Reproducibility of Man
When Walter Benjamin wrote The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in 1969, I am sure he didn’t expect it to parallel the arguments of today’s discussions on the ethics of cloning. In the short shadow of the replication of Dolly the sheep, and five little piglets from Virginia comes the discussion on if this practice should really be allowed, and if so, what limits do you set? How can you look in the eyes of people who have had there family members pass away because the cloning of pigs for their organs have been outlawed. But what do you say when it comes to the question of just raising humans, lets say in a “human farm”, for exact organ and tissue matches. Where do you draw the line on the recreation of things from our past? After finding the perfectly preserved wooly mammoth in the arctic a few years in the past, researchers from several nations have been actively collecting tissue from the remains of the wooly mammoth in preparation for an attempt to bring the beast back from ten thousand years of extinction (Salsberg 1). If you let scientists do this, do you restrict them from cloning mummified Pharos from ancient Egypt, for historical purposes only right? Another issue of cloning a person is the civil rights of those cloned, do you dispose of them if something goes wrong. The practice of cloning, which oddly resembles the disaster of Frankenstein, needs to be restricted in some way, or we all will be living in some sort of odd parallel universe.
According to a collaboration of public opinion polls from 1997 when Dolly was first cloned, 87% of Americans believed that the practice of cloning should be banned. Yet the scientists of the world continue to actively pursue this area of science. After doing much research on the internet I came across article after article by Doctors who where so excited about the “miracle” of cloning. Some, even more terrifying, think of the clones as being maintained as mere organ farms, manufactured for their spare parts by persons anticipating the need for transplanting hearts or kidneys, livers or lungs (Ferre 2). While it might sound ethical to recreate a pig for medical purposes you are still sacrificing the life of that animal. But is right to raise a copy of yourself just in case you might need a transplant in the future. You can’t just sacrifice a human the same as you would a pig or other animal.
Unfortunately with the developments in cloning, you know some egotistic person will want to clone themselves. With the right amount of money, this could actually happen. “Others worry that interests would be sure to make clones of great athletes and other idols of pop culture, rock singers, movie stars, and the like, and, even worse, that temporary, parochial standards of beauty and human excellence might be frozen into flesh (Ferre 2). Inevitably, racist preferences would surface and those with the power of this technology would use it to distort human genetic history, reflecting their conscious and unconscious prejudices. This leads to human population evolving into a society where everything is alike, somewhat of a cloning holocaust. “During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence” (Benjamin 31). If someone decides they no longer desire that type of person they have selected, how do you go about finding a new candidate to clone if you have already eliminated every other type of person? Walter Benjamin wrote about original artwork in this way. His essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction spoke of original artwork in this area. The original was just not as impressive anymore if you could make a dozen to a thousand copies of it.
“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work is
lacking in one element: it’s presence in time and
space, its unique existence at the place where it
happens to be. This unique existence of the work
of art determined the history to which it was subject
throughout the time of it’s existence. This includes
the changes which it may have suffered in physical
conditioned over the years as well as the various
changes in it’s ownership. The situations into which
the product of mechanical reproduction can be
brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet
the quality of it’s presence is always depreciated”
Wouldn’t the same standards apply to the replication of a human? While identical twins share most of their genetic make up, you can still tell them apart from one another. They have slight differences in physical characteristics, and some have major differences in personality. With a clone, you would have an exact replica. There would be no differences in the make up of these two. The original sheep in Dolly’s case was six years old before it was clone. People would have to grasp the concept of having identical twins born in different years, perhaps even by different mothers.
Another problem is the issue of paternity. Who would you designate the father or mother of a clone. You replicate a being by reproducing the tissue of the object desired. Would you designate the mother and father of the original being as the parents, what if they wanted no part of it? There are enough children around already with one are no real parents, do you really need to go around creating more?
How far back can you go with cloning anyway. With researchers waiting to clone the wooly mammoth, how far in the past is to far? There are many things that have been preserved that have the ablilty to be cloned. I am sure some scientist out there wants to talk to King Tut, so why not clone him. If there is ever a great leader in the United States, would you clone him, and keep his DNA on file, just so we can keep this leader? What happens if the public decides they don’t approve of him anymore, do you dispose of his replicas, are those copies not living beings?
Cloning can have a very detrimental effect on the lives and population of those in this world. In coming months, the cloned piglets are likely to be joined not only by cloned puppies in Texas but also by clones kittens now being gestated in Japan. Although many lofty causes may be advanced with their births, it is pet owners who will probably benefit first. Already, Westhusin and partners have set up the “Genetic Savings & Clone” where Fluffy’s DNA can be stored for $100.00 a year, until the owner decide it’s time to attempt a Fluffy II. The price for cloning will start at $20,000.00, but pet-cloners promise the price will plummet as business grows.
When human clones appear among us, they will be owed duties too. At first they will be infants, and will depend on others. After a while, given suitable nurture, they will realize their potential, will learn language, and will be able to claim rights, full human rights, for themselves. What kind of rights do you have then to use their organs?
Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical
Reproduction, Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt
Schokeu Books (HBJ) 1969.
Ferre, Frederick. Philosophy of Technology, 2nd ed. Athens, GA:
University of Georgia Press 1995.
Salsberg, Corey. “Resurrecting the Wooly Mammoth” .