The 6th Day – an insight into human cloning?

[This is a first BioethicBytes post from guest reviewer, Robert Cane – welcome Rob]


(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) 2000 film The 6th Day takes its name from the Book of Genesis  ‘God created man in His own image, and behold, it was very good… And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.’ (Genesis 1:27,31), which is quoted during the opening credits.  In the near future as depicted in the film, animal cloning is ubiquitous, but, following a disastrous failed experiment, human cloning (beyond the cloning of organs) is strictly forbidden.

Adam Gibson (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a commercial pilot who, along with his business partner Hank Morgan, is hired to provide transport for tycoon Michael Drucker. Drucker is the money behind Replacement Technologies, the company which, with access to the genetic code of almost every biological being, provides everything from new super foods to the cloning of recently deceased family pets.

At the last minute, Adam switches places and lets Hank do the flying for their first assignment for Drucker. Instead, Adam goes to the mall where he briefly considers having his family’s dead dog cloned before buying his daughter a life-size doll. Upon returning home for his surprise birthday party, Adam discovers that his family and friends have already begun the celebrations with an exact replica of him (a clone) in attendance.

From this point on, Adam must run for his life as the people behind the illegal creation of his clone attempt to kill him in order to erase any evidence of their crime. As the film progresses, Adam discovers that Drucker is running an illicit human cloning operation alongside scientist Dr. Weir and must destroy it to save his own life. Amidst a slurry of repetitive but passable action sequences in which Drucker’s henchmen are killed and cloned again and again, there are sporadic, but important, references to the many ethical questions surrounding cloning.

Although most of the film fails to rise above the level of an average Schwarzenegger action adventure and its action scenes are certainly nothing out of the ordinary, the 6th Day does make frequent attempts to engage with interesting ethical issues, and, even if a solid, but ultimately uninspiring action film does not appeal to you, many sections of it may be useful for facilitating discussions regarding cloning.

The Science
The first thing to note when considering the portrayal of cloning in the 6th Day is the significant disjuncture between the fictional science of the film’s ‘near future’ and the actual science relating to the potential therapeutic or reproductive cloning of human beings (00:18:11 to 00:19:06). The clone of Adam Gibson – and, indeed, all human and animal clone in the film – was created by the implantation of Adam’s DNA into an adult-size blank human before a recording (a ‘syncord’) of his mind is transferred into the brain of the clone to create an exact physical and psychological replica of the original Adam Gibson. This is very different to the techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or induced Pluripotent Stem cell (iPS cell) use that represent the best strategies to create a genetically identical clone (see Chinese researchers clone Tiny the mouse from skin cells for a recent example of genuine cloning). Using current cloning approaches, the clone would be neither the same age as the original organism nor would it be in possession of a copy of its mind. Similarly, any effects of environmental factors would not be brought into play. This disjuncture may well be useful in its own right as the beginning of a discussion, but, crucially, it must be held in consideration when using any clips from the film to stimulate discussion of ethical issues.

Replacement to Avoid Loss
Although, as one might expect, the use of human clones to replace deceased loved ones is mentioned throughout the film, the best discussion of these issues occurs at the beginning of the film regarding Adam’s dog, Oscar. Adam’s wife asks him to get the deceased dog cloned through the company RePet so that their daughter will not have to suffer from its loss. Adam, however, is not keen on doing so (the scene in which Adam’s wife asks him to get the dog cloned can be viewed between 00:09:07 and 00:10:15). Another good scene that can be used to illustrate this debate is one in which Hank is attempting to convince Adam that he ought to get the dog cloned (00:11:42 to 00:12:27). If allowances are made for the fact that in the world of the film such cloning is commonplace and creates an exact replica of the deceased animal, then these scenes can be used to stimulate discussion regarding the possibility that reproductive cloning may provide an avenue for grieving parents to assuage some of their sense of loss.

