CBC Digital Archives

Fears of a clone age

Cloning has leapt from science fiction to science fact. Once merely the realm of imagination (a duplicate Elvis, a rink full of Gretzkys, or an army of Hitlers), the science of cloning, for medical advance or for reproduction, has raced ahead of public policy and ethical debate. From cloned cows to UFO cults, for better or for worse, Canada finds itself in the centre of the clone age.

media clip
In the post-Dolly world, human cloning is absolutely inevitable. That's the opinion of Princeton geneticist Lee Silver, author of Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family. Silver doubts the technology will ever be cheap enough to create an army of clones. But he has no doubt that wealthy people will soon have themselves cloned. But he thinks the cloning element is just a sideshow.

Cloning is already being combined with genetic engineering. Silver envisions a future society where the rich can buy genetic advantages for their children. It would start innocuously enough, with genetic screening for diseases. From there, "reprogenetics" may lead to designer children, social inequity and discrimination against the world's genetic "have-nots." This clip from The National Magazine looks at cloning, genetic engineering, society and "The New Facts of Life."
. In 1978 the world's first "test-tube baby," Louise Brown, was born by the process of in vitro fertilization: fertilizing an egg in a laboratory dish and implanting the embryo into a woman's uterus. The process sparked outrage about scientists "playing God" and concern that they would create a deformed monster, or a master race. But Brown turned out to be a normal, healthy baby girl. In vitro fertilization is now a common and accepted approach to fighting female infertility.

. Genetic engineering is the manipulation of genes, leading to the "heritable, directed alteration" of an organism, by modifying the organism's DNA, or introducing new DNA.
. "Reprogenetics" is the word Silver uses to describe "the use of genetic information and technology to ensure or prevent the inheritance of particular genes in a child." This ranges from choosing a marriage partner, to selecting sperm or egg donors, to amniocentesis screening for birth defects.

. Using embryo analysis and selection, parents may be able to choose to develop embryos that show increased potential for anything with a genetic component (e.g. tallness or longevity). With "germline" genetic engineering, scientists may be able to modify any number of genes in an embryo to introduce genetic changes -- disease resistance, even enhancements that no human would naturally have. These changes would be passed on to the child's descendents.

. If human cloning were possible and permitted, it could potentially allow infertile or gay couples -- or those wishing to be single parents -- to have children that carried only the genes of one of the parents (unmixed with the genes of a sperm or egg donor).
. Lee Silver is a professor of molecular biology at Princeton University. His work focuses on biotechnology and its influence on society, public policy and religion. He has written five books on genetics.
Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Jan. 20, 1998
Guest(s): Laura Shanner, Lee Silver, Ian Wilmut
Host: Hana Gartner
Duration: 16:06

Last updated: September 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

David Suzuki: Scientist, Activist, Broadcaste...

For over three decades, David Suzuki has been Canada's foremost environmental conscience. From...

Canada Enters the Clone Age

Cloning has leapt from science fiction to science fact. Once merely the realm of imagination (...

1999: Montreal scientists clone goats

Two years after Dolly the sheep: Clint, Arnold and Danny, the kids.

New global guidelines for human embryonic ste...

Janet Rossant discusses the ethical guidelines published by the International Society for Stem...

Can gene doping build the perfect athlete?

New science raises the spectre of altering athletes' DNA to improve performance.

Researcher falsifies stem cell research resul...

Exciting new stem cell research is announced in early 2004, but the results are later revealed...