NEW YORK -- "Today's overwhelming and bipartisan House action to prohibit human cloning is a strong ethical statement, which I commend." -- George W. Bush, July 31, 2001
I have absolutely no idea whether the cloning of human beings should be banned. Cloning opponents have some valid points, ranging from their dubious slippery-slope argument -- what if scientists create people in order to harvest their organs? -- to their logical conclusion that replicating people in significant numbers could affect the evolutionary process, ultimately weakening the human gene pool. Most popular is what pundits refer to as the "ick" factor; most compelling (to me, anyway) is my question: Why waste money and scientific energy on such a pointless exercise?
Proponents of human genetic replication, however, are also worth hearing out. Many scientific discoveries that seemed dangerous at first have eventually led to great benefits to humanity. For instance, the radioactivity discovered by Marie Curie a century ago eventually killed her, but her work led others to develop the atomic bomb, which in turn allowed the rise of nuclear power. OK, forget that.
Anyway: Genetic duplicates, one could argue, already exist in the form of identical twins. Cloning would merely expand that natural process of zygote division. And wouldn't it be cool to see if an exact copy of Adolf Hitler would, under similar conditions, try to take over the world and kill millions of people in the process? OK, I saw that movie too. Never mind.
More to the point, we're talking about banning technology that does not actually exist. In a little-noticed news item earlier this year, scientists revealed that a perfectly cloned mouse of a normal-sized mouse grew, under identical conditions and subject to an identical diet, to become abnormally fat. It seems that these glitches are typical; animals with identical DNA turn out dramatically different.
There is an obvious explanation for this, but the "cloners" don't want to admit it: The fat mouse is not an exact genetic duplicate of the thin one. Think about it: How many identical twins have you met where one is thin and the other is fat? The answer lies in what geneticists call "junk DNA."
The mapping project that wrapped up last year mapped only a small percentage of the human genome, the active portion containing genes that relate to traits and dispositions currently apparent in our species at this exact point in evolution. The remaining "junk" is the detritus of evolution, genetic leftovers from our previous incarnations millions of years ago. There's no point mapping that old stuff, or so we're told.
Still, there's the problem of that chubby mouse. It's simple deductive reasoning -- once you've eliminated every other possible explanation, only one possibility remains. Logic dictates that the clone of a thin mouse can't be fat now and then; it must almost never be fat. If we can't clone an animal as relatively simple as a mouse, does anyone suppose that human cloning is a technology that's possible enough to be worth banning?
What I find most amusing about the cloning debate, however, is the notion that Bush and the millions of Americans who voted for him consider human replication immoral. After all, Bush would never have stood a chance in politics if he hadn't been a clone of his father, down to sharing the same first name. He shares his dad's goofy empty-headed looks and dress code, he lurches through the English language like his dad, and his talk-moderately-govern-conservatively politics are identical to his dad's. He even has his dad's dog -- Millie's puppy, to be precise. How can a guy who owes everything to genetic similarities be against human cloning? Bush's father understood the joys of inherited privilege. Why not W.?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the riddle of the fat mouse. Sometimes, when you clone, there's a glitch.
Ted Rall, author of the new graphic novel "2024" and cartoon collection "Search and Destroy," is syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate.
Copyright 2001 Ted Rall