Human rights for “synths”?

July 19, 2018

Occasionally I cross-post articles that first appeared on one of my other blogs. This link goes to a piece I wrote over at the Journal of the Left-Handed Biochemist summarising a paper that had appeared in Medical Law Review, The paper looks at the grounds on which three types of non-human “sapients” might be considered human. Since it has a clear ethical theme, and a close tie-in with the excellent series Humans, I have included mention of it here.

synth post


Clone (2010): Bringing loved ones back from the dead

January 13, 2014

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) 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 addition to the collection. In particular, this film offers some insight into how generational relationships might be affected by cloning.

Rebecca (Eva Green) gives birth to a clone of her former partner Tommy

Rebecca (Eva Green) gives birth to a clone of her former partner Tommy

Plot summary: Rebecca and Tommy are close friends as children, before her mother’s job requires Rebecca to move to Japan. Having completed a degree, the adult Rebecca (Eva Green) returns. She and Tommy (Matt Smith) renew their friendship and quickly become lovers.

On the way to conducting an act of civil disobedience at the nearby cloning facility, Tommy is killed in a car crash. Rather than pursuing his campaign against the cloners, Rebecca turns to their services and becomes the surrogate mother for a clone of Tommy.

Although cloning is becoming more established in their society, prevailing attitudes against “copies” means that Rebecca keeps the details about her son’s origins a secret. When, however, the truth is leaked Rebecca and Tommy move to a more remote location. The younger Tommy only comes to know he is a clone towards the end of the film.

Reflections: Clone is a fairly slow moving and low-key movie, more arthouse than blockbuster. It is somewhat reminiscent in tone to Blueprint, which has some similar themes. If you are looking for clips to launch a discussion about the ethics of cloning, the most useful section runs from about 00:50:00 to 00:53:30. Two scenes, running consecutively, nicely encapsulate some of the tensions. In the first, Rebecca comes across Tommy and his friend Eric talking to a girl Dima about her rabbit. Rebecca extends Dima an invitation to come to their house, which the girl declines. As Dima walks away, Tommy and Eric compare notes, to see if they could detect the weird smell that “copies” are supposed to have.

In the follow-up scene, a group of mothers are chastising Rebecca for having offered to let Dima come to her house, because she is a copy. As one of the women puts it, Dima is a “Victim of artificial incest”, since she is a clone of her own grandmother.

As an alternative, you might use a section starting at 00:38:00. It is just after the original Tommy has died, and Rebecca raises the possibility of cloning him with Tommy’s mum (she is horrified by the notion, but Tommy’s father later provides the necessary material for the process).

There are a number of trailers for the film on YouTube. There are actually significant differences between the trailer for the UK version Clone (here) and the US trailer for Womb (here, and below).  The latter is a much better taster to whet the appetite regarding the the ethical issues in the film.

The film is unsettling. In particular the sexual tension between Rebecca and both versions of Tommy (the photo and video above both capture something of this). Towards the end of the film, when the clone discovers the truth about his identity, he and Rebecca have sex. Is this incest (as the earlier observer had suggested regarding the generational confusion surrounding Dima)? It is not a loving act on Tommy’s part. Shortly afterwards he leaves.


The 6th Day – an insight into human cloning?

July 24, 2009

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

6thday

(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. Read the rest of this entry »


DNA – The Promise & The Price

January 26, 2009
"A child born in 1953, the structure of DNA has just been discovered. 1989 and this babies genetic fingerprint can be identified. The first single gene for Huntington's disease has been discovered. 2003 this child's entire genetic code can now be read and faulty genes in his DNA can be adjusted. Another birth, but this time no ordinary miracle. The babies sex and eye colour were decided before she was conceived; also her hair, the shape of her nose and her intelligence. The date of her birth? Perhaps only a few years from now. She's born from a revolution in genetics. A revolution where each new step brings new questions of ethics and responsibility. And as the promises of the science gets greater, so do the questions for all of us get bigger."

