The Rebel Flesh: Is Human Cloning in Doctor Who Possible or Necessary?

The most recent episode of Doctor Who was called The Rebel Flesh, and the main theme was the use of human reproductive cloning for the sole purpose to mine acid. These clones were designed for utilitarian purposes as the job itself was dangerous and often fatal, as the television episode demonstrated near the beginning.  Although not quite as explicitly demonstrated, cloning was shown before somewhat in a previous episode called The Doctor’s Daughter whereby Jenny, essentially the progeny of the Doctor, was created.  Technically, she was not a clone but came close.

The first pertinent question concerning this episode is whether human reproductive cloning is possible at this point.  To clarify, human reproductive cloning is the cloning of full-fledged human beings.  Animal cloning and plant cloning have already been demonstrated in the past.  Plant cloning has been the most satiable of the general public, as it has mostly been for increased food production or ornamental reasons. Potatoes, bananas and grapes are among the most notable plant clones.

On the other hand, animal cloning has been sometimes more controversial.  Animal cloning supposedly began in the 1950s with a tadpole clone, and the research has continued to this day.  In 1996, the famed Dolly the Sheep was the first mammal to be cloned at the Roslin Institute in Scotland.  She only lived for seven years before she died.  Supposedly, she has accelerated aging from the cloning process, and this aging resulted in her respiratory infection and untimely death.  As recent as 2007, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and National Resources Research and Development (PCARRD) announced its first cloning project of water buffalo.  To my knowledge, no information or results have been presented internationally yet.

Human reproductive cloning has not demonstrated any viable results presently.  The most recent example was Dr. Panayiotis Zavos revealed at a press conference in London of 2004 that he had fertilized a woman with a cloned embryo, but a month after the press conference, the injection was a failure, and the woman did not become pregnant.  As for now, research into human reproductive cloning has been limited due to international and national regulations on the matter.  In March 2005, the United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning was passed, suggesting a ban on all forms of human cloning that was contrary to human dignity. In the United States, as recent as March 2010, a bill (HR4808) was introduced with a portion of the bill banning federal funds on human cloning.  However, the bill has yet to become federal law, and in the United States, there are no strict federal regulations on human cloning.  However, thirteen states have banned human cloning, and three have bans on public funding thereof.

The second and last question is whether human cloning will become a necessity at some point.  Like robots, in this Doctor Who episode, the cloned humans were merely tools in mining the acid.  However, they eventually gained self-awareness and sentience as their own persons, more or less.  Presently, serving as disposable tools, cloned humans would not be deemed necessary now.  The use of robots and drones more than satisfactorily accomplish whatever dangerous tasks are at hand.  One advantage of a cloned human right now would be its expertise.  Much like the Doctor and Doctor-Donna (Noble), in the fourth season, sometimes two heads are better than one.  The second advantage would be able to repopulate an otherwise extinguished human race.  However, dispensing similar genes into the gene pool could cause potential problems later on, in terms of birth defects among other things.

All in all, the examination of The Rebel Flesh leads to some interesting questions with very short answers.  There is presently no necessity for cloned humans as the human race is in present danger of extinction or would need such services.

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