Non-Fiction Reviews

A Clone of Your Own: The Science and Ethics of Cloning

(2004) Arlene Judith Klotzko, 12.99, hrdbk, 162 pp, ISBN 0-192-80309-3

Cloning has long been an SF trope but in recent years, what with Dolly and all, the reality is becoming manifest. Then there is therapeutic cloning - stem cell therapy, and now whole-organism human cloning is painfully close. Britain has taken the lead in establishing an ethical framework yet the science is moving so fast that after only a few years there is this year (2004) a House of Commons all-party Select Committee inquiry into the regulation of reproductive biology as the ethical regulation struggles to keep up. Against this backdrop Arlene Klotzko's book is most timely. From my own perspective as someone who for many years represented UK biologists' learned societies to Government, this is a fascinating topic especially as it is one with which I was barely involved. At the time when much of the action was taking place (1999-2002) I was more focussed on UK bioscientists' generic priorities and creating a kind of manifesto, though obviously I was monitoring what was going on. So the bottom line is that I have no policy or ethical preconceptions and am largely open on the topic. Now on with the review.

Judith Klotzko has done a truly marvellous job of paring down the science to the bare minimum you need to understand the technology. Her writing style is concise, unlike many scientists (and writers generally) who seem to delight in verbiage, apparently to conceal their lack of message, and she writes with a clarity that is both refreshing, accessible and informative. She explains what can be done, what can't and what might be in the future as well as dispels some commonly held cloning myths. She also takes us inside Westminster to when the Lords were debating the ethics as well as a look at some of the Select Committees' works. She imparts a sense of fun with the inclusion of a score or so of cartoons and other illustrations. Importantly these are not originals but culled from newspapers and magazines so reflecting popular conceptions.

From an SF perspective Arlene Klotzko refers to the usual SF works such as AI, The Boys From Brazil, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Multiplicity and, of course Frankenstein though she has steered clear of the portrayal of GM humans that have begun appearing with increased frequency in SF novels for the best part of a decade now. But her use of SF is sound and, unlike a member of the clergy I recently heard in a Commons side debate on reproductive technology, she attributed the correct author to Brave New World (as much as Brian Aldiss may have welcomed the clergyman's incorrect reference). However I disagree with her implied chastisement of the cloning scientist in Jurassic Park, the driving force was the billionaire Hammond and that is fundamental to the ethical debate: the informed public should be in the driving seat and not big business. But this is the only science fiction gripe I have and it is a point I can forgive as even Crichton himself subtlety misses it in Jurassic Park's introduction when he lumps science research firmly in with industry: the two are quite different all be they frequently allied in that one seeks to apply the fruits of the other. She also could make more of the fact that there is a such a world of difference between whole-organism cloning and 'therapeutic cloning' that we might be better served if the latter were called something else (say 'cell replication'). These, though, are comparatively minor quibbles. Otherwise Arlene Klotzko seems to make an awful lot of sense and her book is illuminates a topic frequently shrouded in murk..

I would heartily recommend A Clone of Your Own to anyone seeking an introduction to the topic irrespective of whether they have post-school biology: she is that lucid. Non-biomedical biologists may also find it an informative introduction to the ethical questions but may find it a bit light on the science. Biomedical scientists would (should!) find it too elementary. In short not only do I recommend A Clone of Your Own, I hope that OUP commissions an expanded and updated edition in a couple of year's time (developments are moving that fast), and incorporating more of how other countries have grappled with regulating the science and technology (and of course include more comment on how SF has dealt with, and given a popular presentation to, the issues). I also hope that we see more of Klotzko as a book writer as opposed to journalist, though undoubtedly her writing has benefited from her contributions to UK newspapers.

This is the sort of book that refreshes my faith in science communication and makes me thankful that Caxton helped develop book cloning technology - of relevance to this book - in the shadow of Westminster.

Jonathan Cowie

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