Narrator Bill Paterson: "A child born in 1953, the structure of DNA has just been discovered. 1989 and this baby's genetic fingerprint can be identified. The first single gene for Huntington's disease has been discovered. 2003 this child's entire genetic code can now be read and faulty genes in his DNA can be adjusted. Another birth, but this time no ordinary miracle. The baby's sex and eye colour were decided before she was conceived; also her hair, the shape of her nose and her intelligence. The date of her birth? Perhaps only a few years from now. She's born from a revolution in genetics. A revolution where each new step brings new questions of ethics and responsibility. And as the promises of the science gets greater, so do the questions for all of us get bigger."

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DNA – The Promise & The Price provides an excellent resource for discussing the ethical implications of advancing genetic research, focusing on; gene therapy, stem cells and cloning. The documentary examines the frontiers of genetic science, revealing how researchers attempt to fulfil DNA’s potential to help cure and prevent disease. It also questions how some aspects of these novel technologies may have significant consequences for individuals and society. Bill Paterson: “Much is promised by genetic science, the manipulation of our genes. But can it deliver? And if it does are we ready to take responsibility for meddling with the very fabric of life itself: our DNA”.

"When it comes to medical research, any medical technology

Professor Steve Jones: "When it comes to medical research, any medical technology that works, it is very quickly accepted by the public. Ethicists may not like it, scientists may not like it, but the public, if they believe it works they will accept it, and the legislation will always follow. Ethics has always followed science, it's never led it and I don't see any reason why genetics is going to be any different. Ethicists would love to tell geneticists what to do, but I'm afraid the geneticists are not going to listen."

The topics found in DNA – The Promise & The Price include: genetics; genetic diseases; gene therapy; transplantation; stem cells; and cloning can all be found in the UK National Curriculum. Please note all timings mentioned  include advertisement breaks – (00:04:51 – 00:08:00, 00:25:31 – 00:28:40 and 00:46:50 – 00:50:00) 

Read the rest of this entry »


Could human reproductive cloning be a “Godsend”?

November 24, 2008

The ficticious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

The fictitious "Godsend Institute", from which the film takes its name

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The film Godsend stars Robert De Niro as a maverick fertility expert who has perfected a technique for human reproductive cloning. Following the death of their son Adam, on the day after his eighth birthday, Dr Richard Wells (De Niro) offers his services to the Duncan family telling them “you can have him back” (00:11:27). Although Godsend’s convoluted plot is entertaining, it must be noted that the science is both inaccurate and misleading. Nevertheless, there are a number of clips that highlight some of the bioethical issues, not only around human reproductive cloning, but also in terms of the links between what is legal, what is moral, and what science can do.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Family Man – playing God at the fertility clinic?

June 23, 2008

 
The Family Man – Dr Patrick Stowe  

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The Family Man is a three part BBC 1 drama centred on the successful (fictional) ‘Wishart Fertility Clinic’. The patriarch of the clinic is Dr Patrick Stowe (Trevor Eve) whom is driven by pursuit of better ways to help distressed couples have a child. The drama follows four couples facing a spectrum of fertility problems. In an attempt to fulfil their dreams, they turn to Dr Stowe to help find the answers. At times this tests the legal parameters of fertility treatment in the United Kingdom, and as such raises a whole raft of bioethical issues.

Read the rest of this entry »


Exploiting Genetic Knowledge – Visions of the Future (2)

January 11, 2008

The Biotech Revolution, the second episode of the BBC4 Visions of the Future series, continues to describe ways in which humanity is making a “historic transition from the age of scientific discovery to the age of scientific mastery”. Presenter Michio Kaku suggests that unlocking the basic code of life will allow us to “predetermine the destiny of life itself” and to manipulate it at the most fundamental level (Start-00:02:00).

The programme begins with Kaku having his “medical future rather than history” diagnosed via a series of genetic tests for complex diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. He describes this as an “owner’s manual” which will enable him to have greater control of his health, and to allow others to perhaps prolong their life by decades (00:02:20-00:06:20 and 00:20:05-00:23: 20). As a scientist, he is eager to discover what secrets his genome may contain however, as a person, he says “wait a minute, this could be a Pandora’s Box… I’m looking at a side of me I have never seen before, a side that has potential medical problems lurking there”.

