Just Like Peas In A Pod

Few technological breakthroughs have caused a greater reaction than the recent announcement that scientists in Scotland had successfully cloned a sheep. Within hours of the announcement, almost everyone with a personal agenda called a press conference to demonstrate their unselfish concern for the ignorant masses, who unlike themselves couldn't possibly be capable of forming an opinion of their own. The scientific pontiffs lined up on both sides of the issue in a parting of the ranks reminiscent of Moses parting the Red Sea. The lawyers almost drowned in their own drool just thinking about the potential legal ramifications. The clergy immediately prepared 6 months of sermons on this latest sacrilege, and the TV evangelists appropriately doubled their fundraising efforts. The issues raised by this truly incredible breakthrough are not open for discussion since I personally believe that most people are intelligent enough to form their own opinions. However, in keeping with tradition I would like to share my own thoughts with you, since all of us already take advantage of cloning every day.

In addition to the biological references, the dictionary also defines clone as “to make a copy of, or to imitate”. To use an example we can all relate to, I submit that anyone running TPF or ALCS is running cloned software. Every set of initial release tapes from IBM is identical. The TPF4.1 tapes sent to FedEx are identical to the set sent to every other TPF4.1 user. Same number of cartridges, same number of files, same number of programs and macros, right down to the same number of bytes on each tape. Yet we all know that no two TPF systems in the world are the same. And it's this difference, this unique deviation that must be appreciated and understood before any of us pass judgment on the future of cloning. For our own “practical” business reasons, we have chosen to modify (or if you prefer, enhance) our TPF systems to suit the requirements and needs of our customers. Not only are our hotel systems different from our airline systems, but our airline systems are inherently different from each other as well. The specific reasons for these differences are not what we need to be focusing on. The fundamental argument here is the philosophy that all things are inevitably products of their environments. And that includes people.

The variables and factors are infinite. Consider parental influence, toys, diet, education, music, siblings, healthcare, friends, religion, books read, TV shows watched and movies seen. Even the weather must be taken into account. If it were possible to clone me today, the “new” me would not be the same person when he reached my present age. I imagine he would look almost the same, and we might even share a fondness for certain foods, or have similar tastes in literature, but we wouldn't be the same person. The new me wouldn't have had my parents, my friends, my education, my experiences, my wife and children. These are the building blocks of an individual, and these are the things that shape a personality.

The subject of cloning human beings uncovers the deepest fears in most people. Certainly some of these fears are derived out of books we've read or movies we've seen, but many are borne out of a lack of understanding, and sadly others out of shear ignorance. There are three major issues in the forefront right now, and I'd like to touch on each one briefly.

  1. There are concerns about cloning people for body parts or organ transplants. This is a legitimate concern, and one which could be prevented through appropriate regulation and control. Additionally, we shouldn't lose sight of the other advances being made in the areas of genetic research and organ replication, which will ultimately remove this concern from the list.
  2. The creation of another Hitler is a genuine stretch of the imagination in my book, but there are those who are honestly worried that this could happen. Genetically identical does not dictate (no pun intended) that this man will in fact become another Adolph Hitler. The product of today's environment would be a very different person.
  3. The religious community is faced with the moral issue of creationism and the very real threat to the beliefs and teachings which are the foundations of modern religion. I have no words to temper these concerns, and can only suggest that each one of us as unique, individual, one-of-a-kind human beings resolve these challenges through the strength of our faith.

All things considered, we're still years away from even attempting to clone human beings. And should that day come, we may very well discover that many of our fears were unfounded – that using Einstein's DNA didn't even come close to producing another Einstein. More importantly, we should always remember that the pioneers of science and technology were often shunned and ridiculed, even persecuted for their efforts and their beliefs. The Pasteur's and the Curie's, and the hundreds of other scientists and technicians who have left us their legacy of progress have also taught us to be open-minded and objective. It's human nature to fear and aggressively resist those things we don't understand. However, at the same time we need to weigh the cost of our actions both to ourselves and to future generations. Let's not pass judgment on anything we don't understand until all the facts are available. In the meantime, if it makes you feel any better, take it out on the ultimate cloning device. Go unplug the Xerox machine.

Alan Sadowsky
Alan Sadowsky
Alan Sadowsky