Book Review: Remaking Eden
By Colin Tudge

New Statesman
January 30, 1998

Lee M Silver Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 20 [pounds sterling]

If we leave it to market forces, we will accept cloning, just as we have accepted test-tube babies. We may even have to come to terms with two distinct human species

For all the presidential edicts and emergency "ethical" committees, human cloning will happen, probably in the US, and for the reasons Lee Silver identifies. For some people cloning is the only means by which they can produce offspring that carry their own genes: huge profits can be made from meeting their demands, and in the US the market rules -- not simply for the crude reason that money talks, but because "free market" is equated with freedom per se, sanctified in the constitution. Many liberals are repelled by cloning, yet feel compelled to defend the rights of fellow Americans to do as they will.

Is the prospect really so bad? Some speculate that cloned babies might be psychologically disturbed; but the 1,50,000 or so "test-tube babies" already born by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) suffer no particular traumas. Many envisage a monstrous regiment of Saddam Husseins. But any technology can be misused: television for propaganda, medicine for germ warfare. Nasty people may use any technology nastily, so should all be banned? Hard cases make bad law.

In truth, cloning and its accompanying technologies might reconstruct the physical form of dead children for parents whose own fertility is already lost; or, more modestly, clone blood tissues to cure leukaemia. Is this inhumane? Is it humane to deny such therapies? Outcome and motive are what matter, as in all other medical technologies. Adoption already provides a set of principles: those who seek to adopt are assessed to ensure they are motivated by love. By this existing, simple, humanitarian criterion the tyrant who seeks to multiply himself through vanity, or the intellectual driven by curiosity, would be ruled out of court. So what's the difference and where's the problem?

The difference is that cloning is perceived to be unnatural, and although all medicine is "unnatural" in a sense, this is deemed to be in the realms of the hubris[ tic and the blasphemous. These are essentially religious objections and in western societies (thank God) religious feelings no longer translate directly into law. Indeed, terms such as "blasphemy" and "hubris" have lost their resonance. So people in modern, secular societies are in a cleft stick. They feel in their bones that cloning and its ilk are wrong, but have no vocabulary or formal structure to express those feelings; which is why they fall back on Saddam Hussein and speculate with cod psychology that cloned children might feel unhappy.

Silver, rationalist and scientist that he is, runs rings around such misgivings. He is surely right to suppose that the market, wearing its benign face, will override such flimsy arguments; first perhaps in some beleaguered country that would welcome a new cottage industry, then everywhere.

Cloning, after all, is only one of many reproductive technologies that have been developed in the past few decades, and all of them -- artificial insemination, embryo transfer, IVF- were condemned at first by liberals and zealots alike but are now big business. In the US alone, about 300 clinics offer IVF. Rhetoric cannot withstand market forces.

Silver speculates further. Gene therapy -- correcting the damaged genes that underlie such diseases as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell -- is already welcomed in principle even if not yet practicable. In a few decades or less, gene therapy will shade into "genetic enhancement", which will sneak in through market forces just as cosmetic plastic surgery has done. Cloning complements genetic engineering: it can provide indefinite numbers of early embryos to work on. Embryo selection is almost with us: embryos can be produced in vitro from selected sperm and eggs and then frozen until some couple -- or liberated single woman -- has one that meets her specification implanted into her womb.

In a century or So, Silver suggests, human beings will be divided into those who can afford genetic enhancement ("GenRich") and those who cannot ("Naturals"), and the former will dominate every field of human endeavour. His forecast superficially resembles Brave New World except that Aldous Huxley saw the technologies driven by a totalitarian state while Silver's are led by the market. Eventually, Silver suggests, the GenRich and the Naturals will diverge to form two human species. I find this implausible -- but only just.

In reality, Silver abhors such a prospect but in the book he appears to contemplate it with equanimity. Where the market leads, he seems content to follow. I suggest instead that such technologies reveal the limitations of unfettered

markets, which do not guarantee justice or good sense, and readily deviate from both. Thatcher and Blair, please note: we cannot allow the free market to frame our ethics or indeed to determine the biology of the human species;

Gina Kolata's Clone is more modest: a brisk account of the science and technologies that, in July 1996, led to the first mammal to be cloned from the body cell of an adult. As such it is excellent. But Kolata, like Silver, is a child of the market, measuring "reality" in dollars.

We know we're good at technology: anything that does not affect to break what Sir Peter Medawar called "the bedrock laws of physics" must be considered do-able, given time. Control of technology is the issue for the 21st century. Silver is right to suggest that the secular arguments are inadequate. And since the deepest objections to cloning are religious in nature, perhaps the ultimate framework of control must be rooted in religion. We first need, though, to rethink what we mean by religion. But that's another story.

Colin Tudge is research fellow, Centre for Philosophy, London School of Economics