As human as you and I

As human as you and I
A proposed ban on reproductive cloning demonstrates our irrational fear of the unknown, not the vagaries of science.

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By Ann Marlowe

“Images of a divided existence — of Doppelgangers and Doubles — become most compelling when family relationships are most upset.”

That line from cultural critic Hillel Schwartz comes from his 1994 book, “The Culture of the Copy,” but it speaks directly to the current controversy over human cloning. Late last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill that bans human cloning for both reproduction and stem-cell research. So irrational was the panic over cloning that an exception to the cloning bill for stem-cell research was also defeated. The bill is not likely to gather the necessary 60 Senate votes, largely because stem-cell research has many and eloquent defenders. But human reproductive cloning, currently ineligible for government funding, is likely to be banned in the near future.

This prospect, though expected, should not pass unremarked. As Schwartz implies, there is a large irrational element in our feelings about doubles and clones, and I would argue that the severity of the House bill — those who defy the ban would be liable for a fine of $1 million and up to 10 years in prison — has more to do with our fears than with public-policy objectives or science.

With its ban on cloning, the House of Representatives is circling the wagons against a phantom army of clones, precisely because the wagons don’t protect what they used to. Blended families of exes, halves and steps, same-sex couples, fertility drug twins, adopted children and serial cohabitators constitute a growing precentage of the families we have these days; and while love allows us to accept these new forms of affiliation, an underlying anxiety over their novelty has never disappeared. The past 50 years have brought more changes to the family than the past 500 or even 2,500 years, and to those who perceive these new families as artificial, they are disquieting and, at some deep level, unacceptable. Of course, human history is filled with practices once considered “natural” and now abhorred, like slavery, and with those formerly condemned as “unnatural” and now unquestioned, like the right of women to work and vote.

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