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Learning episode 9:

 

Purpose and use of this learning episode: same old hopes, same old fears - The Island


On the myclasses portal where this learning episode was found there were several, startling images from the movie The Island, taken from this version for copyright reasons. The images showed a vast factory floor of clones grown on metal umbilical cords. Other images included the clones breaking free from the island and finding the real world.

 

Students attending a face-to-face class for this study watched the DVD version of the film The Island as part of their studies in class with computer and overhead projector, while students studying as flexible learning were offered a copy of the film on CD-ROM, copied under the special provisions of local Copyright laws.

 

Image for learning episode nine of the brave new world theme area of the mySF ProjectIndex:

Forum topics for discussion
An old idea with a new twist, The Island
A scenario from the near future - clone wanted!
Other views on cloning - some religious views
In-class essay topic: literary/critical essay
Podcast 2 for the brave new world theme area
Resource list
Readings and links
Further reading and links

 

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The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.

 

Forum topics for discussion:

 

 

Should Australians have the right to have a cloned body part grown for them, in case of an accident?

 

Should parents have the right to choose the gender of their child, before birth? Why, or why not?

 

In your view, what rights and responsibilities should a cloned human enjoy in a near future society?

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An old idea with a new twist, The Island

 

Bay and Bates' film The Island (2005) brings a strong argument against human cloning for 'spare parts' to the brave new world theme area. This negative approach to the technology of genetic manipulation is familiar by this stage of this theme area, because the majority of texts in this focus area of the Science Fiction genre are arguing against 'tampering with nature'. In many other texts the result of genetic engineering experimentation (usually with an innovative and brave scientist running the experiment) leads to a result that destroys the creator as well as many others around. This is what is called the Frankenstein Complex, where the creation rises up to slay its creator, usually because of the initial hubris of the creator.

 

The Island is one of the latest stories in this long tradition of texts using genetic engineering as the main technological device. Some critics say The Island borrows many ideas from an earlier film by Michael Crichton, called Coma (1978) and the producers of The Island were also sued for copying ideas from another movie, Spares: the Clonus Horror. These similarities to other texts is not a problem for our study. In fact, it means that The Island is a strong representative of many films and stories that work in the same way. In this case, the story is based on people grown by cloning to supply spare parts for the very rich.

 

The story of The Island starts strongly enough in a futuristic setting that seems to be in a dome in the middle of the Ocean. As we move forward through the movie we learn that the situation is not as plain as it seems at first. The lottery for the people of the dome is to live free on 'the island' but the real reward for graduating from the dome is very different, involving horrible surgery to remove parts of the lottery winners' bodies for a rich client.

 

There have been several complaints about The Island including that far too much of the film was a car chase and then a ludicrous fall from a skyscraper. Other criticisms include product placement throughout the film, such as the very obvious XBox logo during the virtual fight between the main protagonists.

 

One of the main criticisms of The Island was not that the movie seemed to be siding completely with the political and scientific lobby to ban therapeutic cloning, but instead that the movie was insipid, as Anderson (2005) says, the director created "a movie without surfaces except for those indentations on the local movie screen, where desperate audiences will be seen banging their heads and moaning, 'Give us our money back!'"

 

Even though The Island may not be the strongest SF film using a familiar genetic engineering theme, it is very useful for our studies to consider the main message against the cloning of humans, a matter of great concern to many in society currently.

 

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A scenario from the near future - clone wanted!

 

The Island has a clear message that the humans born and bred to be spare parts for wealthy men and women of the future were completely human, rounded and worthy of normal human rights. Even though these clones are very child-like and naive at times, the story follows two clones as they learn the truth and then meet the rich man and woman who paid for their creations. As in most Frankenstein Complex stories, the creator is destroyed by the Created.

 

But there are other scenarios that are closer to important moral and ethical problems involving human cloning. These are not touched upon in The Island but are certainly discussed in other places.

 

Writing in Wired magazine, Alexander (2001) talked of a wealthy businessman living in Western Germany who lost his son to a disease but he had kept tissue samples from his son's body. The wealthy businessman put out feelers and found a human-cloning underground, an "evolving worldwide network of people who communicate mostly online and who desperately want to see cloning happen" (Alexander, 2001). The businessman had contacted animal cloning laboratories to see how tissue samples should be preserved. He had his son's tissues preserved in liquid nitrogen and paraffin blocks then the businessman put out feelers, like an oral contract for a young scientist who would take on the job for a fee and for space in a laboratory.

