DeFlip Side #2: The Real Clone Wars

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Hey everybody. Welcome back to DeFlip Side. I’m Christopher DeFilippis.

Well, George Lucas has made it official. He’s calling Star Wars: Episode II “Attack of the Clones.” When he released the subtitle earlier this month, I couldn’t help but grimace. Attack of the Clones? What a stupid name. Why not The Clone Wars? Not only does that sound better, we’ve at least heard about the clone wars in the other Star Wars movies. In fact, based on Obi-Wan’s passing mention of them in the first film, and Leia’s wagging question to Luke about whether he’s a little short to be a Stormtrooper, I’ve always assumed that the Stormtroopers were the clones that cinched victory for the Empire.

The Star Wars fanatics out there will have to tell me if I’m right or not, but it’s a logical assumption to make. The troopers have numbers instead of names, and Lucas never bothers to individualize them in any way. They’re simply the embodiment of the nameless, faceless dread of the Empire. And what better to convey that dread than clones?

Clones have drawn a consistently bad lot in Science Fiction. It’s almost as if most genre authors have tapped into some universal vibe that says creating copies of ourselves is somehow inherently wrong, and can lead to no good end.

Hell, every time the writers of the original Star Trek series wanted to make a point about some human folly or another, they’d find some way to cook up an evil double of Kirk. It happened so often that they even lampooned it in the final Trek film featuring the original cast.

So what is it about clones that gives them such a bad rap? Well, in terms of fiction, they’ve largely been used as a metaphor for conformity, the antithesis of self-determination, whether the mechanical doppelgangers of the Stepford Wives or pod people from the planet Mars.

But as scary as clones have been made to seem, what’s scarier is the fact that Lucas might have drawn his Attack of the Clones title straight from the headlines. Lately we’ve been inundated with news of nothing but. And, as always turns out to be the case, the truths involved in the real-world cloning debate are much more dynamic and interesting than even the most wild speculations of Science Fiction.

Oh, there’s the jazz everyone expected: the bickering about when life truly begins, questions of the soul, dueling moralities, on and on. Abortion has already put us through those paces. What makes the cloning debate truly remarkable is the potential of stem cell research. Let’s face it; if we can somehow master the medical possibilities of these cells, such a breakthrough would represent nothing less than humanity’s next evolutionary step. Diseases will be thwarted, crippling injuries healed. We may eventually challenge death itself.

But in typical American fashion, we’re losing site of the big picture, getting mired in endless ethical and moral quibbles. Progress is being sacrificed for politics.

Let’s face it; when President Bush announced his so-called compromise to limit federal funding only to research on existing stem cell lines, in effect he did nothing but skirt the issue. If W would stop vacationing long enough to take a look around, he might see how far out of step his inaction puts America with the international community.

Sure, you have your wingdings out there who have vowed to clone human beings before the year is out. I don’t suggest that our goal be progress at any cost; we’d be stepping over too many bodies along the way.

But look at the system in Great Britain. With advice from Bioethicists and just plain old pragmatism, Parliament has developed a set of strict guidelines that drives research forward in the areas of therapeutic cloning, with an aim at generating new human tissues. We need to follow their lead.

The big question here is where do the stem cells come from? Embryos are the obvious answer, but again we caught in the whole pro-life debate. Regardless of which side of that moral fence you live on, it’s time to put your ideologies aside and face facts.

Thanks to the thriving successes in reproductive technology today, there are countless embryos being created on a daily basis. A large portion of them go unused, and are ultimately destroyed.

I speak from experience in this matter. A few months ago, my wife and I began the process of In Vitro Fertilization. In a nutshell, the procedure goes like this: they stimulate the woman’s ovaries to create eggs, harvest those eggs, mix them with sperm and implant a few of the resulting embryos.

Using my own case as an example, they were able to harvest ten eggs from my wife. From those we got five embryos. We only planned to implant three. It was time for us to make some choices. We could freeze the extra embryos for use if the first IVF cycle failed, donate them to another couple in the IVF program, donate them to medical research, or have them destroyed.

I always have been and will always remain pro-choice, but when it came to the prospect of my own potential offspring, it suddenly wasn’t so clear-cut. If it turned out we didn’t need the embryos, I couldn’t bear the thought of them being destroyed outright. It was equally disquieting to know that donating them might very well mean that I had another child somewhere locally who I would never know.

In light of those choices, it was an easy decision to have the extra embryos donated for stem cell research. I needed to know that they might somehow have a chance to do more. And since stem cell lines regenerate indefinitely, I’d effectively be giving my unborn children immortality.

As it turned out, two of our five embryos died anyway, so we had none left over. But since our first IVF cycle failed, we’ll have to do it all over again—including deciding what to do with unused embryos. So you tell me, in the same situation, what choice would you make as a parent?

Another hard reality in this whole stem cell debate is that fact that research will continue with or without federal funding. Sadly, however, if the federal government doesn’t drive research, pharmaceutical companies will. That means all research and findings will be in private, corporate hands. Any advances will be patented, and profit will dictate the direction of research.

On the other hand, any federally funded research and findings will be made public, with the advances being used for the good of all, not just for those who can afford them. I’d much rather my embryos were used in this way. But, unfortunately, since the government won’t pay to create new stem cell lines, this currently is no longer an option.

Hell, if I were more cynical, I’d say Bush is deliberately driving more money in the direction of the pharmaceutical industry. Republicans and big business and all that.

I don’t know. I’d like to believe that there are some motivations in this world that rise above money. I’d like to believe that Bush came to this decision after a lot of sincere thought about more than his political agenda. But if he had, I think he would have taken a much firmer stand, one way or another.

As I said earlier, the real world questions surrounding the uses of cloning technology have dredged up issues and possibilities that we never dreamed of in Sci-Fi. Think, then, of the potential abuses. If big business does get hold of the reigns early, and does become the preeminent force driving stem cell and therapeutic cloning technology, without any real public accountability, the possible abuses may well be more horrible than anything ever imagined in Science Fiction.

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