Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THERE AREN'T many topics that can excite anxiety and indignation, and block out rational analysis, as effectively as cloning. Last night's closing episode of The Baby Makers (C4) was a good example of the phenomenon in action. Eamonn Matthews' series on advances in the science of fertility has been strong on technical aspects, but weak on moral implications: rather than going into the arguments in depth, it has preferred to settle for slightly more sombre music and Samuel West dropping his voice the odd semi-tone to convey a vague impression of ethical concern, a hint that scientists are displaying a dangerous touch of hubris.

So, with the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep, while the music quickened, we were confidently informed that "Dolly challenged traditional assumptions about how human life should begin, and about the nature of individuality." Well, go on then, how did she do that? Challenging assumptions about how life begins, that I can just about see, although those assumptions seem to have adjusted fairly promptly to IVF and directly injecting sperm into eggs. But the nature of individuality? This doesn't lie in our genes, but in our lives. Identical twins are genetically the same, clones of one another. Forget all that "amazing- but-true" stuff about twins who have never met but each have a lucky blue sock and a habit of wiping their noses on their cardigans: twins are individuals, riven by tiny events in the womb, by every minute of experience after they were born.

I don't say that there are no moral issues here, but that they need to be clearly identified. In an area rife with confusion and paradox (including the paradox that modern methods may allow infertility to be passed on to your children), vague portentousness takes us nowhere. If we don't get the terms of the argument right, it will simply be short-circuited by fear or babies. At the start of last night's programme, Robert Winston pointed out that he and his colleagues were initially despised for creating "test-tube babies"; but by now, with plenty of happy parents and bouncing babies to show for it - illustrated by a gathering of babies with "I'm an IVF baby" badges - the scruples have ebbed, and Parliament has decided that IVF does more good than harm. Similarly, a serene 50-year-old mother predicted that when enough women her age had had children, people would stop thinking of it as unnatural.

More chilling than any treatment for infertility, though, is the prospect of "designer babies". The Baby Makers included one scientist who maintained that we don't criticise parents for doing the best for their children after birth, so why should we criticise them for what they do before? There are too many objections to this to get into a few lines. One is that we do criticise parents who try too hard to do the best for their children after birth, if they seem to be forcing them into a mould. Another is the Edsel argument: the Ford Edsel was designed to meet every requirement of the modern woman, and it ended up a lemon. Why should children designed to meet parental requirements turn out any better? Cue ominous music.