This Dr. Ian Wilmut of Scotland decides to clone an adult sheep and play the divine one. A week later it is revealed that another group of researchers have cloned a monkey. By now we all know the story, thought about the consequences of cloning humans, and wondered what type of human would consent to actually being cloned. But we may not have considered who owns these clones.
Current US Patent law states that anything that is man made can be patented. This has been interpreted by the US Supreme Court and other courts to allow researches to patent an actual strand of DNA, as long it is isolated. Many scientists have patented human cells and many legal experts believe that patents should apply to human organs. You get where I'm going? Maybe someday someone somewhere will patent a human clone - or a slightly altered clone.
Good-bye 13th amendment. Slavery officially ended in the Nineteenth Century (in the United States) but the Twenty-First Century may bring us a new dark era of cloning humans, or superhumans, to do man's dirty-work. These clones would be owned lock, stock, and barrel by the patent owner for the duration of the patent (and maybe copyrighted thereafter). Imagine keeping a human clone (like Dolly the sheep) in captivity for the purpose of drug testing. You could build an arsenal of clones who would be forced to take drugs and perform experiments to save the "originals."
We might create an entire caste system were there exists free "originals" and slave "clones." Awful.
Though the technology is fascinating and its discovery is commendable, "cloning" brings up a host of social implications. Cloning sheep (isn't it weird that "sheep" is the plural for "sheep." I think we should change the English language so that the singular is "shep" - but that's another column) or other livestock could be advantageous if the process becomes inexpensive and efficient. We could ensure that every shepherd is raising strong and fat cattle, all looking exactly alike. Of course, a large part of raising cattle is nurture, not nature. If I was a sheep (that accusation has been made before), I'd go crazy if all my friends were my exact duplicate. Scary.
Even more scary is the possibility of cloning humans. Of course we all know that cloning sheep isn't much different from cloning Michael Jackson, Madonna, Dennis Rodman, or Bill Clinton. Or any human being. Though the average Jane probably could not afford the process of isolating their DNA and then planting it into the womb of a paid woman carrier, Hollywood celebrities could indeed afford to clone themselves.
But what's the use? Would Pee Wee Herman be a good parent to his twin? Imagine growing up as the twin of your father. Your real father is your father's father and your real mother is your father's mother. Faye Dunaway's "my sister ... my daughter ... my sister ... my daughter" line from Chinatown may now have a whole new meaning...
Auren Hoffman is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley and now is a consultant with Kyber Systems (http://www.kybersys.com), an Internet database firm based in Berkeley, CA. Check out Auren's weekly column called SUMMATION (http://www.kybersys.com/summation).