Aeon challenges Trevor’s assertion that cloning is their only answer for survival: “We’re meant to die. That’s what makes anything about us matter…[otherwise] we’re ghosts.” The movie ends as it begins, with Aeon’s narrative: “Now we can move forward. To live once for real and then give way to people who might do it better…to live only once but with hope.”
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.