Some of the issues raised here mirror those found in the ITV1 broadcast The Killer in Me, which illustrated particularly well the anguish associated with having such tests and the way actions could be taken in light of the results. In this programme, in contrast, there is greater emphasis placed on the potential impact on relatives and wider society that may result from taking the tests. “We really want to respect your privacy and the privacy of your relatives” the physician emphasises to Kaku.  Much of the future of this testing, if not the present, relies upon “the last great discovery of the 21st century, the Human Genome Project”.  Kaku believes that this event holds such significance that we will look at the history of medicine in two eras, “before genome and after genome”. “Having unravelled the fundamental code of our biology the stage is set for us to manipulate it” he adds (00:06:25-00:09:20). Read the rest of this entry »


Are hybrid embryos an ethical step too far? – The Big Questions

December 31, 2007

Following the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s decision to approve the creation of ‘animal-human’ hybrid embryos, or “cybrids”, the inaugural episode of the BBC’s new ethics show The Big Questions (BBC1, Sunday Sept 9th 2007, 10 am) included a fifteen minute debate on the topic. The programme provides some useful material for discussing the issue.

This initial post outlines the thrust of the discussion.  Interested readers are strongly encouraged to look at the extended commentary Science and ethics of cybrids – reflections on some recent media coverage, which includes not only a fuller account of the exchanges on The Big Questions, but also draws upon a similar discussion on The Guardian’s Science Weekly Podcast of September 10th. The relevance of a number of recent scientific papers on the biology of stem cells is also considered.  You may also like to watch a BBC news report following the announcement – go to their News page ‘Human-animal’ embryo green light and follow the ‘Watch’ link on the right-hand side. Read the rest of this entry »


Designer Babies – three documentaries

July 12, 2007

The term ‘designer babies’ is one frequently used in the media, though scientists find it ‘slippery’; geneticist Steve Jones says “the phrase ‘designer babies’ just fills me with despair; it promises so much, but delivers nothing”.  Instead, scientists such as Jones would generally prefer to consider individually the variety of technologies that are embraced by the term, notably pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), gene therapy and genetic enhancement.  Other entries on the BioethicsBytes site have reviewed resources about these developments (see, for example, the post on the A Child Against All Odds series and Bioethics Bytes Guide to Streamed Media for discussion of PGD, and Horizon: Trial and Error on gene therapy).

 

Having said that, this entry is headed Designer Babies because the phrase has been used directly in the title of a number of documentaries, including the three programmes discussed here.  These are: Life and Death in the 21st Century: Designer Babies (Horizon); Who’s Afraid of Designer Babies? (also Horizon); and Designer Babies (National Geographic). Each episode will be considered in turn, and some comparisons and recommendations are drawn together at the end.

 

Life and Death in the 21st Century: Designer Babies
The BBC Horizon series marked the millennium with a series of three programmes examining the potential impact of science on human life in the near future.  The final episode, Designer Babies (6th January 2000; TRILT identifier: TVI16522) had actually been broadcast previously under the title Babies of the millennium: designer babies (7th April 1999; TRILT identifier: TVI4440). A transcript of the programme can be found on the BBC website.

 

We will only discuss this episode briefly, since the 2005 Horizon Whose Afraid of Designer Babies? is, to a large extent, an updated version.  This programme considers many ethical issues, focused around two core questions: Can scientists create designer babies and, if they can, should they do so?  The episode opens with a number of prominent scientists and ethicists giving their views, and this could serve as a handy scene-setter for a classroom discussion.  Indeed, the main value of this particular programme is the barrage of quotable quotes (the transcript, linked above, is very helpful in this regard). Not least Princeton Geneticist Lee Silver’s closing comment “In a society based on market principles I don’t think there’s any way to stop the use of this technlogy by those who  have money”.

