Cloning as an Alternative: Would you pull a Jango?

geonosis_space02As much as geeks may complain about the quality of the Star Wars prequels, they are cannon, technically. Like it or not, through these prequels fans discover that Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who was hired by Jabba the Hutt to catch Han Solo, is actually a clone. Plus, he is a copy of the model used for the millions of clones built and used during the Clone Wars. The difference between Boba and all the other clones, though, is that Boba was made specifically as a form of payment to the original owner of the DNA, Jango Fett. Unlike the other clones that were genetically altered to age rapidly and be combat ready within a short window of time, Boba was designed to age normally, so that he could be Jango’s son.

So, could you pull a Jango and raise your own clone as your child?

Science Background

1996_1Although cloning science has come a long way in the past 19 years since Dolly the sheep was cloned, we are nowhere near Star Wars technology. We do not at present have the ability to make thousands of clones from one donor source, and neither do we possess the scientific know-how to speed up the aging process and create soldier-clones.

Most cloning technology and efforts have aimed not for creating entire humans, but for creating stem cells or, perhaps, transplantable body parts. In 2013, Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton published a paper about one of the first successful attempts at cloning human embryos in an attempt to make viable stem cells. None of the embryos were allowed to mature to create humans, but they were not designed to do so either. Legal problems with cloning through the use of creating and destroying embryos has significantly slowed down research, which is why scientists have attempted other cloning related methods, including reprogramming adult cells, as is done in the creation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

While cloning-related research could lead to great breakthroughs in curing diseases and transplanting perfect-match body parts, many people remain fearful about the entire cloning concept.

Considerations and Ramifications of Cloning

The fears about cloning range all across the scale from questions of ethics and morality to legal quandaries about DNA ownership and identity. Below is a brief outline of some of the major conundrums about cloning.

Religion:

Those in the religious right argue that cloning goes against God, especially cloning-related research that creates and destroys embryos, which some religions view as akin to abortion. There is also the argument about whether cloning a body clones a soul.

Legalities:

If science were to reach the point where cloning whole human bodies was possible, there would be multiple ramifications and questions. Would DNA be copyrightable? Could one person own the rights to their own DNA, or could their parents, grandparents, and so forth have claims to the DNA? If the clone is genetically identical to the donor, what about identity theft, SS numbers, etc.,?

Ethics:

Apart from the religious reasons for or against cloning, there are other ethical concerns to consider. First of all, one has to ask why clones are being made. If clones are being made to create an army, such as in Star Wars, is that fair to raise a group of cloned individuals for only one purpose? Does pigeonholing them into that service role forever eliminate their right to liberty and free choice? For that matter, does creating clones for any sort of service-oriented industry promote the concept of slavery?

Cloud_AtlasIn David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, for instance, clones, known as fabricants in the novel, were created to do all of the tasks that humans, known as purebloods, did not want to do, including menial jobs and hazardous ones. The fabricants were not paid, they were given chemicals that kept them docile, and after a certain period of service they were taken away under the guise of receiving a great reward. In actuality, they were being slaughtered, recycled, and fed back to the populace.

Environmental Concerns:

We already have a limited amount of resources. If cloning were allowed without significant regulations, would an increase in the population diminish our resources beyond repair? Or, on the other hand, would the government or any other entity of power institute cloning as a means of population control?

Evolution:

If for whatever reason cloning was deemed as a better solution for propagating the human species, what would that mean for gene flow and random selection? Humans have evolved genetically in many ways as a response to climate shifts, disease, food sources, etc. Identically cloning parent cells does not allow for random mutation. Instead, any mutation would be chosen specifically by scientists. While that may be useful for creating stronger and more disease-resistant humans, the question remains as to who would make the choices about which traits to keep and which traits to throw out of the gene pool?

Actualities vs. Preconceived Notions

While all of the above questions would need to be considered extensively, let’s address a few other thoughts that people have brought up in the conversation related to raising one’s own clone.

Some people posit that raising their own clone would be simple, because they would in fact be raising themselves.

