Jewish World Review

William J. Bennet

Hollywood finds
truth in cloning

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT'S rare these days that I can find words of praise for a Hollywood product. Too often, films are filled with graphic violence, dehumanizing sexuality and filthy language. And almost always, films treat serious moral questions as nothing more than academic debates. Kudos, then, to The 6th Day , an action-adventure flick that, despite some gratuitously violent scenes, takes serious matters seriously.

The film, now out on video and DVD, deals responsibly with one of the most important arguments ever to face us: human cloning. Little attention has been paid to this issue, even as the prospect of successful cloning looms closer. The movie opens nicely on this note by setting the scene temporally: "Sooner than you might think."

The 6th Day refers to the biblical book of Genesis, the day when G-d created man. In the film, an earlier experiment in human cloning went terribly awry; the Supreme Court ordered the clone destroyed, calling it "the humane thing to do." Congress responded by passing "Sixth Day" laws banning human cloning.

This is the first argument against human cloning: the prospect of terribly deformed, defective clones. The necessary experimentation must be done in large part on humans. And, if the experiments in animal cloning are any indicator, the majority of early human clones will not survive. Fewer than 2% to 3% of early attempts to clone animals were successful, and even these "successes," as bioethicist Leon Kass points out, suffer from "a very high incidence of major disabilities and deformities." This sort of experimentation of potential human life is gravely immoral.

The movie understands the emotional arguments that cloning advocates make. In a series of scenes, these arguments are put forward forcefully - and then rejected with even greater force. And while the film focuses on clones "born" as fully grown adults, they are no less relevant to clones "born" as babies.

Adam Gibson, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, knows his daughter will be crushed to learn that their dog has died. So Gibson's colleagues urge him to clone the dog. But Gibson argues that this is "the natural process of life - you're born, you live and you die."

This argument is echoed later by a scientist's wife. She is cloned and brought back to life (so to speak) by her husband 5 years after dying from cystic fibrosis. "The feelings I have aren't mine," she argues. "They're hers. ... I want to die. My time has already passed."

Michael Drucker, the high-tech entrepreneur, argues that through cloning, "we will finally be able to conquer death." But Gibson asks, "Who gets to decide who lives and who dies?" He recognizes the Baconian effort to "conquer nature" always leads to the power of some men over other men, with nature as its tool.

Gibson is not a deeply religious man, nor does he fear all science. Rather, he simply has "a problem with the whole idea" of human cloning. When men are made, not procreated, they owe everything to those who created them. Our familial terms - father, child, sister - are devoid of meaning. Parents who choose to clone have expectations, not hopes, for their children.

As the movie ends, Gibson tells his own clone that his willingness to risk his life for others is proof he is human. But the clone's need to be assured of his humanity indicates that he recognizes he is not quite human. There is no debate which one of them will remain with Gibson's family: It is the original. The clone recognizes that he must leave Gibson and his family behind and find an independent identity for himself.

Since Plato, philosophers have realized that the way ideas enter public consciousness has great consequence in our public life. The 6th Day, then, does a great service by presenting the arguments against human cloning. It treats fairly those who oppose cloning for religious reasons and on secular grounds. And, I hope, it impresses the importance and urgency of the debate on human cloning --- here now before us.

William J. Bennett is co-director of Empower America. To comment,
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© 2001, Bill Bennet