How does a culture accept a plan to create human clones and then kill them to harvest their body parts? They tell lies. That’s the story behind the movie The Island. I’ve been showing that film (or parts of it) when I teach on cloning for several years. Last week, my family watched it. I was eager to process some of its ideas with my kids.
On the surface, it's a fun, sci-fi action movie starring several Hollywood A-listers. What makes it interesting, though, are some of the questions it raises:
- What does it mean to be human?
- Is it ethical to create human clones?
- Would a clone have a soul?
- Can we use the body parts of clones for our own benefit?
- Can we disqualify some humans from being valuable?
The movie is about a cloning facility that secretly manufactures clones for wealthy people who invest large sums of money to have “spare parts” available when they need them. When the clones are matured, they harvest their body parts, thereby also killing the clones.
How does the cloning facility convince the culture it’s morally permissible to hack up human clones and harvest their body parts? They lie.
First, they call the clones “agnates.” They use language to dehumanize them.
Second, they don’t tell the investors that the clones are bona fide human beings. Rather, they’re told the agnates are “an organic frame…maintained in a persistent vegetative state. They never achieve consciousness. They never think or suffer or feel pain…joy, love, hate.” As is obvious in the movie, that’s not true. The clones look and behave exactly like human beings because they are human beings.
During a defining moment in the movie, two of the clones who have escaped ask a sympathetic employee why the world doesn’t care that human clones like themselves are killed inside the facility. “They don’t know,” he answers. “They think you’re vegetables simmering in a jelly sack.” The world is led to believe a falsehood about the value of human clones.
This is similar to the dishonesty behind abortion. I’ve had conversations with abortion-choice advocates for two decades, and they often deny the unborn are bona fide human beings. Instead, they refer to them as an “it,” a “fetus,” a “clump of cells,” an “unwanted pregnancy,” or—if they’re generous—a “potential human.” All their language, however, is the same. It’s dehumanizing. It’s also a lie.
Maybe their intent isn’t to lie, but abortion clinics aren’t telling their clients the truth. Like the cloning facility in The Island, they look for language to convince women that their abortion won’t kill a valuable human being.
“There is no doubt,” writes world-renowned abortion-rights champion Peter Singer, “that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” Countless other abortion-rights activists, doctors, and scientists claim that it is a scientific fact that an individual human life begins at conception.
That’s why abortion-choice advocates typically don’t argue the science. After all, the evidence is quite compelling. Instead, they dehumanize unborn human beings by what they call them and how they describe them. It’s the same strategy of misinformation from the movie The Island.
It’s amazing that this movie, despite being produced by mainstream Hollywood, answers several of the above questions correctly. It points out it’s wrong to declare some humans as less than valuable. It’s wrong to harvest body parts from clones. It’s wrong to kill innocent human beings, no matter how they come into existence. It’s wrong to use people as a means to someone else’s end. That’s impressive. It’s also ironic that a Hollywood flick holds a more accurate view of human value than most abortion-choice advocates.