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Interview with a Clone
Jess Wynne interviews one of the first human clone survivors

Clone Scientist Magazine: May 2020

Simon Winterson emerges to talk to Dr C. Andrews exclusively for Clone Scientist Magazine

Mary had a little lamb; whose fleece was slightly gray,
Didn’t have a father just borrowed some DNA,
Sort of had a mother though the ovum was on loan,
Was not so much a lambkin as a little lamby clone
Soon it had a fellow clone and soon there was some more,
They followed her to school one day all cramming through the door,
It made the children laugh and sing and thrilled them to the soul,
But there was just too many lambs for Mary to control,
No one else could herd the sheep their imprints did not vary,
The cloners sought to fix it up by simply cloning Mary,
So clone they did and Newsweek said it was extraordinary
But now they don’t know what to do with Mary, Mary, Mary…
Elvi By Kevin Evans

Trawling through the colossal amount of online material relating to cloning, I discover this poem in a archive which predates the advent of human cloning. I read it to Simon Winterson hoping to raise a smile on his sombre face. One of the first of a succession of human clones, Simon has a unique perspective on the subject. We are now fairly blasé about cloning; society as a whole has learnt many lessons from its early explorations of the procedure. It is unlikely that Simon would ever have been born in today’s political and social climate. Media attention on Simon was intense – from his birth in a private clinic on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in June 2003 to his sudden disappearance from his family home in California two years ago, he has rarely been out of the limelight. Now merely 17, but looking closer to thirty, Simon is a virtual recluse, residing in a dilapidated cottage in the remote area of Cornwall, Great Britain. He is reluctant to again become the focus of media speculation but has agreed to this exclusive interview as he believes that science should be forced to recognise and acknowledge its mistakes. He describes himself as a metaphor, a signifier, for the consequences of rash scientific progression without ethical or sociological considerations.

CS MAGAZINE: It is widely known that you found growing up in the public eye a stifling and emotionally difficult experience. But what many today might not realise is that there was a tremendous resistance towards the matter of human cloning and this could not fail to effect your daily life. How did you deal with the knowledge that millions were opposed to your mere existence?

Well, there were death threats – but I rarely saw them as my father saw to it that they were intercepted. Of course school and parties and that sort of thing were out of the question when I was very small – I was taught at home. Later I rebelled and insisted on enroling in school; I guess I was lonely. I soon became used to the bodyguard my father hired tailing my every move. But school was a bad idea. That little ‘Mary had a lamb’ rhyme you read kinda reminded me of the stuff I endured in the playground. Much more sophisticated though and much less obscene! I was different and everybody knew it. The problem was, the teachers and the parents were highly suspicious of me and the children definitely picked up on that. It was like I was infectious or something, a leper. And this was in a Californian school – god knows what it would be have been like if I had lived in Montana or somewhere. I was offered all sorts of interviews and promotional stuff for companies though so I suppose I had fame if not popularity. I hated to take advantage though, after all I felt like I was just the shadow of my brother anyway. I was just a replacement.

How do you feel about the circumstances that led to your birth?

Well my parents are fairly well-known anyway, my father’s always in those lists of America’s most wealthy and influential that the papers publish, so I suppose there’s no need to go into the details of my brother’s accident and the effect that it had on my mother in particular. She was devastated at losing her son and I guess she was willing to go to any lengths to preserve his memory. And here I am! A walking, talking, bundle of memories.

You must have suffered some sort of identity crisis…

Yes. Although genetically identical to my predecessor I was always aware of the way my parents looked at me, as if I was someone else or as if they were expecting me to behave like someone else. They seemed to be waiting for me to become the child that they knew. It very hard to explain but I think it was this strained atmosphere that was the reason for the introverted and disturbed demeanour that I took on as a child. My brother, the ‘original Simon’ was a friendly outgoing child – keen to take part in team activities and particularly good at sports. Due to by sheltered upbringing and my sense of inadequacy I became a very different child. By the time I hit my teens I think I was totally unrecognisable to my parents. I was pale, chubby and awkward and their disappointment was tangible. I sought to escape these emotional pressures by leaving my country.

So is your bitterness directed at the scientists and the technology that allowed your situation to arise?

They lacked foresight definitely.

But presumably you are aware that cloning has been invaluable to many people?

Well obviously. And maybe more that most – my isolation has given me plenty of time to acquaint myself with the history. All those old sci-fi stories are fascinating to me – but the nightmare scenarios that they portrayed missed the point. And the point is commercialism; science will cross new frontiers only if a ton of cash is involved. Certainly there was money to be made in cloning. It is amazing how far the process has been refined. Before the cloning of a sheep, Dolly, in 1997, the technology was considered fantastical. We take the possibility of human cloning for granted and have pretty much decided that it is not advantageous, but less than thirty years ago it was inconceivable for the majority of the population; the far-fetched premise of overly imaginative writers. But only three years later it was announced that a consortium of scientists, founded by the Italian physician, Dr Severino Antinori, were planning to clone an embryo by 2003. The aim was, I believe, to allow infertile couples the chance to have children. All very righteous and noble I suppose, but if you look into the information about Dolly you might draw the conclusion that they were taking huge risks with peoples lives.

