Are Clones Human?

I just finished reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and while the novel is beautifully written, the dark overtones of a contemporary England setting sent chills down my spine. I’m glad that Jyg bought me the book because I would never had heard  of it otherwise.

The book deals heavily with childhood fantasy – those daydreams where you once imagined yourself as a movie star, someone famous, a mother, even love, etc. – gone awry. Imagine living in a world where the people outside your surroundings are allowed to grow up to be whatever they want to be and you’re future is set for you. Imagine knowing that you’re different from everyone else and are hated for that. That others like you outside the gates of your private school are abused and mistreated and you’re given the lap of luxury. Imagine that your only purpose in life is to grow up, stay fit and healthy and give up you life in order for others to live. That is the life of the clones in Never Let Me Go, a narrative told through the eyes of Kathy H., a carer going on her twelfth year.

The clones are split up between carers and donors. It is up to the carers to keep the donors morale up as they are healing. But carers, when the time is right, are called for donations in the end. The clones are created in order to cure the maladies once thought as incurable. Cancer, in this dark new world, has a cure. That is the sole purpose of these “creatures.”

After realizing the purpose of the clones – and that they were clones – questions started leaking into my head and I’m sure it was Ishiguro’s intent. Because as students, the clones are taught art mainly, it is left the door open – and the question is asked late in the book – to ask, “Do clones have souls?” I know I’m not one to talk about souls, but the very fact that they are able to create without mimicing is what left that door open in a world where a god does reign over. Because some may not believe that humans have souls – I hold my doubts – then let me ask this: Because clones are copies of other people, do they have minds of their own? Each clone has a possible in the world – meaning a person they were modeled after. What are the chances that their future aspirations (even though they are not allowed a regular future) are the same as those their possibles had, or have? Not to mention the mannerisms and personality, are these their own or are they embedded in the cloned DNA?

On a more ethical question, seeing that the clones were raised as children into adulthood, only to “complete” during their 30s, you must ask if it’s ethical to harvest the clones for organs and the like? The sole purpose of their existence is to give up their lives so that others may live. However, it seems like a dark world to create a life in order to kill it. And this all comes back to the soul/mind questions: If these clones lack souls/minds, then one can say it is perfectly find to harvest them for parts so that others can live as they are no different than a lab rat who is given an ear to grow on its back. However, the fact that they have artistic talent, holding with traditional thought that one must have a soul to create art, proves that they do not lack this. The fact that they can feel love – or at least grasp the abstract concept of love and emotion – proves they have a mind. I cannot be certain that they have either, because their lessons are to model humans as closely as possible so that they are not pointed out in public places as they are feared by the majority of people.

If they have minds of their own, then the answer to the next question is yes. If they don’t, then there is no logic in the question, which is: Can clones logically believe in a higher power? Because they know how they came into existence was by human will rather than a divine power, it is hard to grasp if a clone can believe in a god. I won’t get too much into this question, so I’ll leave it at that.

Are clones seen as demons? Most Christians are already on a witch hunt to prove that homosexuals are sinful and spawns of hell, but at least homosexuals were born in a natural way even though their sex lives aren’t viewed as such. Because they were created, not born, into this world by science that is not natural biology, I have to assume that clones will be seen as something other than human. It’s not far from me to think that clones would be seen in a negative light by believers (well, most believers) yet be accepted as perfect donors because we know how ignorant some might be.

Anyway, these were the questions that I came up with reading the book. There might be more, but I’m sure these cover all of the fields.


11 responses to “Are Clones Human?

  1. Most of the discussion can be killed by replacing the word “clones” with the words “identical twins.” Identical twins are, after all, clones of each other. If clones had no souls, then which twin would be doing without? If clones could be ethically harvested for their organs, then one twin could be killed to save the other. The only difference with artificial cloning is that the identical twin is born much later. If being younger confers a lack of human rights, then we’ve got problems. We do have problems. Being younger does confer a lack of basic rights (by society’s standards). Abortion: need I say more?

    “Most Christians are already on a witch hunt to prove that homosexuals are sinful and spawns of hell….” Nice little bit of gross exaggeration. Christians are standing by long-held beliefs that homosexuality is a sin. It is a sin. We’re not calling anyone a spawn of Hell. Get over it.

