Talking to Myself, Part 1

On Jan. 1, 2000, bogus daybreak of the new millennium, scientists at PPL Replications, the world's leading genetic research laboratory, issued a press release stating their intention to clone a huma

Apr 26, 2001 at 2:06 pm

On Jan. 1, 2000, bogus daybreak of the new millennium, scientists at PPL Replications, the world's leading genetic research laboratory, issued a press release stating their intention to clone a human being. The reaction — from politicians, religious leaders, social scientists and ethicists (can someone please tell me from whom or where this last group draws its paychecks?) — ran the gamut from impotent outrage to incredulous outrage.

Me? I phoned up PPL and called dibs on getting cloned. I can't entirely explain why I had such an overwhelming urge to perpetuate myself in this way, but somehow the idea that I could become a father without the spiritual degradation of getting a woman drunk enough to sleep with me just struck some elemental emotional chord.

After an exhaustive screening process, one that included rigorous physical and psychological testing as well as a methodical, meticulous appropriation of all my liquid assets, I succeeded in convincing the PPL people that I was the right human for the job. They harvested the required DNA from me on Jan. 22, 2000. I have to say I was surprised when they told me the lab boys wouldn't need a semen sample; then again, I think they were just as surprised when I insisted on producing one for them anyway.

It wasn't until much later that I learned PPL was financially strapped. In fact, their very survival depended on being "first to market" with their groundbreaking, investment capital-attracting clone. So when some early trial-and-error pushed the projected "due date" of the petri dish progeny to late spring 2001, corporate nerves began to fray.

(I was permitted to visit PPL and observe throughout the entire process, both because of my vested interest and the possibility that supplemental medical or background data might be needed.)

Then, late last summer — August, I think — the pressure ticked up another notch as industry scuttlebutt hinted that upstart rival, GenetiKinkos, might be ready with their own human clone as early as February 2001. Desperate, fearing for their corporate life, PPL decided to initiate a "maturity acceleration program" on my multiplying cells — that is, to inject them with a series of hormone "cocktails," similar to the ones Tyson Foods uses to speed chicks from hatchling to killing floor in 49 days — in the hopes of getting a photo-op-friendly-bouncing-baby-homo sapien version of Dolly the Sheep in front of the press corps tout-de-suite, leaving GenetiKinkos in the double-helical dust.

In retrospect, this was, PPL admits, a miscalculation.

Because the hormone treatments were experimental, exact concentrations and long-term effects were impossible to apprehend. By the time proper levels were ascertained, the cells had been overdosed and, apparently, over-stimulated. (Not the first time my cells had experienced these abuses, certainly, but the first time outside my body.) We know this because the clone — my clone! — matured at an alarming and exponential rate; he was "newborn" on Sept. 26, a toddler by November, an adolescent by January and, as of March 18, 2001, he turned, by all objective physiological measures, 21 years old. (Meanwhile, February came and went without GenetiKinkos producing a baby; rumor had it that they, in layman's terms, "had run out of clone toner.")

Needless to say, as soon as the rapid, uncontrollable, troubling growth of my Doppelganger revealed itself, PPL considered him less a venture capital magnet as a failed prototype. As such, he was not trotted out for the press. Glowing headlines did not ensue. Coffers did not fill. Leaving PPL Replications bankrupt and non-viable. And leaving me with a (now homeless) adult "son."

Sadly, because of the speed with which these events occurred and the scientific cocoon in which PPL deemed it necessary to contain my clone, I did not know him during the months he was "growing up." Rather, I was kept at arm's length, allowed only to observe the boy, not interact or speak with him. I went along with these restrictions partly out of complaisance but mostly because, in my experience, that's how fathers and sons did things.

I reveal these facts because I now recognize the importance of this story, both to the American people and to my journalistic career. What's more, in an effort to further advance your right to know as well as my right to a Pulitzer, last Monday, shortly before PPL closed its doors for the last time, I visited once again.

I wanted to talk to my son. To my clone. To myself. And who knows, maybe even listen.

Next week: The complete transcript of my interview.