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5 minute read
Charles Krauthammer

One doesn’t expect Dr. Frankenstein to show up in wool sweater, baggy parka, soft British accent and the face of a bank clerk. But there in all banal benignity he was: Dr. Ian Wilmut, the first man to create fully formed life from adult body parts since Mary Shelley’s mad scientist.

The creator wore chinos. Wilmut may not look the part, but he plays it. He took a cell nucleus from a six-year-old ewe, fashioned from it a perfect twin–adding the nice Frankenstein touch of passing an electric charge through the composite cell to get it growing–and called it Dolly.

Dolly, the clone, is an epochal–a cataclysmic–creature. Not because of the technology that produced it. Transferring nuclei has been done a hundred times. But because of the science. Dolly is living proof that an adult cell can revert to embryonic stage and produce a full new being. This was not supposed to happen.

It doesn’t even happen in amphibians, those wondrously regenerative little creatures, some of which can regrow a cut-off limb or tail. Try to grow an organism from a frog cell, and what do you get? You get, to quote biologist Colin Stewart, “embryos rather ignominiously dying (croaking!) around the tadpole stage.”

And what hath Wilmut wrought? A fully formed, perfectly healthy mammal–a mammal!–born from a single adult cell. Not since God took Adam’s rib and fashioned a helpmate for him has anything so fantastic occurred.

What, then, was the reaction to this breakthrough of biblical proportions?

There is a mischievous story (told mostly in England) that a leading Scottish newspaper reported the Titanic sinking with the headline GLASGOW MAN LOST AT SEA. Well, here was a story that deserved the headline MAN CREATES LIFE. And how does it play? A Wall Street Journal headline urgently asks, WHO WILL CASH IN ON BREAKTHROUGH IN CLONING? (Answer: “Tiny company could emerge a big winner.”) The President of the U.S. calls for a committee of experts to gather and pull their beards.

And the New York Times, in a lovely coda to its editorial titled CLONING FOR GOOD OR EVIL, advises that “society will need to sort through what is acceptable and what is the nightmare beyond.”

Well, yes. The most portentous scientific achievement since Alamogordo will need a weighing of pros and cons. No kidding.

And, no doubt, the pro-and-con weighing, the pontificating and the chin pulling will now go into high gear. Wilmut will spawn more ethics conclaves than cloned sheep. No matter. There is nothing to stop cloning, not even of humans.

What the politicians do not understand is that Wilmut discovered not so much a technical trick as a new law of nature. We now know that an adult mammalian cell can fire up all the dormant genetic instructions that shut down as it divides and specializes and ages, and thus can become a source of new life.

You can outlaw technique; you cannot repeal biology. And even the outlawing of this technique–Britain, for example, forbids the cloning of humans–will fail. It is too simple, too replicable. No amount of regulation by the FDA or the NIH or even the FBI will stop it.

Why? Not just because it is so easy, but because its potential for good is so immense. The study of cloning can give the world deep insights into such puzzles as spinal cords, heart muscle and brain tissue that won’t regenerate after injury, or cancer cells that revert to embryonic stage and multiply uncontrollably. Replicating Wilmut’s work will elucidate what he along the way did right that nature, in these pathologies, does wrong.

Of course, the potential for evil is infinitely greater. But there will be no stopping that either. Ban human cloning in America, as in England, and it will develop on some island of Dr. Moreau. The possibilities are as endless as they are ghastly: human hybrids, clone armies, slave hatcheries, “delta” and “epsilon” sub-beings out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

But you don’t have to be mad to be tantalized. Being human will do. Think of it: what Dolly–fat, insensible Dolly–promises is not quite a second chance at life (you don’t reproduce yourself; you just reproduce a twin) but another soul’s chance at your life. Every parent tries to endow his child with the wisdom of his own hard-earned experience. Here is the opportunity to pour all the accumulated learning of your life back into a new you, to raise your exact biological double, to guide your very flesh through a second existence.

Oh, the temptation to know what might have been. Or to produce an Einstein, a Dr. King, for every generation. Or to raise a Jefferson in a clearing, a cross between Jurassic Park and Williamsburg, an artificial environment re-creating 18th century Virginia. Create, nurture and wait. Then bring him out one day, fully grown, to answer the question of the ages: What would Jefferson do today?


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