I think the argument at the time was that the technology was developing anyway and it would be better to bring it into the open rather than to let it proceed privately by so-called renegade scientists. Professor Panos Zavos made the statement that ‘it is time for us to develop the package in a responsible manner, and make the package available to the world.’ But you are correct in noting that many others in the field thought the plans of Zavos et al to be irresponsible. Dr Harry Griffin, who was the assistant director of the Roslin Institute where they successfully cloned Dolly, was a notable objector. He was quoted as saying:‘The chances of success are so low it would be irresponsible to encourage people to think there is a real prospect. The risks are too great for the woman, and of course the child. I remain opposed to the idea of cloning human beings. Even if it were possible and safe – which it’s not – it wouldn’t be in the interest of the child to be a copy of its parent.’

Nevertheless, and despite resistance, human cloning was attempted and you are living proof…

And also proof of those renegade scientists you mentioned. I don’t know to what extend the technology assisted infertile couples. I haven’t read any statistics on that. I also don’t know how many lives were destroyed due to the scientist’s desire for success – that’s the sort of knowledge that’s kept within the scientific fraternity. Plus bringing the experiments into the public eye did little more than make it clear that the governments had very few legislations with regard to cloning. In 1997 the president - I think it was Clinton - announced that no human clones should be produced in America; but he added a clause that said the law would be re-evaluated in five years time. But effectively all he was saying was that he would not offer federal funding for embryo research – so the technology for cloning could be developed using private money. The result was that human clones were made using U.S technology but were born in private clinics in countries with less restrictive legislation.

And this allowed clones to be produced for much more subjective reasons…

Anyone with sufficient funds could have a clone made. Obviously some private laboratories tried to maintain their reputations by checking people’s motives and offering counselling, and the majority stuck to using the technology to overcome fertility. Others were less stringent… Common fears at the time revolved around ideas such as dictators creating an army of savage clones; you know all that sci-fi stuff. Of course this was all paranoid madness. The technology, somatic –cell nuclear transfer, provides cloned embryos. These then have to undergo gestation and obviously childhood before they become adults. A dictator would be waiting many years for his idealised, perfect army. The most frequent motive for human cloning turned out to be the desire to recover a lost one, a child or spouse. And I expect you’ve seen those sensationalised tabloid exposés of people who have decided to clone themselves for some reason – you know the type of thing ‘we discovered so and so’s clone working as a prostitute and living in the gutter!’ You always look at the pictures of the clones and those of the cloned person at the same age and wonder at how alike or different they appear. Obviously that sort of thing is rare – and most of these stories are probably apocryphal. People didn’t really realise that all though clones are genetically identical they can vary physically and psychologically.

Do you remember the riots of 2010? The majority of clinics were forced to stop all work on human cloning and several eminent geneticists in the field were attacked. This was the year in which every thing changed.

I saw coverage of the riots, the so-called ‘clone wars’ and it was a frightening time for me. The campaign against me definitely became increasingly vehement and my parents feared for my life. My mother and I left our home and went into hiding in a mountain retreat for a few weeks when the crusade was at its height. I remember being intensely annoyed at my mother for not letting have a go at skiing – I felt totally imprisoned. She told me later that a clone she know of, the same age as me, had been assaulted by an extremist pro-lifer and was now in a coma. This was a child of a woman that she met at a Parent with Cloned Children (PCC) meeting – an organisation that have done much to assist me with my psychological difficulties and deserves a mention. Groups such as the pro-lifers generate most of the resistance; those opposed to the use of embryos in research. But huge proportions of the population conceptualise cloning as abhorrent and unethical – this includes people of a religious persuasion. The Clone Rights United Front – the pro-human cloning activists was also involved and what began as a rational debate got out of hand.

But what it did mean was the implication of new laws concerning the use of cloning. Clinics had to register and apply for permits. Cloning was only to be used in cases of infertility. Anyone else desiring to utilise the process had to apply to the courts and prove that they had a valid reason – generally cases would be rejected so the trend for cloning died out.

Certainly cloning lost its novelty; although a survey showed that only about 6% of the population had an interest in cloning someone anyway. However, there have been rumours of clandestine cloning occurring. I still think it’s a case of if you can afford it you can do it, if you want it bad enough. Sure it’s a criminal offence now but I don’t think that will worry anyone with influence. Also the media no longer find this aspect of genetic engineering so compelling so it is easier to keep it quiet.

Therapeutic cloning – the use of stem cells to clone tissues and organs - was a huge industry. It was hit badly by adverse attention from ethicists and anti-abortionists. The technique involved the reprogramming of an adult cell with a specialised life. For this to occur an embryo would have to be made. What were your feelings on the era of cloned body parts?

