Heading for the Island: The Island Portrays the Immorality of the Principle Behind Embryonic Stem-Cell Research, Which Is That Certain Human Beings Can Be Declared Expendable for the Benefit of Others

By DuBord, Steven J. | The New American, August 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Heading for the Island: The Island Portrays the Immorality of the Principle Behind Embryonic Stem-Cell Research, Which Is That Certain Human Beings Can Be Declared Expendable for the Benefit of Others


DuBord, Steven J., The New American


Certain human beings can be declared expendable for the supposed benefit of others. This very flawed principle sets the course for The Island--director Michael Bay's recently released science fiction movie--a course plotted directly through the storm of controversy raised by modern technology. Of course, no human being should ever be considered expendable for the convenience of another, and The Island clearly illustrates the immorality of allowing this principle of expediency to guide our use of technology. (Those who have not seen The Island are hereby warned that spoilers follow.)

In The Island, futuristic technology is used to grow human clones who are dehumanized into "products" and cannibalized for spare parts. But today's science is already capable of sinking to this same depth of depravity with embryonic stem-cell research. Granted, there is a difference. The Island portrays obviously fully human, healthy adults who are being exploited for involuntary organ donation. With embryonic stem-cell research, the victim is a much more helpless embryo who is nonetheless fully human. The human life of that embryo begins at conception and remains even if that life is kept at the embryonic stage of growth in a laboratory. When the embryo is destroyed by stem-cell extraction, an innocent human life is taken. Despite the difference, a closer look at The Island will show how far we could slide down a slippery slope if expediency is allowed to misguide science.

A Tour of The Island

The Island imagines a not-too-distant future in which a huge corporation has developed very advanced cloning technology. For several million dollars, a wealthy individual can "sponsor" the production of his or her own clone. The clone, called an "agnate," will be grown to the same biological age as the sponsor in only 12 months. After this, the agnate can be cannibalized to provide spare body parts for the sponsor. The sponsor is told that the agnate is kept in a vegetative state (in accordance with eugenics laws), and is merely a product, not a human being.

The corporation is lying. Its scientists have discovered that clones will not develop properly without consciousness. The agnates are in fact fully alive and conscious human beings who are kept isolated in an abandoned underground military bunker. They are told that the Earth has become contaminated and only one place outside the bunker still remains inhabitable--"the Island." A lottery is set up to determine who can leave the bunker and travel to the Island, purportedly to begin repopulating the world. In reality, the lottery is rigged so that when a sponsor needs a body organ, that person's clone becomes the winner. Amid much fanfare, the winner is separated from his fellow clones and supposedly departs for the Island. Actually, the winner is taken to an operating room and sedated, the needed parts are harvested, and the clone is killed.

One clone, Lincoln Six-Echo (played by Ewan McGregor), eventually discovers the truth and escapes from the bunker with his friend Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson). Trying to save both their own lives and the lives of their fellow clones, Lincoln and Jordan seek the help of their sponsors to expose the corporation's crimes. They have the somewhat naive hope that their sponsors will choose the morally correct course when confronted with Lincoln's and Jordan's humanness. Meanwhile, the corporation secretly hires elite mercenaries to recover its "lost products." If it became known that the "vegetative" agnates are really living human beings, the corporation would be out of business.

From Fiction to Reality

The similarity of the business of harvesting organs from unwilling adult clones to that of collecting stem cells from helpless human embryos has not been lost to reviewers. Roger Ebert asks, "Does stem cell research ring a bell?" A.O. Scott of the New York Times notes: "The issues raised by the possibility of human cloning are vexed in themselves, and they are also connected to more immediate debates about abortion, stem cells and euthanasia. …

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