 

Initially, the episode focusses on the Abshire family.  Maigon Abshire, the first daughter of Renee and David Abshire, died aged three from TaySachs, a disease of the central nervous system.  Desperate to avoid their next child having the same fate, the Abshires were the first in the USA to use pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

 

Later, there is discussion about the production of Dolly the Sheep, and more particularly Polly, who was the first evidence that the cloning process can be tweaked to include the addition of new genetic information into an embryo and, hence, into all the cells of the resultant organism. In the case of Polly, the human gene for Factor 9, a protein involved in blood clotting, was introduced into an egg at the start of the cloning process.  The resultant sheep produced large amounts of Factor 9 in her milk.

 

Finally, there is discussion of how much of our adult form, both our physique and our character, is down to our genes (a rehearsal of the nature v nurture debate), and consideration of the expense of the processes, with the concern that the benefits of the technology will only be available to the rich.

 

Who’s afraid of Designer Babies?

In many ways, Who’s Afraid of Designer Babies? (48 minutes; 24th February 2005; TRILT identifier: 00513446) is a conscious updating of the earlier Horizon episode and manages to bring both the science and the ethics into rather sharper focus.  The programme helpfully disentangles the various technologies that are often lumped together in discussions about designer babies and deals in turn with PGD, gene therapy and cloning.  Depending upon available time, this three-section structure may make the episode particularly useful for teaching; each section might form the basis of three linked lessons.  Both a summary of the programme and a full transcript are available from the BBC website.

 

Who’s Afraid… begins with consideration of PGD.  We are introduced to Philippa Handyside who carries a chromosomal abnormality and turns to PGD following several attempts to establish a pregnancy by natural means.  In this section we are not only presented with a clear explanation of the PGD technique (00:05:00 – 00:08:45) but also a demonstration of the emotional and physical cost of the procedure (00:14:11 – 00:18:36). Philippa describes the fertility treatment needed for PGD as “horrendous…just absolutely horrific” (00:15:27) and the devastation she felt when told the treatment had not resulted in an error-free embryo. After further rounds of fertility drugs she eventually gave birth to a healthy son. 

 

This, of course is controversial enough in its own right, embryos that are not selected do not get implanted and do not get the opportunity to develop into a child.  The programme hints at future controversies in this area. Using a quote from Princeton geneticist Lee Silver (00:12:40) and an old clip from another BBC science series Tomorrow’s World, we are presented with a brief discussion of the potential to move from screening for particular diseases to the potential to select between different embryos on the basis of anticipated intelligence or musical ability.  There are two limitations here.  The first is technological – you can only screen any one cell at any one time for one or two genes, not a whole battery of tests. Secondly, and most importantly, the characteristics can only be chosen from amongst the alleles carried by the parents, if a trait is not represented in their genomes it is not available. As Joyce Harper from University College London puts it “We’re not designing any babies.  We’re not doing any genetic manipulation of the embryo.  We can only select the embryo that the couples produce.  So, if they’re not going to produce an embryo that’s very intelligent, we can’t select for it” (00:22:00).

 

It is at this point (00:22:35) that the episode moves on to think about gene therapy as a means to actually altering an individual’s genetic profile.  The ground here has been covered previously in the Horizon episode Trial and Error (in fact some of the footage is exactly the same).  The focus is on the work of Dr French Anderson, including his 1990 success in using gene therapy to treat Ashanti De Silva who had been suffering with a severe immune system deficiency caused by a genetic mutation. The episode also touches on the devastating blow the field received in 1999 when teenager Jesse Gelsinger died during a gene therapy trial in Pennsylvania.  The section from 00:27:00 to 00:33:48 raises the ethical questions most clearly; in particular, the risks of an introduced gene getting into the germ line cells and being passed on to subsequent generations.
 
In the final section of the programme, the focus shift to cloning technologies.  As with the earlier Life and Death…, both the cloning of Dolly the Sheep (00:34:56 – 00:35:38) and the subsequent production of Polly (00:35:40 – 00:37:30) are discussed.  Polly, you will recall,  is a genuine designer offspring; she has been genetically modified by the insertion of the human gene for blood-clotting protein Factor 9 into her genome.

