Brigitte Nerlich, David D. Clarke and Robert Dingwall (1999) 'The Influence of Popular Cultural Imagery on Public Attitudes Towards Cloning'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/3/nerlich.html>
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Received: 16/9/1999 Accepted: 27/9/1999 Published: 30/9/1999
In certain historical periods metaphors serve to express commonly held but imperfectly articulated feelings. People often share certain sentiments, fears, or hopes that have failed to reach expression for lack of adequate means. At such times a well-chosen metaphor may be taken up quite eagerly. Such popular metaphors serve as a medium of common understanding, giving people a sense of communality and possible direction. (Gergen 1990: 275)
[...] Science fiction. Cloning the dead. A technology out of control. What do you make of such reactions to your work?
I think they're over the top. [...]
And does it mean that cloning humans is possible?
We don't know. It is quite likely that it is possible, yes. But what we've said all along -- speaking for both the (Roslin) Institute and the PPL staff -- is that we would find it ethically unacceptable to think of doing that. We can't think of a reason to do it. If there was a reason to copy a human being, we would do it, but there isn't.
Is the idea of cloning the dead totally fanciful?
Yep. [...] Still [...] the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. [...] (Feb 24, 1997; http://www.salonmagazine.com/news/newsreal.html)
Several commentators and scientists have suggested that it might in some cases be ethically acceptable to clone existing people. One scenario envisages generating a replacement for a dying relative. All such possibilities, however, raise the concern that the clone would be rated as less than a complete individual, because he or she would likely be subjected to limitations and expectations based on the family's knowledge of the genetic "twin". Those expectations might be false, because human personality is only partly determined by genes. The clone of an extrovert could have a quite different demeanor. Clones of athletes, movie stars, entrepreneurs or scientists might well choose different careers because of chance events in early life.
Some pontificators have also put forward the notion that couples in which one member is infertile might choose to make a copy of one or the other partner. But society ought to be concerned that a couple might not treat naturally a child who is a copy of just one of them [...] None of the suggested uses of cloning for making copies of existing people is ethically acceptable to my way of thinking, because they are not in the interest of the resulting child. (p. 35)
Now we know that we can clone an adult animal. And since what works in sheep is likely to be possible in humans, we are suddenly propelled right past the imagined techniques of Brave New World. [...] there are endless possibilities for futuristic speculation. The egotistical may be able to clone themselves and give themselves the upbringing that they always thought they deserved. The rich and powerful would be able to found dynasties where at death they would pass all their wealth to a genetically identical but younger version of themselves. Those anxious to put off their own demise might be able to create a body double, complete except for brain functioning, from which they took perfect transplant organs as their own wore out. And anyone facing the loss of a loved one might attempt to recreate that person from cells taken before death.
The fans of the famous might have the opportunity to bring their heroes back to life. How many seekers after Elvis might wish to see the King reborn - assuming that someone, somewhere has a bit of Elvis's tissue to create the clone from?
The immediate assumption was that cloning of humans was just around the corner and that seemed to trigger an explosion (at least in the media) of fears about the future. Fears that most of the general public knew were unlikely to be realised and could, as a consequence, enjoy in safety. Just like 'the X files'.
Much of the speculation was based on science fiction rather than good sense, with the Times and a Dr Patrick Dixon taking our award for the most outrageous list of 'reasons' for cloning humans.
The scientific community's reaction was, on the whole, friendly. The public's reaction, by contrast, was extremely negative, primed to some extent by a media weaned on a diet of cloning scare stories and pulp fiction.
It was the fact that the technique could be applied to humans that provoked the frenzied debate. The first old chestnut to appear was the cloning of dictators, followed by celebrity cloning, self-cloning, the pre-selection of citizens by the State, with its echoes of Brave New World, the reincarnation of dead loved ones, treatment for infertile couples, a way to avoid parental genetic diseases being passed on to children and a way to cure terminal illness.
By the end of "Remaking Eden", he has gone into complete raving mad-scientist mode. He foresees a long-term future in which humans will have fitted themselves with genetic accessories from all over the animal kingdom: We will have magnetic direction-finding systems like birds, built-in batteries like electric eels and, should we want them, luminous bottoms like fireflies. [...] And if we can do all that, we can probably fit pigs with wings, no trouble. (http://www.salonmagazine.com/21st/books/1998/01/cov_15books.html)
Discussions were peppered throughout with negative references to films and books including The Boys from Brazil, Jurassic Park, Blade Runner, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Frankenstein, Brave New World, Stepford Wives, Star Trek and Alien Resurrection. These references were often used to punctuate discussion, but it was not always clear which aspects of the film were being alluded to. Classic stories such as Frankenstein, Brave New World and, to a lesser extent, The Boys from Brazil, were not referred to in detail, but were often simply cited as examples. Just the reference to a film or book appeared to be sufficient to describe participant's concerns, and there was an assumption that others in the group would be able to understand these instantly. Several participants mentioned having seen the film GATTACA, which was on general release over the research period, but in cases where there was less familiarity they took more time to explain the general plot to others in the group. (Wellcome Report 1998)
He began in The Times (24/2/97) by relating that he had been contacted by a woman only the previous week wanting to know how she could clone her dead father, carrying the clone to term herself. Dr Dixon then offers a list of people who may consider cloning. Contained within this small list of scenarios are some of the motifs that came to dominate the press speculation on human cloning applications in this early period. The images of potential human clones then became the 'dictator' (Saddam Hussein and Hitler being most frequently cited), the 'wealthy megalomaniac', 'replacements for lost loved ones' and the creation of a clone for 'spare parts'. (Hodgson 1998: 35)
Many participants claimed to have a vivid image in their mind of what a clone would be. When prompted, responses commonly described 'photocopied' individuals and automated production lines or artificial incubators producing multiple adult clones. This concept of human cloning was linked to its adoption by malevolent outside influences such as the military, megalomaniac leaders and rogue scientists. Examples frequently cited were genetic experiments conducted by Nazis. (Wellcome Report, 1998)
Hello Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, Dolly At last! We now have the ability to Xerox ourselves. Can collating be far behind? (http://www.goarch.org/goa/observer/1997_March/editorial-dolly.html)
witching the sex of an embryo is easily done - at DreamTech we offer this service for a surcharge of only USD 200. If you make use of our special offer and get a backup for free, you can have different-sex twins from the same original. (http://www.d-b.net/dti/intro1.html#1)
Fruit containing the genes of dangerous viruses could be produced, which will work like a vaccination every time we at a banana. Animals low in fat will be developed; chickens with no feathers and sheep that shed their fleeces automatically. More alarmingly, cloned sheep could mean we will soon have cloned humans. (Jules Pretty: "Stand by your ban on GM crops", The Times Higher Education Supplement, 23/10/98, p. 16)
2The Human Cloning Foundation has proposed to clone Stephen Hawking.
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