Human cloning: Has it been done already?

Recent advancements in science, especially in the field of genetics, have sparked much controversy about the ethical nature of human cloning. I believe the question that should be asked concerning human cloning, however, is not whether or not it is morally or ethically right, but has it been done already? David M. Rorvik, in his book In His Image: The Cloning of a Man says it has, back in 1976. However, Rorvik gives no evidence or proof in this controversial best seller and even fabricates the names of those involved to hide their identities. His book, released as a non-fiction title in 1978 started a large debate about the new technologies of genetics, mostly of recombinant DNA research, and stirred up ethical issues about human cloning still going on today. His book even brought upon a lawsuit by an Oxford University geneticist only a few months after it was published claiming the book was a hoax (Broad 902). With the recent advancements in cloning technology, including the cloning of Dolly, the first successful known mammalian clone (which used similar methods explained by Rorvik in his book), the subject matter of Rorvik's book becomes even more convincing and the ethical indications even more controversial. Even if Rorvik's book was a hoax, it still brings many issues concerning human cloning into question and makes a point about scientific advancement. I believe that In His Image: The Cloning of a Man was a true story and that a human clone, over 20 years old by now, is walking on this planet somewhere.

In His Image: The Cloning of a Man, by David M. Rorvik, tells the story of a millionaire businessman (code-named "Max") who wanted a cloned heir of himself. Rorvik's story begins when he receives a phone call from Max, asking him to find a team of scientists willing and able to try and clone a human (Rorvik, In His… 43). At first, Rorvik was undecided about the offer, but after much consideration, he finally decided to help Max. He soon comprised a list of several possible geneticists for the job, and after only a few months, Rorvik met "Darwin" (77). Darwin, a very distinguished geneticist, although very interested in the proposal, was also very indecisive about whether to partake in it. After much convincing by Max, however, Darwin decided to give it a try, and in April 1974, the research began (83). The site for the research and experimentation was a tropical island, where Max owned land and a local hospital. Rorvik made two trips to Darwin's lab, the first of which in December 1974 (112) and the last in the summer of 1975 (173). He went on these trips to observe Darwin and his research and check on the progress Darwin was making toward cloning Max. Around mid-March 1976, Rorvik got word that Darwin might have accomplished the goal at hand. After many unsuccessful tries, Darwin finally got the surrogate mother (code-named "Sparrow") pregnant (189). Nine months later, in a small hospital in California, Sparrow gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby boy, and an identical copy of Max (205).

Even before Rorvik's book came out, the scientific community was calling it a "hoax." In an article published in the journal Science on March 24, 1978 (about a week before Rorvik's book was published), writer Barbara Culliton said, "the scientific community has said what it thinks about Rorvik's claim. Simply put, no one believes it" (1316). Rorvik, however, expected that this would be the case. In the afterword of his book, Rorvik states: "I entertain absolutely no expectation that anyone, scientist or layman, will accept this book as proof of the events described herein. … I hope, however, that many readers will be persuaded of the possibility, even the probability, of what I have described" (Rorvik, In His… 208). He then goes on to say that there will still be many people who doubt his story for either personal beliefs or because, if true, it would create a public panic which would turn people against more experimentation in genetic engineering (Rorvik, In His… 208). Culliton, in her article for Science, gives many other reasons why the scientific community did not believe Rorvik's story. One reason was that the scientist involved would not want to remain anonymous. He would want to publish his research as soon as he found out that it worked, something a normal scientist would do. Another reason given is that no one in any related field heard about the successful experiment. If the cloning truly happened, word would get out to at least a few scientists in genetics. Could something like human cloning stay secret for that long a time? Would it not be hard for something that big, with a considerable number of people knowing about it, to stay a secret for almost two years? A more technical reason for why scientists highly disputed the validity of Rorvik's book was that no one, at that time, had ever cloned a mammal (Culliton 1316). Back in the early 1960's, F.C. Steward and colleagues at Cornell University successfully cloned a carrot, the first successful cloning of anything. A few years later, in the late 1960's, cloning extended to animals when Dr. J.B. Gurdon of Oxford University successfully cloned the African clawed frog (Rorvik, In His… 48). However, no scientist had ever reported any successful cloning of a mammal back when Rorvik released his controversial book. At that time, efforts were being made to clone a mouse, but no reports were successful. It was very hard for the scientific community to believe that someone had made the jump in cloning from frog to human (Culliton 1316).