 

Despite this apparent success of cloning mammals, a number of practical limitations and ethical qualms are identified.  Cloning remains an imprecise science with substantial attempts leading to abnormality and loss of life.  Added to this, even the viable products of some experiments have turned out to be rather different from the expected outcome; the programme illustrates this with reference to a genetically modified ‘supermouse’ with big muscles but an unexpectedly placid personality. 

 

The programme concludes with a visit to the Life Centre in Newcastle, to discuss the relevance of their work on “therapeutic cloning”.  The emphasis, in fact, is that work on manipulating embryonic stem cells, which is the basis of therapeutic cloning, is only looking for ways to treat diseases (though the impression given that no-one here is interested in adapting this work to make designer babies demonstrates a wilful avoidance of the fact that mavericks elsewhere may be very keen to exploit the lessons learnt through their research).  This section certainly contains a nice synopsis of the goals of therapeutic cloning (00:41:35 – 00:45:48). 

 

Overall, the programme gives helpful insights into a range of current developments in biomedicine whilst emphasising that ‘designing’ babies remains some way off.

 

National Geographic: Designer Babies

Designer Babies, from the National Geographic channel (60 minutes, TRILT identifier: 00564089), echoes many of the ethical and practical points raised in the two Horizon documentaries.  However, it has an extended section on PGD and therefore may be the particularly useful if you are looking for a detailed consideration of this topic. 

 

An Australian boy with Hyper IGM syndrome, an X-linked genetic disease, is the focus for much of the episode.  His family seek to use PGD to produce another child selected to be both free of Hyper IGM and also a tissue-match for the older boy so that stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord can be used to treat the older sibling (there are echoes here of UK case involving the Hashmi and the Whitaker families).  The story unfolds to show how the parent overcome the emotional and financial cost to have a new child who will provide the life saving stem cells their first son needs.

 

Unlike the Horizon documentaries, the issue here is one of “saviour siblings”, the production of a “spare parts baby” (00:02:30) and this raises additional ethical questions. For example, the family are concerned about the emotional burden on the new child when it grows up knowing that they were conceived to save their sibling. How would the child feel if, despite all of these efforts, the treatment fails? These are just some of questions raised in the programme.  On the one hand you have parents desperate to do everything they can for their child “Until you’ve got a child, who is in a certain situation, I don’t think you can predict what decision you will make” (Mother; 00:01:31) and on the other you have people worried about the consequences for the new born “We need to do research into how our children are going to be affected by this” (Ethicist Dr Jeffrey Nisker; 00:12:55).

 

The programme also picks up on the use of PGD to select the gender of a child for non-medical reasons, e.g. a mother of four sons desperate to have a girl, and examines some of the ethical issues raised by this application of the technology. (Again, there are echoes here of UK cases, such as the Mastertons and the Chenerys). 

 

In light of these worries, the programme examines the strengths and weaknesses of regulation and ethics committees regarding the uses of PGD. Views expressed range from Nisker, who fears that “in ten years the commercial companies that have been distributing this agenda will have altered us as human beings” (00:25:38) to one mother who states that she “didn’t know why she had to sit in front of an ethics committee to explain why she wanted a child” (00:27:10).  Dr Greg Stock, a bioethicist and prominent commentator in this arena, agrees.  He believes that the best people to make such a decision are the parents and the individual, since they are the ones directly affected. Some children, it is reported, have died while waiting for a decision by the regulatory authorities.

 

This debate moves on to a discussion regarding who has the right to decide who should, and who should not, have children.  Lessons from the Nazi use of eugenics (00:33:49) are used to reinforce the view that central government is not the best place for such decisions to be made. What about parents’ rights to deliberately select a child that is deaf, and thus in the eyes of many people, “disabled”?  The particular focus is on a couple that have both been deaf since birth but naturally conceived a hearing child.  They see deafness, not as a disability, but as a part of their identity (00:36:02).

 

Designer Babies is an excellent resource to raise some of the ethical issues being raised by the more recent advances in PGD. It also features descriptions of what is involved in PGD (00:04:02 – 00:06:02), the history of PGD (00:07:07 – 00:08:40) and the genetic screening that takes place in PGD (00:20:27 and 00:40:00).

