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.
     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?

Glad to Be Here

The story as I recall it was this: It was one of his early radio shows. They were on the road somewhere, and the back of the stage was reached through a narrow hallway. He thought to make an energetic entrance, so he ran through the hallway but, where it opened to the stage, the ceiling was low (he is 6'4") and his grand entrance leap turned into a crash as he clobbered his head.
 He got up from the floor, made it to the microphone, and the first words out of his mouth were: “Happy to be here.” (Later he wrote a book with that title.)
 Some time ago I was on the staff of a large church. Whenever I rang the rector’s long-term secretary he invariably answered the phone with “Father Austin, what a pleasure!” I learned to say the pleasure was all mine, and it was at least a smile-bringing pleasure to hear his voice. I once teased him and said he couldn’t really mean it since he said the same thing to everybody, and with upright seriousness he corrected me. “I never say it to —” and he named someone I forget. But for those who heard it, what pleasure.
 It’s 6 a.m. and my host was in the kitchen with his very energetic dog. I remarked that she was showing remarkable energy for it being so early. He replied that she was a very theological dog! She was saying, “This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
 The first moral task is to give thanks for who we are and where we are and what we are, to give thanks that we have the life that we have. After we give thanks, we may go on to ask for what we need but don’t have. We may also laugh at our embarrassments and repent of our sins. But thanks is the first thing.
 My morning barista asks me how I’m doing. “Glad to be here,” I say, and it’s true, whether it’s cold or hot, wet or dry; whether my feet hurt or not; whatever my unmet deadlines; and whatever foolish or wicked things I may have done—it’s a pleasure. This day, and not some other day, is the day which the Lord hath made.
 I’m glad to be here.
 Out & About. I am to preach at the traditional services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas this Sunday, December 2.


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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: