In the movie 'Godsend,' a couple played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, left, and Greg Kinnear, center, uses cloning to help bring their dead son, played by Adam Bright, right, back to life. But the clone of their son turns out to be every parents' worst nightmare.
By COMMENTARY contributor
updated 4/30/2004 12:31:00 PM ET 2004-04-30T16:31:00

When the movie The Passion of the Christ opened there was a tsunami of heated debate about whether or not it fairly and accurately depicted the final days of Jesus.  Many argued for a boycott of the movie on the grounds that the picture it painted of Jesus’ last days was so distorted that it did not deserve an audience.

I don’t know enough about biblical history and interpretation to have a position on The Passion.  But I do know enough about the subject of the just-released flick "Godsend," starring Robert DeNiro, to know that no one who wants to learn anything about human cloning need head anywhere near a theater where this dog is barking.

Film fuels fear and ignorance
For the past seven years the American people and our legislators have been getting over their misunderstanding of the dangers of human cloning. Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned, Americans have been told by a variety of kooks, nuts, fruit balls, con men and flakes that cloning is imminent. Worse still, with nuts at the wheel of the cloning dreadnought, most Americans are increasingly worried that having a clone in the neighborhood would mean big trouble.

Over the years, the fear of making human clones has polluted the debate about making cloned embryos for research. Not only has it been difficult for the American people to understand that human cloning may never work, it has also been difficult for them to understand that the real interest in human cloning is for stem-cell research.

Contrary to what many people think, researchers who really do understand the mechanisms behind cloning want to make it a reality in order to help people with spinal-cord injuries and diseases like Parkinson's. There are no legitimate scientists out on deserted islands trying to clone for fun and profit, and even if there were, their chances of successfully making a living human person are remote if not zero.

Over time it has been possible to convince most Americans that cloning holds no special dangers to the public order. And, according to a new poll conducted by Peter D. Hart, many Americans, both among the general public and in Congress, are realizing that cloning for research makes sense. But Hollywood is doing all it can to set back this progress.

Send this clunker packing
The movie "Godsend" tells the story of a scientist, Richard Wells, played by DeNiro. He is supposedly the “top genetic engineering researcher” in the world, and runs a clinic that helps parents who have lost a child bring them back to life through cloning. DeNiro's character is a pretty immoral guy and, while he helps Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Greg Kinnear get their child back from the dead, the child turns out to be quite a nasty handful by the time Dr. Wells has worked his spooky magic.

Actually, the only thing this movie succeeds in bringing back to life is every stupid, erroneous myth that has sabotaged the debate over the value of using cloning for stem-cell research.  Not only can Dr. Wells make clones, but he can use cloning to make the dead come alive. And once the little clone has been rebrewed, well, watch out — Rosemary’s baby has nothing on this kid.

In reality, no one knows how to create a healthy human baby through cloning. But more to the point, no respectable scientist wants to. And even if they did want to, there is no reason to think a clone would be any nastier or less fully human than babies born in test tubes or by means of C-sections.

Thanks Hollywood. Just as people were beginning to understand cloning, you have put greed before need and made a movie that risks keeping ordinary Americans afraid and patients paralyzed and immobile for many more years.

As for the public, do yourself a favor and skip this film. Find something else to do and help send "Godsend" on its way from your local multiplex to late-night cable TV.

Arthur Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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