 

Which episode is the ‘best’ for teaching? 
All three documentaries contain short sections that would prove very useful for raising discussion on the science and/or ethics involved in ‘designer babies’.  Life and Death in the 21st Century certainly does not cover a number of significant developments which have occurred since it was made.  If you have a copy languishing on the video shelf, it is certainly worth a watch; many of the ethical arguments are still valid.  If, however, you’ve got access to Whose Afraid of Designer Babies? or National Geographic Designer Babies these are probably better.  Either would be highly suitable for showing to a class; the preference may boil down to availability.  At the time of writing (July 2007), the National Geographic programme has not been repeated in the UK since early 2006, whereas Whose Afraid… has been showing regularly on UK Documentary. For this reason, we plan to use the latter as the focus of some additional teaching resources – details to follow.

 

David Willis and Chris Willmott


Human cloning – A Number

February 28, 2007

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) How would cloned sons react to one another and how would they interact with their father? These are some of the issues raised by Caryl Churchill’s play A Number.  The story consists of five conversations, snapshots into an otherwise untold narrative.  Each scene features the same two actors, father and son, but the younger is actually representing three different sons – one conceived naturally and two that are his clones. 

In the first conversation, the father (Salter) is talking with Bernard, a son he has raised on his own.  Bernard, aged 35, is aware that he is a clone and that other genetically identical individuals exist.  He is cross-examining his father about what happened to his older self and is informed (incorrectly, as we shall see) that he died in a car crash with the boy’s mother.  Bernard despairs that “I’m just a copy”, but Salter stresses he is “the one”, the reason why the cloning was originally done and that the scientists carrying out the process had deceived him by making other additional copies.

In the second conversation, it transpires that the first son (also called Bernard) is very much alive but was grossly neglected as a child, particularly after the death of his mother.  He knows that a clone exists and has been brought up by Salter in his rightful place, “you had a copy of me made from a ‘painless scrape’ and… you had the rest of me thrown away”.

In conversation three, the clone Bernard is talking with his father.  He has now met his older original and aware of the jealous rage of his neglected sibling, intends to flee from him.  As such, this conversation is partly goodbye and partly an appeal to know the truth before he goes – if his brother clearly hasn’t died in a car crash, then what came of his mother who was supposed to have died in the same incident?  Salter tells him what, we must assume, is the real version – she threw herself under a train.

The fourth conversation is between father and original son. He has tracked down and slain the other Bernard, the chosen clone.  What, asks the father, about me?  What about the other clones – will they all be killed?  The fifth and final conversation reveals the answer; Bernard has killed himself instead.  Salter is now talking with Michael, one of the additional twenty clones that were made without his permission.  Michael asks various questions – does his father intend to meet with all of the clones?  Do I look like the original son?  The striking feature of this exchange however is the ordinariness of Michael’s life – his job (maths teacher) and his family (married with three children). Were it not for the unusual circumstances of his birth he might have been an anybody.

Originally an hour-long stage play, a 45 minute radio version starring Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig was transmitted on BBC7 in November 2006 (TRILT identifier 005D6A7D).  A script is published by Theatre Communications Group (ISBN-10 1559362251; ISBN-13 978-1559362252).

How could I see A Number being used in a teaching setting?  A thoughtful class of A level students (that is 17 or 18 year old, for those not familiar with the UK system) studying English might discuss the place of cloning in fiction, perhaps drawing comparison with Never Let Me Go and/or The Island.  In truth, however, although cloning is central to A Number, the play offers more insights into relationships than either the ethics or science of human cloning.  As Matt Cheney has commented on his Mumpsimus blog “Churchill doesn’t write a play “about” cloning, but rather a play that includes cloning, a play that couldn’t exist without cloning.” The question of genetic determinism, nature v nurture might be raised; the three sons may be genetically identical, but their diverse upbringing has clearly led to dramatic differences in their personalities.  Having said that, the reality is that, although thought provoking, A Number is probably not the first choice for introducing science students to the arguments surrounding the ethics and/or technology of human cloning.