Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Welcome, Whoever You Are: Fay Weldon, Who Once Wrote a Novel about a Cloned Woman, Argues That We Will Eventually Accept Clones Just as We Accept Test-Tube Babies - and Rightly So. (Features)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Welcome, Whoever You Are: Fay Weldon, Who Once Wrote a Novel about a Cloned Woman, Argues That We Will Eventually Accept Clones Just as We Accept Test-Tube Babies - and Rightly So. (Features)

Article excerpt

Welcome to the world, little cloned baby from the Raelian sect-should you exist, which I rather doubt. I don't care about your parentage, whether you were conceived by the natural coupling of man and woman, in a test tube by sperm and egg, or were the product of a virgin birth by cell nucleus delivered into an emptied egg; welcome all the same. You're a person: you grew in a womb, you have a soul, you deserve love. The universal shock horror with which your (alleged) arrival is met seems to me on a par with the universal shock horror with which the notion of pain relief in childbirth was greeted in Victorian times. Children were meant to be brought forth in pain and anguish -- the Bible said so. If they weren't, a terrible doom would descend upon the child, the mother and mankind. Except it didn't.

But I would say that, wouldn't I? Seventeen years ago I wrote a novel called The Cloning of Joanna May, in which a woman found herself cloned by a mad scientist, a captain of industry who was also her husband. She got to the age of 40 and discovered to her horror that she had four clones of herself, now in their twenties. I got to know and love the clones, as did she. Lovely girls, without her hang-ups -- but then they didn't have to put up with her husband. They were daughters, versions of herself, sisters or whatever. Friends.

And how different from one another the clones turned out to be. They had developed in different wombs, after all, and had very different social backgrounds. They turned out to be less alike, in fact, than identical twins, who at least share a womb. The novel was in essence a fictional dissertation on the nature-nurture debate, and I got it about right -- and I was thrilled when my hero Steven Pinker, the biologist, whom I met in a TV studio the other day, said as much. Not just in accord with the latest research on twins, 17 years on, but the science of cloning --down to the electrical charge that sets the process of cell division going.

So, OK, I was a prophet. But at the time, the parts of the novel that were fact -- the Egyptologist bent on cloning a mummy (I met such a person in Uppsala in Sweden, doing just that - he had been working with a clinic in Leipzig, and that was in the mid-Eighties) -- were assumed to be science fiction; what was pure invention was assumed to be true. So much for research, I thought. Why bother? Truth is stranger than fiction. And if the writer can think of it, someone somewhere is bound to be doing it, the world is so large and strange. My Egyptologist told me his clinic had recently stopped the experimentation because of East German government restraints, and the fear they'd only get 90 per cent of a perfect person as a result - but he put his finger to his nose while he said it and I knew he was lying.

Scientists have been working on cloning for a long time, and of course they feel obliged to deny it, so great is the public fear of their playing God, and their suspicion they will be stopped if anyone finds out. Even those who least believe in God (or feminise him and call her Nature) suddenly begin to cite him as evidence as to why human reproduction should happen in beds or down alleys and be left to chance; why mankind should follow its species nature and not control its own future.

Why would anyone want to clone? Because, like the Moon, it's there? (Nothing would do until we'd walked upon the Moon and, in the end, what difference did it make? Except wasn't it exciting!) Because humans were born with an inquisitive gene? (We could breed it out but would we want to?) Feminists would wryly observe that it is mostly men working in the genetic field, and the motive is obvious - they want to deprive women of the one thing they can do which men can't - that is to say, produce babies. Now men can do it, too. In the lab. Far less messy.

I have no doubt but that in this country scientists play it by the book: for the most part they are publicly funded and have to do as they're told, and would want to. …

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