A Review of Lori Andrews' The Clone Age


An excessively tanned sixty-five year old investor hang glides above the Pacific coast.  Suddenly, he catches an ill wind and goes into a death spiral.  He smashes onto a seaside highway and breaks his neck, ending his life.            


His fifty year old companion accompanies him to the hospital and decides it would be self-actualizing to have his child.  So she orders a that the  posthumous collection of sperm from his corpse. (I won't tell you how this is done, but it makes many war-time atrocities seem tame).  This sperm is put on ice and shipped across the country via Federal Express. There, it is squirted into a petri dish with eggs extracted from a 25 year old who, in order to receive the several thousand dollars she needs to finance her new short film, has taken multiple injections to overstimulate her ovaries into releasing multiple eggs and has had these eggs removed with a long needle through her abdomen.  The resulting embryos are packed in ice and shipped back across the country.  They are genetically screened.   Some of the embryos that contain male genetic material are injected into the fifty year old.  Others are implanted into a surrogate mother,  just in case the fifty year old cannot carry the embryos to term.  The fifty year old gets  hormone shots and the embryos grow inside her.  Several months later, three males are extracted from her by Caesarean section.  Two other offspring are pulled from the surrogate.     


A French-American woman gets artificially inseminated.  Then, her lover splits.  Distraught, she aborts the fetus.  A profit-oriented lab takes the egg cells from the fetus and sells them to a forty year old desperate to become pregnant. The forty year old goes on the Net and orders sperm from a WASPY Boston college student,  who took the $50 he got for his donation to buy a keg of beer for a frat party.  After FedEx delivers the sperm, she puts on her chic-est outfit and lipstick and drives to a clinic that shoots the sample inside her with a syringe.  The embryo develops and nine months later, a distinctly Amer-Asian female emerges.   So, you have a being born to a biological mother who was, herself, never even born, from a gestational mother who has never met either the biological father or grandfather.  And, sorry, Ma'am, you got someone else's order.


All of this-- and more-- is now possible and most of it has already occurred many times over.  I used composite scenarios  to save space.    


In The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology (1999), Lori B. Andrews discusses the numerous reproductive technologies that have been developed and marketed in the past several decades. 


In a society that so values individual freedom and has repudiated the ownership of humans,  is it contradictory that some take unnatural measures to create a life to serve their own wants and litigate to vindicate their "property rights" in embryos from such petri dish unions ?  Is it ok for a parent to try to make their child into a concert pianist? Should a parent be allowed to deny a child life-saving medical treatment because that treatment violates the parents' religious tenets?  Is it ok for a pregnant mother to use cocaine or alcohol?  If it's ok to abort a fetus because it is not a person who are adults undergoing artificial conception to benefit, themsleves or a being that does not even exist?  Doesn't life have intrinsic value, regardless of parental wishes? During a concert, I heard  Tracy Chapman  sing, of having children, "I found out the hard way one person can't possess another."  People cheered.    


Artificial conception is  another manifestation of the abdication of human life to technology and defies the "Do it yourself" ethic.  One reason for this ethic is that you can't trust others to act honestly when there are dollars to be made.  One doctor admitted artificially inseminating 75 women with his own sperm.   People delivering kids of other races shows, clearly, what is often not as clear-- samples are being mixed.  The author is troubled that baby-making is such a big business and that this industry is unregulated.  She never questions whether this industry should exist in the first place.


Reprotech practitioners use disturbing euphemisms.  For example, eggs and sperm are said to be "donated" when they are actually sold.  Aborting the "excess" implanted fetuses caused by IVF is called "selective reduction."  "Sperm donation" is carried out in "masturbatoria" in the presence of a wide variety of pornography.  The author wryly notes that vinyl sofas are essential.   Is this love?  Is this magic?


Even the author, who asserts she has shaped laws governing reproductive rights, struggles with consistency and terminology.  She supports abortion rights, IVF and surrogacy.  Other reprotech, like fertility drugs (and the multiple births and troubled childhoods that she says often follow), posthumous parenthood and cloning cross her line.  She draws the line by saying that she supports reprotech where the "ingredients" already exist.  In both fertility drug and posthumous parenting situations, the "ingredients" exist.   Besides,  I thought ingredients were what you used to make a cake, not a person.


The acceptance of these technologies requires that we uncritically buy into the jargon of the industry so that we don't notice that humans are commodities.  What does it mean to be human?  What does it mean to accept limits?


Once on this slippery slope, where does society  stop?  If we are all commodities, what limita are there to what people will do to each other?   Karma only counts for so much.  And you can't put the whole world in jail.


Home | Music | Essays | Reviews | Links | Contact