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  • The Ethics of Human Cloning in Narrative Fiction
  • Amit Marcus (bio)

In Love's Knowledge, Martha Nussbaum claims that fictional narratives can teach us how to live life in a different manner than real-life situations can, because "our experience is, without fiction, too confined and too parochial."1 However, this is not the only reason that narrative fiction can contribute to ethical deliberation in a way that everyday life cannot: in projecting non-actualized (and nonactualizable) story worlds, narrative fiction expands the ability of readers for ethical contemplation; in portraying other conceptions of what a good life may be in a world that departs from the actual world in some essential respects, narrative fiction provokes readers to reconsider their values and what they believe a good life is in the actual world.

The specific contribution of science fiction to narrative ethics derives from its distinctive generic features. Science fiction narratives typically represent neither verisimilar nor impossible scenarios. The domain of these narratives is what might be possible in the near or remote future, according to the state of science and technology at the time of their composition.2 The ethical issues that science fiction raises are related to scientific and technological development, its prospects and its risks. The fundamental question that it addresses is in what ways the envisaged state of science can affect personal identity, human desire, will and cognition, and the conception of humanity, that is, what a human being is or should be. Indeed, Darko Suvin, a prominent scholar of science fiction, underscores what he considers the immanent relations of science fiction and ethics: "This genre has always been wedded to a hope of finding in the unknown the ideal environment, tribe, state, intelligence, or other aspect of the Supreme Good (or to a fear of and revulsion from its contrary)."3 [End Page 405]

"Clone narratives" are one of the most common types of contemporary science fiction. Some of these narratives (such as David Rorvik's In His Image) elaborate on the scientific methods employed for cloning, whereas others (such as Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go) provide only several perfunctory remarks on the technique of cloning or even utterly avoid this topic.4 Damien Borderick characterizes science fiction as giving preference to an extended description of the object (e.g., the space in which the narrative takes place), but clone narratives break with that format by typically focusing on the psychology of the clone(s) and/or the sociology of a community of clones.5

Although the question of whether human cloning will ever be feasible and actually practiced is speculative and depends not only on scientific development but also on political and ethical decisions, the successful cloning of other mammals—the most prominent example being the sheep Dolly, cloned in 1996—generates a cultural climate in which human cloning seems imminent.6 Therefore, the issues that it raises—its likely impingement on debates about personal identity, the status of the family in modern society, the goals, limits and perils of science—are represented in clone narratives as particularly urgent, demanding an immediate ethical response.

Some of the concerns of scientists and bioethicists with regard to cloning are hardly or not at all addressed in narrative fiction and vice versa: clone narratives dwell on the cloning of whole (human) organisms and do not attend to the cloning of genes and of cells for therapeutic purposes (e.g., the use of cloning in the testing and development of new medicines and vaccinations and in tissue transplantations), most probably because these uses of cloning are not narratively appealing.7 Similarly, the risks of miscarriage, prenatal death, harmful mutations, and developmental abnormalities—elaborately discussed in scientific debates about cloning—are not taken up by clone narratives.8 Scientific discussions treat cloning in the context of associated technologies of artificial reproduction, such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF), whereas most fictional narratives do not.

Conversely, some of the scenarios posed by science fiction and their ethical repercussions do not concern bioethicists, who maintain that they are very unlikely to ever occur. Most notably, scientists deem implausible or even impossible the societies of clones portrayed in...


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pp. 405-433
Launched on MUSE
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