Wrong! Genetically, a clone is identical to their donor cells. But that means that ONLY the physical makeup is identical. A person is more than just his or her physical makeup. There really is a nature AND nurture combination going on that crafts every individual. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, raising your clone would not be raising yourself.

You would be raising a child who shares physical similarities, just like a natural-born child, but the clone’s attitudes, their likes and dislikes, all of that would be shaped by the environment in which they grow up. If you perfectly re-created the environment in which you were raised, it’s possible that your clone would grow up to be exactly like you. Most parents try to give their children everything that they did not have growing up, though. Can you imagine how much more intense that would be for the parent of a clone? If you think parents are reliving their lives through their children now, parents reliving their lives through cloned offspring would be 10 times worse.

Furthermore, how unfair would that sort of life be to the child? From the moment they are genetically cloned, the donor who has agreed to raise the cloned child has already planned out a “perfect life.” Everything that ever went wrong in that donor’s life would in fact create a roadmap of everything they would want their genetically cloned offspring to avoid. Once again, this really brings us back to the question of choice. By having a clone and raising it in such a prescribed fashion, does this eliminate the child’s right to free will and self-identity exploration?

Another argument is that people believe cloning a person clones everything, and that, no matter what, the clone will grow up to be exactly like who they were cloned after.

As I have stated above, cloning copies the physicality of the body, but beyond that all of the experiences are unique to the individual, as are all of the thought patterns, preferences, and prejudices. The idea that a clone would be exactly the same is an idea expressed through pop culture.

For example, in the 1996 movie Multiplicity, Michael Keaton plays the main character, who is a busy man trying to juggle work life with family obligations and still have private time for himself. One of his jobs leads his character to a scientist, and the scientist sees the amount of stress pressing on Keaton’s character. The scientist then reveals that he has secretly found a solution to cloning and that he has actually cloned himself, so that he can lead a productive life in the lab and still have time to relax. He offers a similar deal to Keaton’s character, who of course accepts, and then multiple copies of Michael Keaton run rampant and wackiness ensues.

The scenario in the movie is that the clone is created as an exact copy, and that everything the original person has experienced up to the point of being cloned will be remembered by the clone. As a kooky caveat, though, each clone will be slightly different in their attitudes. The first clone is more alpha male and work-oriented. The second clone is family-oriented and more in touch with his feminine side. The third clone is a copy of a copy, which makes for a silly albeit mentally disabled clone. As you can see, although the movie gives the impression that you can clone all of the thoughts, memories, and experiences, it also implies that, for whatever reason, regardless of the identical physicality, personality traits will differ.

Outside of the movies and literature, though, others have felt that if they were to clone dead famous people, for example, that the clones would be an exact copy, and then the clones would be able to pick up where their dead predecessors left off.

20140410-lennon-x624-1397161502Kory Grow from The Rolling Stone reported that in 2014 Dr. Michael Zuk purchased one of John Lennon’s molars during an auction. Zuk has made many claims that he believes there is enough DNA within the molar to clone John Lennon. Once he is able to do so, Zuk has stated that he would raise the child as his own. Zuk commented that he would allow the child to make his own choices, but Zuk says that “guitar lessons wouldn’t hurt anyone right?” Zuk then goes on to argue that the John Lennon clone would, at some point, be able to make claims to the properties owned by the original John Lennon. It is hard to say whether Zuk was serious about this statement, as he seemed to say it halfheartedly.

To believe that a clone of a famous person would have the rights to the properties and titles owned by the original famous person raises significant red flags. In one respect, it almost implies that cloning is akin to immortality, and that all a superstar need do is keep cloning themselves to own the rights to their properties indefinitely. Legally, there’d be a significant gray area in debating ownership for these cases. On the one hand, one lawyer would say that if two people are genetically identical, they are the same person. On the other hand, though, as I’ve argued already, being genetically identical is only a matter of physicality. Such arguments would no doubt lead to courts officially having to define what makes a person a person.

And Now the Choice Is Yours

After all of this discussion, would you raise your own clone? Go ahead and leave a comment below about your feelings one way or the other. How would you go about raising your clone?

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