Thursday, December 08, 2005

(A New) Brave New World?

Gary Rosen recently published an interesting review (originally published in the NY Times Magazine) of Kazua Ishiguro's 2005 novel "Never Let Me Go." I haven't yet read the book (it's on order and should be arriving this week) but I'm eagerly looking forward to it.

Rosen's review pays homage, of course, to the seminal (and sometimes what seems to be the only) genetic dystopia, Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." It's amazing the extent to which Huxley's vision, first published almost three quarters of a century ago, has almost completely determined how we imagine a future of reproductive human cloning.
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Huxley writes of “Standard men and women…Millions of identical twins. The principle of mass production at last applied to biology.” This characterization has long dominated our imagination and discussion of reproductive human cloning. But is there any real reason to suspect that a clone, even if it possessed an identical genetic profile (and there are a number of reasons why even this might not be true. For one such reason, take a look at this article on microchimerism, originally published in New Scientist), would be truly "identical" to the individual from whom they were cloned.

As Rosen writes, "Though Kathy is a genetic duplicate, she is nobody's double or distorted reflection. She is her own person, indeed a young woman of growing self-awareness and independence."

I have high hopes for Ishiguro's novel. If he can shake our foundational assumption that clones are identical in every way, and not just with respect to the genes they possess, it will help dispel the long-standing myth that it is those genes, and those genes alone, that determine who we are.

While I don't expect that we'll see reproductive cloning in action any time soon, this is an important first step down that path.

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