Lancaster University

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Cloning in Hollywood films

08/24/2006 11:39:15

The way in which Hollywood films portray human cloning is being examined by academics at Lancaster University.

Prof Maureen McNeil and Dr Kate O’Riordan, from the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (CESAGen), are looking at how the media represents therapeutic and reproductive cloning.Therapeutic cloning is particularly topical as several institutions in the UK are attempting to use this method to grow stem cells which it is believed can grow into any type of body tissue and thus could potentially provide cures for illness and impairment.

Dr O’Riordan said cloning has moved from the realm of science fiction to mainstream cinema thanks to films like The Island (2005), in which Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson discover they are clones created to provide replacement organs and parts for the owners of insurance policies.

“Film in particular is one area where fears and expectations get explored, especially anxiety about the instrumentalisation of human life and scientific intervention in reproduction.This is a negative portrayal of cloning because people are being exploited.”

She said human cloning was also seen as threatening in earlier films such as The Boys From Brazil (1978), where there is a neo-Nazi plot to clone Hitler.
“Reproductive cloning is abhorrent when it’s linked to power and control but films are more ambiguous when cloning is shown to have a more positive purpose.For example, in the 2005 film Aeon Flux, the human race is almost wiped out by a global pandemic and the population is left sterile, but humans are saved by cloning themselves.
“When it comes to saving the human race, or a parent’s wish to clone a child who’s died, you see more positive representations, although reproductive cloning is still illegal.”

She said therapeutic cloning to help the sick was being promoted as a cure-all by some scientists.
“Stem cell research is seen by some as the alchemy of the 21st century. Meanwhile, provision of better nutrition and basic health care would make more of a difference to human health.”

Prof McNeil said that the recent portrayal of stem cell research in the UK can contribute to a utopian vision and unrealistic expectations which serve the interests of some scientists who are keen to secure funding for their research and of those politicians who wish to promote such research as vital to the UK economy. But some scientists are also worried about the ‘hype’ in the coverage of this field.

She said: “We all know about Christopher Reeve who played Superman and was hoping for a cure through stem cell research after he was paralysed.
“This belief that people in wheelchairs will be cured by stem cell research is unrealistic at this time and it’s being encouraged by the circulation of exaggerated claims and research funding pressures.
“In the press there are recurring stories of families wanting cures for diseases and of possible breakthroughs and this normalises the expectation that maybe not now but soon there will be a cure.”