Rorvik's book was so controversial that Oxford University geneticist J. Derek Bromhall sued Rorvik and his publisher, charging that the book was a lie, only a few months after it was published. Bromhall not only called the book a hoax, but also charged that Rorvik used the cloning technique that he developed for use in rabbits and used his name in the book without his permission. The proceedings took three years, but finally on February 2, 1981, a U.S. District Court judge in Philadelphia ruled that Rorvik's book was a "fraud and a hoax" (Broad 902). Rorvik's attorney, however, made an appeal to the ruling shortly after (Broad 902). One year later, on April 7, 1982, the litigation was ended in an out-of-court settlement. The publishing company of Rorvik's book decided that it would be cheaper to settle than to continue litigation (Rorvik, "One of…"). "Rorvik, however, has always posited that the case was 'without merit' and he has never wavered in his defense of the book. 'I did not contribute to the settlement in any way, nor did I alter my position in any way,' he says" (Rorvik, "One of…").

Nearly twenty years later, David Rorvik is still defending his book, and still claiming it is true. In an article written by himself in Omni Magazine in 1997, he once again defends his position. And with the recent advancements in genetics like the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997, I believe Rorvik and his book deserve a second look and a second chance. In his article for Omni, Rorvik says that not only was human cloning possible in the late 1970's, but it was accomplished. Rorvik states that "when my book appeared in 1978, the overwhelming majority of 'knowledgeable' scientists declared it had to be a hoax because mammalian cloning was unequivocally impossible" (Rorvik, "One of…"). In fact, even before his book came out, he received a lot of criticism from the scientific community. Rorvik said that many people criticized his book before it came out because they assumed that he was using microsurgery to clone a human, a technique that was found impossible in cloning mammals. However, in his book, Rorvik describes a form of fusion used in cloning, which made it possible to work with human eggs that were a thousand times smaller than frog eggs. It was this same procedure that was used by Scottish researchers in July of 1997 to clone the first mammal, a sheep. This amazing achievement, before thought to be impossible, was done using unusually simple techniques (Weiss). In fact, the procedure used by these Scottish scientists was almost exactly the same as Rorvik illustrates in 1978. Rorvik explains in Omni:

Now scientists and science writers are all exclaiming over how shockingly simple mammalian cloning has turned out to be. The Scottish researchers succeeded precisely because they abandoned some higher-tech methodologies and concentrated instead on a common sense approach that focused, in particular, on the synchrony issue. … This was an issue I stated time and again in my book. (Rorvik, "One of…")

Rorvik also states that scientists now believe that mammalian cloning can be done using a relatively small budget, just like Darwin and crew were able to do in his story (Rorvik, "One of…").

So what does all of this information amount to? I think that in light of these new advancements in genetics, Rorvik's book should be taken a bit more seriously, if not taken for fact. Alyson Zamkoff, writing for Omni, says the following about Rorvik's claim:

Is it believable? Yes, especially given the recent cloning headlines. The technology for cloning is now a reality. If humans can create atomic bombs in secret, it certainly stands to reason that they might likewise create clones. For those with enough money and ego, the incentive would be high. (Zamkoff)