 

Alexander claimed to have spoken to the businessman, who wished to remain anonymous because the cloning attempt was against the law. The businessman told Alexander, "We are definitely going to proceed. We intend to go ahead. We are literally going to have our son back."

 

Alexander says that the plan for the cloning to work would run by the businessman and the scientist flying to an in-vitro fertilization lab in a large, Asian city of a country that does not have a ban on cloning. The lab director is used to handling human eggs for the IVF process. Nucleii are taken from the eggs from the clinics regular donors and then the son's cells are injected into the eggs though a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. The eggs and cells are fused together and then the eggs will be activated to begin cell division. The embryos are injected into five to ten surrogate mothers in the hold that one egg will take hold and develop into a clone of the businessman's son (Alexander, 2001).

 

It is well known that even with the most advanced animal cloning there have many failures to create just one successful pregnancy and healthy birth. This means that it would be very likely that the businessman would require many more than ten donor surrogate mothers to carry the clone. On the 5 May, 2001, the world's first genetically modified humans were born, carrying the DNA of three parents: two women and a man. And on 26 November of 2001 the first legally cloned human was created using somatic cell nuclear transfer, but the legal clone only divided four times before it died

 

This process of using many embryos and many surrogate mothers is very different from the massed production of clones individually in artificial wombs. At present research into creating artificial wombs is proceeding rapidly, but this research also is hotly contested between scientists and between mothers. What will be the effect of developing from a single fertilized egg to a baby about to be born if the womb is a plastic nutrient bath, rather than an actual mother? Currently, mothers are the only humans capable of bringing a cloned embryo to full term, but when the human mother is no longer required, what will be the effect on the child, on women, and on society in general? 

 

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Other views on cloning - some religious views

 

Recent events turned the world's attention to cloning in 2005. One of these events was the birth of a baby boy in the USA, who had been genetically modified so that his DNA is compatible with that of his elder sister, who is dying of a rare genetic disease. In this case, the parents will use the baby boy's blood type and some tissues to keep the elder daughter alive, so essentially they have manipulated their son into being useful spare parts for the elder daughter.

 

The other event was an English couple who already have four sons who are going to the European Court for the right to use embryo selection to make sure they have a girl child, after the loss of their only daughter in an accident. 

 

Bruce (2005) points out in his book Engineering Genesis that there has been debate about genetic engineering for over ten years, with many instances looked at in fiction, such as with The Island film we study here. In 1997 a committee from the Council of Europe, comprising representative from forty-one countries, passed the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. In this Convention genetic testing can only be used for health purposes, and sex selection is not allowed unless to avoid a serious, hereditary sex-related disease. In the case of the English couple who desperately want a girl child, their actions seem to be unlawful, but are they ethically or morally wrong? What is wrong with parents choosing the gender of their child? For that matter, what is wrong with parents cloning a child who has died of an accident or sudden disease? Who has the right to say that parents cannot have the same child (or at least a child with the same genetic makeup) twice?

 

There are strong opponents of cloning, including representatives of the Catholic Church, the largest Christian Church in the world. Correa (1997) believes that the use of cloning and even artificial wombs perverts the basic relationships of the human person. With artificial wombs and cloning technology "a woman can be the twin sister of her mother, lack a biological father and be the daughter of her grandfather" (Correa, 1997). Correa believes cloning will mean "the radical rupture" of the bonds of the family, even between mother and child. Correa reminds those in favour of cloning that, "Human cloning must also be judged negative with regard to the dignity of the person cloned, who enters the world by virtue of being the "copy" (even if only a biological copy) of another being: this practice paves the way to the clone's radical suffering, for his psychic identity is jeopardized by the real or even by the merely virtual presence of his 'other'" (Correa, 1997).

 

Pope John  Paul also raised the problems of genetic manipulation. He asked how this manipulation can be reconciled with the idea that humans have a natural dignity and independence. Each child is seen to be an individual person with rights and responsibilities, but what of the clone? John Paul said that genetic intervention was allowable if it was for healing sicknesses, such as those "stemming from deficiencies of chromosomes" and this could even be desirable, as long as it is "directed to the true promotion of the personal well-being of man and does not infringe on his integrity or worsen his conditions of life" (Pope John Paul, 1983). This statement applies to The Island because while the spare parts used from the clones may be a good end, the clone itself has rights and the taking of the body part infringes the rights of the clone as a human and worsens his or her condition of life. In this way, the scientists and corporations running The Island clone factory can be seen to be acting immorally and unethically.

