Clones on Their Own

A study of identical twins confirms that they have individual personalities (duh!) and discusses the findings in the context of issues with human cloning.

A cloned human would probably consider themselves to be an individual, a study suggests.

Scientists drew their conclusions after interviewing identical twins about their experiences of sharing exactly the same genes with somebody else.

The team said the twins believed their genes played a limited role in shaping their identity.

The UK/Austrian research will shortly be published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine.

Co-author Dr Barbara Prainsack, from the University of Vienna, Austria, who worked with Professor Tim Spector, from the Twins Research Unit, St Thomas’ Hospital, London, UK, said: “The birth of Dolly the sheep triggered many questions about what it would be like to be a clone.

“We don’t have clones we can interview – but we do have identical twins.”

Wow. I’m unsure of what to say here. The whole study appears to be an exercise in confirming the bleeding obvious — individual existence is shaped by both genetics and environment, and recognition of individual-ness by humans has never been in doubt. Adding in some talk about “clones” makes it trendy or something, it seems.

It was obvious to me decades ago that “clone” simply did not and could not have the same connotation as one finds in science fiction’s “replicant”, though popular culture seems to think that the two significantly overlap. A person whose existence comes about through cloning starts life sharing the genes of another person, but from there development and experience will contribute to divergence in the ways that personality gets molded. Sure, genetics is a big contributor, but the notion that cloning gets you replicants of someone is — and will remain, IMHO — science fiction.

And, of course, if you mention cloning, you get knee-jerk responses from the anti-replicant faction, Denyse O’Leary in this case.

However, if children are cloned for the purposes of being “just like” whoever has the power of life or death over them, they had better take care not to show much individuality.

I don’t know exactly how that is supposed to work. I don’t see that there are any loopholes in the laws concerning infanticide and murder that would make it OK to kill a human baby or child because of some perceived mismatch with someone else’s personality. There’s some major-league paranoia going on there.

Of course, while Denyse views this study as preparing the way for acceptance of cloning-as-replication (“In what is clearly a bid to soften up the public for human cloning…”), the report already shows that the quoted co-author had made the general argument against replication and other bad aims already.

Dr Prainsack said: “According to the genetically identical people in our study, the problem would not be genetic sameness, but more the motives with which somebody would determine somebody else’s genome.

“The cloning debate would benefit from shifting away its focus from genetic sameness to looking more at social reasons for why the deliberate creation of human beings with a certain genetic make-up could hurt society.”

I wonder why Denyse didn’t mention that?

Update: As usual, PZ Myers got there first with a post on the obviousness of the study.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.