  2. M. Patterson,

    I understand where you’re going with the whole identical twin aspect, but the discussion cannot be killed by stating it. While, yes, they have identical DNA, twins do not follow the lines of the clones in the book. Clones are created in an unnatural way while twins are very much natural.

    As for my statement on homosexuality, well it’s not a gross exaggeration. If you perhaps you would remove your head from the ground, you’d see a nice lot of Christians who have suggested exactly what I have said. But what do you expect from a bunch of people who still believe in an imaginary friend?

    By the by, leave abortion out of the discussion.

  3. I think there is a false dichotomy at the heart of your last response, Ennui.

    It doesn’t matter how artificial the creation of a human being is-we’ve had people created totally in vitro, by technicians with sperm samples and egg samples creating a zygote in a lab, for many years now. We’ve had implanted zygotes moved from one woman’s womb to another. None of this is natural but the people created thus are completely real and very normal people.

    Of course a clone is a real person. Whether a clone has a soul is one of those unanswerable questions–there is as yet no credible evidence that humans have souls, it’s a religious concept that is accepted by many people simply because of its implications that consciousness survives death. One might as well ask if a clone has a fairy godmother.

  4. Ennui Prayer


    Considering the lack of birth evidence in the book, I have to disagree with you. Perhaps these “creatures” (as they’re referred to in the book) are creations outside of a womb (within birthing chambers, tubes, wires, making them less humanistic and more science fiction). I’m not talking realistic clones in this world because I haven’t yet met a human clone. Because the book is what led to me my questioning not anything outside. Perhaps you should’ve read the post and understood what I was saying before making an asinine comment.

    However, I do completely agree with you on the whole soul thing. Again, perhaps you missed my doubting of souls in the post (I later used soul/mind after I made it clear that I am not a religious person – not to mention my crack about imaginary friends in my last comment). So before you barf your thoughts on my blog, perhaps you should read it first.

    Thank you, by the way, for reading.

  5. Well again I’m not really seeing how this would make these people significantly different. If they’ve made it to the point of cognitive development, self-articulation, artistic skill and creativity there’s no way a doctor would look at them and say “this is only a simulacrum of a human.” A court would have little problem recognizing them as human. Obviously in some fictional state where the “clone” may bve produced by some imaginary process with fictional side-effects might be anything the author wishes.

    I seem to recall similar questions being asked about what were then called “test tube babies” by the newspapers, before the birth of Louise Brown (what a difference a name makes!) at Oldham General Hospital in 1978. I think it probably made a difference to perceptions that she was born in a normal maternity ward in a provincial hospital. Had she been born in some mysterious Swiss clinic surrounded by polished steel furniture and laboratory glass, I suspect it might have been a very different story!

  6. Ennui Prayer


    Like I said, the book makes no statement how they came to be, just that they’re clones. Everyone in the book that isn’t a clone (a small portion of their “guardians” and a few others make up this group, though they’re not as important as the central characters). They are raise in schools – though only three of the several schools are set to prove they are human-like, hence the artistic skills and the education they are provided. Much like any other civil rights movement, a small group of people insist that the clones get treated just the same in order to make their short lives as pleasurable as possible.

    The doctors in the novel – even though they have no speaking part or any other characteristics – as well as the nurses all see these clones as creatures. Like I said in my post, these people are created to die in order for humans to live, so they’re just over-sized, talking rodents to the “real” humans.

    Test tube babies did come to my mind, but I quickly brushed it aside because that would open more questions that I really didn’t want to get into by myself.

    Though, I what I have stated above isn’t my opinion that clones aren’t human. In fact, while reading the book, I had hoped for an opposite ending, one much more cheerful because it was a scary world to look like a human, act like a human, read, love and feel like a human, but still not be considered a human. In many cases, the novel alludes to the other schools where the clones (they were only called students in three private schools)abused, seen lesser than human, not taught art, not told about love and affection, not treated with a single drop of sympathy. While students at Hailsham (the first setting of the novel) are allowed to dream of fantasy lives they’ll be able to live outside the schools walls, one guardian demands that they stop the nonsense. They were created, the are to be raised and taught properly, then they shall be sent off to the cottages (a sort of high school for clones where they learn how to live on their own, do chores and the like) before filing the forms to train to become carers and finally donors, completing the cycle before midlife.