 

Pope John Paul went on to say that genetic intervention should not infringe on "the origin of human life, that is, procreation linked to the union, not only biological but also spiritual, of the parents, united by the bond of marriage. It must, consequently, respect the fundamental dignity of men and the common biological nature which is at the base of liberty, avoiding manipulations that tend to modify genetic inheritance and to create groups of different men at the risk of causing new cases of marginalization in society" (Pope John Paul, 1983). John Paul goes on to say that genetic intervention could promote racism and create different groups of people, making some more marginalised. He said that "the dignity of man transcends his biological condition" (Pope John Paul, 1983). This argument then takes it for granted that humans have real value and integrity just because they (and we) are human.

 

The religious, moral and ethical questions raised by The Island are much more important than this mediocre film and it is very likely that these issues will survive for many more years, long after The Island has disappeared from video shops. Genetic engineering is still in its infancy and we can see in the texts from the Brave New World theme area that most views of the use of genetic engineering are negative, with many people afraid of the consequences of genetic intervention. Some SF writers and film-makers believe that genetic engineering will open new world of opportunity to the Earth, but most believe this technology interferes with Nature. Many, many films and stories bring out the Frankenstein Complex and imagine stories where some new horror is unleashed on the world through meddling with the building blocks of life on this planet, our genetic inheritance.

 

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In-class essay topic: literary/critical essay

 

In-class literary-critical essay task

 

Please respond to the following topic:

 

1) "Of all the narratives in the genre of Science Fiction, those dealing with genetic engineering seem to be most shrill in warning society against this technology."

 

Discuss with reference to at least two short stories and one other text (short story or film) studied for the mySF Project.

 

Please submit your final draft only. You may use either paper and pen or the myclasses system but remember to save and backup your work.

 

Thanks and good luck!

 

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Podcast 2 of the brave new world theme area

 

The first part of podcast two of the brave new world theme area covers the short stories and some of the films rapidly, then moves on to Greg Bear's 'Blood music'. The second part of podcast two comments briefly on Blade Runner and then moves to the weaker text The Island. This last film does allow discussion of important topics  like therapeutic cloning linked to The Island, as well as the way society might treat cloned humans, linking this discussion with current religious arguments on the nature of life.  

 

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Resource list:

 

Alexander, B. (2001). (You)2. Wired Magazine. Issue 9.02. February 2001. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.02/projectx.html on 2 April, 2005.

 

Anderson, J. (2005). 'The Island: a cloning war worth losing'. Newsday. Retrieved 24 January, 2007 from http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/movies/ny-etledew4351309jul22,0,354366.story?coll=nyc-movies-now-playing

 

Bay, M. & Bates, K.    (Directors). (2005). The Island. Written by Treadwell-Owen, C., Kirtzwell, A. & Orci, R. Produced by McDonald, Parkes and Bryce. Warner Home Video. DVD version.

 

Bruce, D. (2005). 'Looking at the ethics of technology for a New Millenium'. Engineering Genesis. Retrieved 5 April, 2005 from http://www.srtp.org.uk/dsgnbab2.htm.

 

Crichton, M. (Director). (1978). The Coma. Written by Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. MGM Films.

 

Correa, J. (1997). 'Reflections on Cloning'. Pontificia Academia Pro Vita. Vatican Library. Retrieved 3 April, 2005 from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdlife/documents/rc_pa_acdlife_doc_30091997_clon_en.html

 

Pope John Paul (1983). 'Dangers of Genetic Manipulation'. Pope John Paul II, address to members of the World Medical Association, 29 October, 1983. Catholic Forum. Retrieved 3 April, 2005 from http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/pope0264ht.htm

 

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Readings and links:

  Wikipedia page on The Island
 

Interview with film-makers of Parts: the Clonus Horror who are suing the makers of The Island for copyright breach

 

Link to The Island official website

 

Link to the Raelian website. The Raelians claim to have claimed human beings.

 

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Further reading and links

 

 

Short story 'It' by Theodore Sturgeon

 

Short story 'The Dead Man' by Fritz Leiber

 

Short story 'The Furniture of Life's Ambitions' by Brian Stableford

 

Short story 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear

  Short story 'Soft blows' by David Rade

 

Brave new world theme area podcast 1a - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF

 

Brave new world theme area podcast 1b - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF

  Brave new world theme area podcast 2a - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF
  Brave new world theme area podcast 2b - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF

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ends

Michael Sisley

 

 

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