Ian Burns and Rasmus Mortensen

So … someone secretly made a clone of you. Now what?

How would you feel if you found out someone had deliberately duplicated your genes and made exact copies of you?

Would you be flattered (the more of me, the merrier!) Disturbed? (My unique value hinges upon me only being one.) The same? (My identity is not only my genes).

When I put this question to the live audience in Copenhagen before the human cloning play ‘A Number’ last Wednesday, the vast majority responded they would be ‘disturbed’. Likewise in a poll on Twitter that ran in parallel: Most would be disturbed by someone duplicating them.

Ian Burns and Rasmus Mortensen

Ian Burns and Rasmus Mortensen as father and son in ‘A Number’

But some, or actually most, of my panel of experts admitted, to laughs from the audience, that they would be ‘flattered’.

This was just one of the many surprises that popped up in the debate ‘How will human cloning affect society?’ on 21st February that Mike Young Academy organised for That Theatre Company.

Human cloning is not just ‘human cloning’. Developments in biotechnology that allow individuals like, say, parents, to enhance childrens’ abilities will have wider societal repercussions.

People already ‘clone’ each other on Instagram

As stem cell biologist Joshua Brickman put it: We have the ability to manipulate the genome. However, we don’t know what the implications of this sort of meddling will be. And it may not necessary lead to enhanced abilities.

Tweet with survey on human cloning

Twitter poll showed people disturbed by the thought of cloning, just like the audience.

Priest and Kierkegaard expert Pia Søltoft had the audience reflect over how human cloning has actually already taken place as people copy each others’ personalities, looks and individuality on social media. The 19th century Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, she said, transported to our 21st century, might interpret human cloning as something that has already happened, as individuals are subsumed into a crowd.

What about the soul?

And bioethicist Mickey Gjerris, a former member of the Danish Council of Ethics, suggested that genetic similarity may not imply that individuals will not be, or experience themselves as, unique.

The whole question of whether human clones will actually change people’s experience of having a unique identity is discussed in this philosophical analysis of Caryl Churchill’s ‘A Number’ which was penned before the debate.

A member of the audience stunned the panel, only momentarily, by asking them if they “believed we had a soul?”

On Facebook, in the run-up to the live-debate, someone asked whether human cloning had actually already taken place secretly in military laboratories. Sadly the debaters didn’t have the time to get into this.

But in the bar, afterwards in Café Krudttønden, I was told by someone that the panelists’ musing on questions like these were ‘thought-provoking, wide-ranging and intelligent’. This compliment I send on to the panellists.

Planning a conference or event? Need a panel moderator? See Mike Young Academy’s conference and events page here.

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