Can Clones Be Friends?

We were discussing Never Let Me Go, the haunting novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s an alternative present: a world in which a number of diseases have been eliminated, thanks to the availability of organs from clones. The novel tells of a humane effort to improve their lives, giving these children education and encouraging their artistic abilities. The movers behind the effort were trying to show that the clones had souls, that they were capable of emotions and thoughts just like the rest of us. But the vested interests (in the availability of organs, in the conquering of disease) were too strong to be overcome by such efforts.
     Yet the novel shows that these children (and then young adults) are, apart from their infertility, quite ordinarily human. They have crushes; they have hopes; they try to understand what other people are thinking; they are curious about the world. Their lives are largely insulated from those of normal humans: they live in special homes, they make their “donations” and ultimately “complete” in a world that is kept as separate as possible. And yet . . .
     Some people try to overcome their revulsion towards them. The revulsion is understandable: these children, these people, have been brought into existence only to provide organs for donation; after a few donations, they will “complete” (the euphemism for dying). To allow oneself to touch such a person, to allow oneself to teach, even to care for, such a person, is to make an immense move outside ordinary reality.
     From a moral perspective, I would say, they should not exist: no humans should be brought into existence merely for the advantage of others. Nonetheless, these clones do exist. They are just as individual, just as really human (apart from their engineered infertility) as any person reading these words.
     Can they be friends? Yes: we see them as friends with one another, and they experience, even in their abbreviated lives, such friendship.
     Can they be friends with us? That, it turns out, is the most important question of all.
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     It’s “only” a novel, but it points to many moral and theological questions.
     Can free people be friends with slaves? (Yes, one wants to say, but only by thereby undermining the institution of slavery.)
     Can rich people be friends with poor people?
     Can single people be friends with married people?
     Can Episcopalians be friends with Baptists?
     Can Trumpers be friends with Never-Trumpers?
     Might any human be a friend with any human?

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."