    They are only allowed to live for 30 or so years before they finally complete – they don’t even get to use the word die as they never really lived. Because my post is more attached to a work of fiction rather than anything probable, I wasn’t trying to base anything outside the book. All my questions were gathered from the novel itself. When they first mentioned God, I was taken aback because it has always been my idea that if you were told of your origins, then there is no room for mythology (though that argument rarely works in the real world, I figured it might be useful in the fictional).

    I hoped I pathed my reasoning down in this last comment so that I can be made slightly more clear.

  7. Margaret Attwood has written an interesting review of the novel.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that these are people–even if in the opinion of those who ran Hailsham the experiment to prove them to be fully human failed in some way. They’re human, but dehumanized, and they connive (for reasons I don’t really understand) in their dehumanization. It sounds like a death camp novel set in a modern death camp. The people at Auschwitz were resigned to their fate at Auschitz, and Mengele experimented on them for what he saw as legitimate experiments. They were seen by the Nazis as literally less than human, and treated accordingly.

    So the novel is posing uncomfortable and timely questions about medical ethics.

  8. Ennui Prayer

    One character, thought to run Hailsham, comes in and takes their best art to put them in a fantasize “Gallery” that the children never see and only hear in passing. Later, the character, known as Madame, sighs when the adult clones (one of which is the narrator) come and ask for a deferral so that Tommy can spend a few more years alive. Madame sighs and says, “Poor creatures. What did we do to you? With all our schemes and plans?” after learning that they come to her because they are in love.

    There is no doubt in my mind that if this were a real life scenario that I would believe that these clones were humans and were separate from their “possibles.” However, some might say otherwise because of the whole dialect of religion, which I hate to get into but cannot avoid as all roads lead to a divine power or intervention. Popular culture, and I hate to turn it down a bit because it makes no sense of me jumping from literature to cartoons, has left us with different views of clones. In the first season of The Venture Bros., both Hank and Dean are killed. Their father, it is revealed in the season premiere of the second season, had cloned the boys and not just once, but several times. In fact, their was a whole set of his cloned 16 year old sons. Each clone contained all the boys annoy habits and mind and in order to keep them up with and education, Dr. Venture has on continual play all the children’s memories up until the point of their deaths. However, later in season three, Hank recalls jumping off a building and dying, a memory only that clone would have and none of the others. I know it’s not in the same ballpark with what my post has originally been based about, it’s just something I wanted to share because that began to bug me slightly after much thought on the whole memory – another one of my questions that spawned from the novel.

    In the novel, the character Ruth dreams of working in an office. She has an idea of how the office looks like and what her coworkers would be life. She knows that she will never be able to live this life that her purpose is to become a donor. However, later in the book, one of the veterans (older students in the Cottages)sees Ruth’s possible working in an office building. It later turns out that the possible is nothing like Ruth and they’re all left slightly disappointed.Because I’ve already jumped into the subject of supernatural forces – God – I began to question if clones and their human counterparts (considering that the clones believe that their possibles are adult age by they time they are even cognizant of what they are): Could clones have a psychic link to their originals? I, frankly, don’t think so. But it’s something that in a world of fiction would seem slightly logical.

    The book runs a lot like the movie The Island with the whole medical procedures. And I agree with you that the underlining questions do deal with medical ethics. That was one of my thought if it’s ethical to have these children raised in a “normal” atmosphere only to know that they will never live past a certain age. They will never live a normal life, have a normal job or have any actual friends after they become carers.

    This is possibly the best discussion I’ve had on my blog, ever. Thank you for partaking in it.

  9. By coincidence I watched The Island the other day. The theme isn’t a million miles away from that, I suppose, though this novel sounds much better than that rather slight thriller.

  10. i just want to say something mostly unrelated to the bulk of this post/comments.

    I hate to be inflamatory, but I hate broad, sweeping generalizations. You know what I hate more than broad sweeping generalizations? When someone uses one to counter one.

    Not all “christians” believe homosexuality is a sin. Many believe, and have evidence to support, that the bible never mentions “homosexuality” in the context we mean it today.

    I just want to say, also, to be fair to Ennui Prayer, I’ve met more of the ‘burn in hell’-type christians who condemn homosexuals than people like myself to choose to not place any sort of judgement on the actions of others. Ennui Prayer, not being a Christian, has probably known more hateful Christians than not, so although he exaggerates, as a writer, by exaggerating, he illuminates truth.

  11. Pingback: Chapbook Woes « The Life of Ennui Prayer

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