June 28, 2007 -- La Cañada Valley Sun

"Around Town:
Attack of the Clone People"

By Anita Susan Brenner

I love La Cañada. The hot June days. Running into friends. Catching up on the news.

Morning coffee in the 91011 is a unique blend of engineers, lawyers and "industry" types.

So … it was a warm, early June morning in La Cañada. The coffee place was abuzz with the latest news — the British Academy of Medical Sciences had issued a new report. The report urged approval of human-animal embryos for "scientific experiments." Human DNA would be implanted into animal eggs. Conversely, animal DNA would be implanted into human embryos.

The Academy emphasized that there would be "rules" against the implantation of these hybrid embryos into either a woman or female animal.

My knowledge of British research into inter-species cloning was limited to Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau, so I was surprised to learn that current scientific techniques allow human genetic material to be combined with animal embryos — and vice versa. After all, Professor Moreau had been forced to leave England. He was shunned and then he created an island full of animal-human hybrids, with dire results.

I asked Mike Harrington what he thought. Mike is a La Cañadan who does neurology research at HMRI in Pasadena. After noting that this is a controversial topic, Mike said, "I think inter-species cloning is OK in plants, but not acceptable for humans; so where do you stop in-between?"

The "in between", according to some, would be the cloning of endangered species, such as the Giant Panda. The DNA of an endangered bear would be implanted in the egg of a common bear. Another "in between" would be the creation of specific stem cell lines for limited research purposes.

Dave Wilcox, a scientist, writer and Republican primary candidate for the California State Assembly in 2004, was surprisingly nonchalant with the discussion. Dave said, "I suspect that American scientists have been cross breeding jackasses and humans for decades. Isn't that where Democrats come from?"

(That reminded me of an old joke about Republicans: "Some Republicans want a ban on cloning, but others want a ban on making humans the old-fashioned way.")

My friend Roz had a different take. "Maybe I could be cloned with my cat and then I would be able to see in the dark," was her reply.

"But Roz," I said, "they make a new … uh … person."

Roz was insistent. "I like my cat and I want to see better in the dark."

"But Roz..." I protested.

Suddenly, I remembered Cordwainer Smith. Smith was the nom de plume of Paul Linebarger, a college professor and retired colonel in military intelligence. His fictional society had animal hybrids, who appeared to be human, but were not. These creatures were the underclass of a jaded human society. My favorite was a story called "The Ballad of Lost C'mell," about a cat-girl heroine who stood for morality and human values.

She could also see in the dark.

Against the whir of the espresso machine, I began to ponder the legal ramifications of the British report.

I asked a lawyer named Steve what he thought of human-animal clones. Surprisingly, Steve declined to discuss the law. Instead, he said that his dog, Jeddy, actually is a man in a dog's body.

"The whole family agrees," said Steve. "We think he was a professor conducting an experiment when he got trapped in a dog's body. We are doing what we can for him."

Experiments. Espresso. Dogs and cats.

Doctors, writers, JPL-ers and lawyers. I love La Cañada.

Anita Susan Brenner is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident. She is an attorney with the Law Offices of Torres and Brenner.