Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Unnatural Acts: In Defense of Cloning

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Not content like their peers making dupes of kittens, cows, sheep and dogs, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Centre have finally managed to clone monkeys, or at least create their embryos.

What a blow for those religious folks who said it hadn't been done yet because God wouldn't allow it. Apparently the Big Guy doesn't give a crap, or is even amused at the thought of one primate going out of the way to make another.

I was surprised, though, that the first voices of horror didn't come from a church somewhere, but from the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies. "It is just a matter of time before a human is cloned," they warned.

"So what?" That was my initial response. Since I'm usually on board with UN policy, I examined my conscious a little, and discovered that that was my second and third responses, too. "So what?" Or maybe, for the sake of nuance, "Big deal."

The UNU-INS admitted that cloning, of course, is paving the way for all kinds of medical research promising to fix everything from MS and Parkinson's disease to broken spinal cords. About that, there's room to negotiate.

But about reproduction, absolutely not. And we were reminded that there has been enough international consensus for the UN to pass the UN Declaration on Cloning, that leaves cloning open to research, but condemns baby-making.

I guess you can make arguments about the rights of cloned humans. But even if you believe in sci-fi scenarios of rows of babies in little jars in some Nebraska farm, growing into annoying adolescents kept in barns so somebody can come along and harvest their organs, well, all I have to say is that the kids'll have to fight their way out of the mire just like the rest of us bolstering their claim to humanity. And if they're true clones, if they're really human, then they'll soon cause more trouble than they're worth and the whole project'll be scuttled. You want sympathy, I'd share it with existing humans already giving up their kidneys so their families can eat.

As to the other ethical concerns, most are just nonsense. The recent UNU-INS report, "Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable: Future Options for UN Governance" nattered on about the violation of human dignity, which made me wonder if any of those worthy academics had actually had sex. There's a lot of words you can use to categorize it, but dignity isn't one. The squishy, creaky, slapping, slurping sounds alone preclude the term.

If anything, taking reproduction out of the bedrooms and the backseats of Chevys is a step towards returning humanity to the dignity we once had when babies appeared via storks, in cabbage patches, and from the head of Zeus. Cloning is quieter, more sanitary, and without all that unseemly rubbing of genitals, it's even without sin.

As to the sanctity of creation, it's hard to make that argument, when the earth is so full of it, from single cells amoebas and molds, to water maples, rats, cockroaches, and of course humans. Everything breeds and reproduces with abandon, except the euros in my wallet, which are actually in decline along with the free fall of the dollar.

But what really gets under the rapidly reproducing cells of my skin, is the idea that cloning is wrong because it's "unnatural," a word that's usually paired with "acts" and never ceases to give me shivers. That word's been getting queers beaten up, banned, ostracized and killed for centuries.

Should I turn away from "unnatural" now? Should you? Look around. What's natural about these lives we live? Everything from the food we eat, medicines we take, not to mention this thing of metal, plastic, and sheer energy I'm typing on is a disgusting aberration of something.

Last week I even flew. On an airplane. Up in the sky. That's certainly not natural. Language itself is an artifice, as every day I choose between the words chair, silla, and chaise. One isn't better than another. We made them up.

Like laws. Which act only to control ugly, but natural, impulses that have us swinging sticks at each other when there's nothing else around, or detonating bombs if we have those, stealing if we're hungry or just greedy. Making babies. So what? There are so many other repulsive things we could get up to instead.

I'm all for the unnatural. It's the basis of science, art, politics, and for that matter, religion. It's what keeps us from killing each other and forces us to work together. It gave us Oscar Wilde and the flu vaccine I'm supposed to get tomorrow, the International Space Station, along with the more modest but magnificent infrastructure of the modern city.

It's humans, giving in to nature, red in tooth and claw, that terrify me.

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