The Prevention of Progress?
In one scene (00:30:05 to 00:32:19), Drucker gives a speech calling for the ban on research into human cloning to be lifted. Surrounded by anti-cloning protestors, and despite the revelation elsewhere in the film of his nefarious purposes, Drucker defends cloning on the basis that it can bring great benefits. Whilst, within a world in which cloning means the creation of an exact replica, the main thrust of his speech revolves around the possibility of replacing terminally ill loved ones with clones that can continue their lives, this scene can be used during a discussion on the arguments for and against cloning (both in therapeutic terms and as a solution for couples incapable of natural reproduction). In particular, it may be useful to draw comparisons between the ban on human cloning castigated in Drucker’s speech and current legislation restricting the use of cloning techniques. For example, in the UK reproductive cloning is illegal, but therapeutic cloning is legal under strict licensing conditions.

The Rights of Clones?
Throughout the 6th Day, the point is made that clones are not afforded the same respect as other human beings. In one scene (00:45:29 to 00:46:14), whilst Adam is observing his own clone, he remarks that the clone is ‘not real’ and ‘not even human’, and Hank, who is with him, ponders how you might differentiate between two people who are the same, and whether it would be possible to consider either of them individuals. Along similar lines, one character, Tripp, is an anti-cloning extremist who sets out to kill several individuals that he knows to be clones (54:51 to 55:31). Whilst human clones do not exist in the contemporary world, and therefore do not face such discrimination, these clips could provide the basis of a useful discussion regarding the hypothetical treatment of human clones in a world where many reject the concept of cloning on the grounds that it is unnatural. Particularly pertinent issues to consider are whether or not clones would be considered legal equals and fully independent human beings, and whether they may face discrimination in human societies, which have so often sought to victimise those that are different.

Unhealthy Clones?
One of the key scenes in the 6th Day involves Drucker and Dr. Weir, a man who had his wife cloned after her death only to see her die five years later (01:17:06 to 1:20:30). In this scene Drucker explains how the clone of Weir’s wife had accidentally been created with a genetic flaw (she had Cystic Fibrosis). Such flaws were routinely added to the DNA of the clones by Drucker, in order to ensure that those being cloned would be tied to him in perpetuity as they returned every few years to be cloned again. Obviously, this is a dystopian and unrealistic vision relying upon the fictional science around which the film is based. However, this scene could be used to stimulate debate regarding both the likelihood that many early clones may suffer health problems, and issues surrounding the use (or abuse) of genetic information by organisations and individuals with motives that are not entirely altruistic.

Thus, the 6th Day may, despite its flaws, provide a number of useful clips that can illuminate many issues of ethical concern, and, that can, if used in conjunction with other materials of a more factual nature, provide a colourful and dynamic base upon which to build a discussion. Useful summaries of many of the ethical issues described here can be found on the website of the Center for Genetics and Society, and, in particular, in both its ‘Research Cloning Arguments Pro and Con’ and ‘Reproductive Cloning Arguments Pro and Con’ pages.

The 6th Day (TRILT ID: 004F8F4D) is frequently shown on UK television, particularly on Five and their digital daughter channel Five US. Members of the BUFVC can use their back-up service to obtain copies.


8 Responses to The 6th Day – an insight into human cloning?

  1. Akira says:

    So… Why was Adam cloned in the first place? I saw it on TV the other day and realized there was no explanation behind why they even cloned him in the first place. Please let me know if there’s something I missed.

  2. lachlan says:

    You know how Adam let’s his colleague take Drucker in his helicopter? Well Hank introduces himself as being Adam. So when that ‘Anti-Cloning Extremist’ kills everyone on the helicopter once it lands, as far as the Cloning company know, it is Gibson who got killed not Hank. So they Clone Gibson instead of Hank. That’s why there’s two Gibson’s. *Two years later, didn’t expect you’d get an answer hahaha

  3. Timaya says:

    The 6th day cloning method should be adopted.

  4. […] The 6th Day, syncords are used to transfer a person’s identity, memories, etc into a human […]

  5. […] Cloning is a frequent theme in contemporary cinema. We have blogged about some of these previously (The 6th Day and Godsend). The 2010 movie Clone (aka Womb in other parts of the world) is an interesting […]

  6. Mark says:

    So the cloning company mistaken Hank as Adam then they created another Adam by accident, question is where did the cloning company got the memories and DNA of Adam to clone another Adam?

    • Pedro Araújo Jorge says:

      @Mark: The cloning company were the same ones who ordered the eye exam (on the heli crew) that took place before the flight (were everyone got killed) and that exam was in fact the “mind and memories recording”. They also took a blood sample from Adam. So that’s how! :)

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