It is very believable indeed. In fact, human cloning was even believable by some scientists back in the 1970's. In 1968, noted Cal Tech biologist Dr. Sinsheimer predicted that in ten years, a human clone would probably be possible (Rorvik, In His… 49). This would place the first successful human cloning experiment around 1978. Rorvik said it was done in December 1976, not too far off. Also, in an article in the journal Science in 1978, writer Barbara Culliton said the following about Rorvik's book: "Could it possibly be true? More than a dozen knowledgeable researchers queried by Science say 'No,' although most agree that human cloning is theoretically possible" (1314). So if human cloning is theoretically possible, what makes Rorvik's story so unbelievable? Is it just the shear shock of the story, the fact that somebody actually cloned a human, which makes it so unbelievable? I think that people just don't want to believe that some scientist out there actually did it, that some scientist successfully cloned a human being. Another scientist claiming human cloning was possible back in the 1970's was Dr. Landrum Shettles. Shettles, who had worked with Rorvik before, writing a book with him, said he did not believe that Rorvik's book was a hoax. He was quoted saying, "I trust David implicitly" (Ebon 84). If this noted scientist could believe Rorvik back then, why can't any one believe him today? Even after the recent advancements in science that have taken place within the last couple of years, scientists and science writers still claim Rorvik's book as a hoax and a work of fiction. After the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, Rick Weiss, a writer for the Washington Post, wrote the following about the prospect for human cloning: "The researchers acknowledged … that there was no reason in principle why the surprisingly simple technique they used could not be applied to human cells" (Weiss). This was the same simple technique stated by Rorvik in his book! So, if this technique could be used, in theory, to clone humans today, why couldn't it be used twenty years ago to clone Max? I think that it not only could have been used, but it was used.

Let us for a second assume that Rorvik's book was a hoax, devised entirely through his mind. At the time In His Image was published, David Rorvik was a very well respected science journalist and writer. He was a free-lance writer at the time, but had worked for Time Magazine a few years back. It would be very unlikely that as a young, respected writer, Rorvik would write a false story, passing it off as true. He would just have too much to lose by doing this, risking his career and reputation as a distinguished science writer ("1978:…"). What would he have to gain in writing a fictional story about cloning, then claiming it was true? A few writers have suggestions. Martin Ebon writes that "even if the book is neither fiction or nonfiction, Rorvik may well achieve what is at least partly his aim: dramatization of the challenges of genetic engineering" (94). So Ebon is saying that Rorvik wrote this book to scare the public and to hopefully put some doubts in people's minds about the recent advancements in genetics. Why, though, would someone like Rorvik want to do that? His job is a free-lance science writer. His main specialty is in the advancements going on in the field of genetics. Why would he want to scare the public into thinking that these recent advancements are all bad? He would then be out of a job. Barbara Culliton has a similar suggestion to why Rorvik wrote In His Image:

If In His Image is fiction, why would Rorvik want to pass it off as truth? He offers a clue: 'It is my hope that this first successful cloning of a human being will alert the public to the far more promising and also far more perilous developments already occurring in the realm of genetic engineering.' Rorvik may see his book as some kind of political statement. (1316)

Once again I have to ask, why would he do that? In my opinion, it does not make any sense that Rorvik would make up a story about cloning, and then try to pass it off as truth. It makes more sense that Rorvik would write a true story about human cloning, only the scientific community and the public were just not ready for something like it and threw the claim away as an obvious "hoax."

Although Rorvik's story looks even more convincing today, the fact still remains that he has not backed up his story with any evidence or physical proof. He swore to keep the names of the people involved anonymous and out of the public spotlight. Unless these people decide to unveil themselves and prove Rorvik's story as truth, there will always be skepticism to the validity of his story. Without proof, the scientific community can not accept Rorvik's claim and must find his book as only a work of fiction. Despite these facts, however, I believe that Rorvik's story should be taken a bit more seriously, especially today, after Dolly the sheep was cloned using the same techniques as Rorvik explained in his book. Could that just be a weird coincidence? I find it hard to believe that Rorvik, only a science writer, could guess a possible way to clone humans and mammals and guess correctly. I think that the scientific community, instead of just forcing the book to be a work of fiction, should consider that Rorvik might actually be telling the truth, even though he cannot present any evidence. If scientists looked at the book this way, they could possibly learn from it, and, if need be, make sure that human cloning experiments do not happen again. Just ignoring the book is not going to help any one. If the book is looked at as possible truth, then this could lead to many advancements in genetics and much discussion over whether human cloning should be done again.

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  65. Don'tgetem Says:

    You’re right. No one should ignore his book. But why go there anyway? Human cloning! what for? Rorvick souds like hes talented, very smart and a genius. How about something a little more important than human cloning? like….GLOBAL WARMING.

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