A Clone Again, Unnaturally

After years of wasting our time cloning sheep, rats and game show hosts, we have finally cloned a human being. What’s shameful is not that it took so long, but that extra-terrestrials had to help us do it. What happened to American initiative and know-how?

The first alleged cloning was of an unnamed woman whose partner is infertile. The alleged clone is of the woman herself — which I find vain — and she allegedly gave birth in December, all with the alleged help of a sect called the Raelians, who believe space aliens used cloning technology to create the human race.

The word “alleged” must be used often when reporting such news, because most of your major scientists and experts think the Raelians are 1) crazy for claiming they’ve successfully cloned a person, and 2) irresponsible for even trying. The typical success rate with animals is about 2 percent, and they frequently wind up with weird physical defects such as not having kidneys or growing to be 100 feet tall and destroying Tokyo. People are generally more complicated than animals — though this is obviously not true in every case, as MTV has demonstrated — and the odds against a normal baby being produced are extreme.

In the New York Times, science reporter Gina Kolata — and, like me, you probably like Gina Kolatas and getting caught in the rain — explained the difficulty. She cited one doctor who, had he not known of the trouble researchers have had trying to clone monkeys, would have thought humans would be easy to clone due to the advances made by fertility experts. “But the monkey work gave him pause,” Gina Kolata wrote.

Yes, “The monkey work gave him pause” would be a good opening line for a mystery novel. But it is also a reminder that slapping together a cloned human is not easy, even for doctors and mad scientists. So how have the Raelians done it?

They won’t say. They won’t name any of the scientists involved, nor their methods, nor will they give the name of the alleged mother. They did say, however, that several more cloned babies are due in the coming weeks, and in fact, one was allegedly born to an allegedly Dutch couple last week. So basically, we got one song-and-dance routine, and now the encores have begun.

The Raelians were founded by a French racecar driver named Claude Vorilhon who, in 1973, was visited by aliens. The aliens told him they were the authors of the human race, that they used cloning technology to accomplish this, and that if we’d get on the ball, we could start doing cool sciencey stuff, too. They’re proud of the human race they spawned, though apparently they don’t care for the name Claude Vorilhon, because they renamed him Rael, which I don’t see as an improvement, but I’m neither French nor an extra-terrestrial, so my opinion may not be valid in this case.

You can read all about the Raelians at www.rael.org. For example, we read there that the aliens “are not invaders. They have shown their desire to come (to Earth) but they respect our choice to say no. It is up to us to invite them. … It’s the least we can do.” In this regard, they are like vampires, who cannot enter a home unless invited in. (Same with Mormon missionaries.)

One of the goals of the Raelian movement is to inform people of our spacely origins. Once enough of us have accepted this and want our forebears to return, they will do so, presumably bringing useless gifts and telling us how much we’ve grown. (The aliens are only 4 feet tall, which only supports my use of “visiting grandparents” imagery.)

According to Rael, who is the sect’s spiritual leader, Raelians are big on cloning because once we’re good enough at cloning our bodies, we’ll learn how to copy memory and personality, too. This means that, even if someone died, an exact duplicate of him, down to his last neurosis and phobia, would still be alive. It will be eternal life! But not in some bizarre, perpetually happy other-worldly paradise, but here! On Earth! A place that is really dirty and often unpleasant! Who wouldn’t want to live here forever?!

Is Raelianism the one true religion? It’s hard for us to say, probably because we’re laughing too hard. True or not, though, human cloning remains mostly a mystery. And isn’t it unnecessary anyway? We have enough people already, and a lot of us don’t even like a lot of the ones we have. No one is so genetically awesome that we need to create physical duplicates of them. But if such a worthy specimen should emerge, you can bet the aliens will be there to knit booties and send birthday cards with $5 bills in them.

Thanks to the several readers who e-mailed or Instant Messaged me to ask whether I'd be writing a column about the alleged cloning. I was considering it, but the feedback made it clear I couldn't NOT do it.

The implication in the first paragraph that game show hosts are not human beings hearkens back to a Garrens Comedy Troupe sketch I wrote in 1996. It was a parody of "The Dating Game" that ended with the ugly bachelorette pursuing the host rather than any of the bachelor contestants. As the host fled from the woman, he tried to deflect her advances by yelling, "I'm a game show host! I can't reproduce!" I always thought that was funny, whether anyone else did or not.

If "Snide Remarks" were syndicated in newspapers throughout the country, the reference to Mormon missionaries would have been to Jehovah's Witnesses instead. But since "Snide Remarks" is written for a newspaper in Provo, Utah, I went with the reference that had more local impact.