The advent of this specific technology ran parallel to that involved in making me; it is inextricably linked. But whereas the cloning of humans was a sideline, a curiosity, therapeutic cloning was the most crucial aspect of the technology. Because the process was much more widely used due to its value, it became a highly contentious issue that aroused passionate anger and concern on both sides of the argument. Back in 2001 the campaign for the procedure was in full swing. It was generally agreed that the use of embryos was immoral; however many scientists believed it equally wrong to interfere with scientific enquiry which could lead to possible biomedical breakthroughs. 80 US Nobel laureates urged the president of the period, Bush, not to block funding for scientific exploration using embryonic stem cells. The pressure from the scientific fraternity and groups of people desperate for organs such as kidneys or livers was immense. Obviously backers of this type of biomedical research saw a way to capitalise on it as the technology advanced rapidly. In only a few years it became a common practise to clone specific cells to treat conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. By 2010 it was rumoured that private experiments had allowed people to benefit from cloned tissues and organs. This created uproar. It was all over the papers. Embryos had been twinned; one was implanted and allowed to gestate whilst the other was frozen for future use. One of the children involved in the test contracted some illness – I think it was a form of cancer. Its frozen twin was then implanted in a surrogate mother for a couple of months until its organs were probably formed. The embryo was then culled to provide the child with the new parts that it desperately needed. The suggestion of culling embryos for spare parts would have been dismissed as alarmist back in 2001. But it was happening – and not in the manner that had encouraged many seriously ill people to support it. This, again, was an option for the super rich. It wasn’t long before we started to see stories started to circulate in the tabloids concerning ageing drug-addled rock stars who had had a complete organ and tissue overhaul and now looked and felt amazing. Many people were outraged; but others, such as those dealing with sick and dying children, countered that science should be able to do everything possible to prevent death. It was this debate that fuelled the ‘clone wars’ of 2010.

But then the monumental happened – a scientific breakthrough that changed the social climate of the Western world and disarmed many of the arguments proposed by ethicists. As early as 2001 it was suggested that it was possible to recycle adult cells to treat illnesses; the cloning of embryos would be unnecessary. In the NewScientist it was reported that ‘mature skin cells have been transformed into stem cells and then into beating heart cells’ . Investigation continued to try to repeat the procedure using human rather than animal cells. By 2011, scientists announced that they had finished refining the process – the culling of embryos for any reason whatsoever was banned outright before it became commonplace.

So part of the process that allowed you to come into being has been rendered obsolete. Does cloning have any sort of future?

Well firstly I think it should be admitted that the culling of embryos did continue for some time after the announcement – after all, it took a few years for the new process to become freely available on the market. Also it should be noted that it is very difficult to produce whole organs using this technology – the impatient patient might still prefer to attempt to buy ready-made cloned organs. Despite these reservations, like ethicists everywhere, I was relieved that the use of embryos was coming to an end. I’m positive that the process will advance and become the only one available.

However, I’m concerned about the implications of spare body parts, whatever the method of their production. The choice to replace organs whenever they fail will ultimately prolong life; there is a multitude of studies already published which predict how this will effect our future. How long will it be before we can replace limbs or even brains with our memories implanted? Will this technology always be the province of the wealthy? Will the market for body parts become as fickle and superficial as that of fashion? I imagine a future in which the technology of body parts becomes incorporated with the world of designer genes – particular brands of limbs and organs will be in demand. The wealthier you are, the better-designed parts you can afford to purchase. Think of all the poor people stumbling around with Wal-Mart value legs or wondering around in a bewildered daze, trying to work out what they are doing with their Pound Stretcher brains. This is of course if they have any desire to live longer in a world populated by super wealthy, super brainy, super beautiful people.

Maybe this all sounds fanciful…but look how far we have come. I think its time to consider the mistakes we have made in the name of progress, be satisfied with what we have achieved and bring this chapter in genetic manipulation to an end.

Simon may sound like a demented, paranoiac to a member of the scientific community. The future he depicts is alarming but what is sure is the fact that he will not be present to see it. Simon is ageing unnaturally. This was a problem that occurred with the first successful clone, Dolly the sheep. It was a fault in the procedure that scientists believed they had overcome; Simon is representative, then, of the unpredictability of genetic engineering. However, his cynicism obscures the success that cloning technology has achieved. With the changing climate and the near destruction of the rain forest, we have witnessed the loss of many species of animals. Cloning has brought all types of animals back from the brink of extinction. Biomedical advances have brought an end to millions of cases of human suffering in the Western civilisation. It is hoped that the companies involved can be convinced to show a little charity in the future and take their products to the third world and developing nations.

Whether or not Simon should change his name to Cassandra remains to be seen...

© Jess Wynne 2020 CS Magazine - Clone this and we will send people round...

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