Monday, 9 February 2009

The Naked Man?

Copyright © 2002

Here is one of my early stories, which explores the status of a human clone from three different points of view.

‘Why am I not human?  That’s all I want to know,’ said the naked man strapped to a black leather couch beneath a spotlight in an otherwise dark room.

‘It depends how you define human,’ said a voice from the darkness.

‘You’re as human as any identical twin,’ said a second voice.

‘Well, that’s not quite the same, is it?’ said a third.

‘Well, yes it is,’ said the second, ‘Identical twins have identical genetic material, and he has the same genetic material as the donor.’

‘Accepted,’ said the third, ‘but that’s not the only criterion in deciding the issue–’

‘Of course it is, you stupid fool!  If someone digs up his body fifty years from now they’ll identify human remains, just as they would with any other corpse.’

‘Excuse me–’ said the naked man on the couch, pointlessly because he was completely ignored.

‘Precisely,’ said the third, ‘Remains!  But what has left for there to be something remaining?’

‘Oh I get it!  You mean “Does he have a soul?”’

‘Not quite.  If we define “soul” as personality, character, disposition, and all of those human relational qualities–’

‘You mean psychology?’

‘Mmm…well, yes.  All those things that make us individuals, distinct individuals, unique, if you like, beyond the obvious physical differences–’

‘Then he has a soul,’ said the first voice, breaking his silence.

‘Well,’ said the third, ‘again, it’s not quite that simple.  Even dogs have a “psychology”, their own distinctive personalities–’

‘So now he’s no better than a dog?’ asked the first.

‘Excuse me–’ said the naked man on the couch.

‘Oh come on!’ said the second voice, ‘He’s clearly better than a dog!  He has consciousness, a value-system; he’s capable of rational thought, of love, of fear…of art!’

‘Yes, Professor, I must admit he has made a striking contribution to art, quite amazing, in fact, but that’s not what I’m getting at,’ the third voice resumed.

‘Well, what are you getting at, Bishop?  Just tell me in simple English, will you?’

‘OK,’ said the Bishop, ‘You do agree that these, er, psychological characteristics in themselves do not confer humanity on this being–’

‘Oh, you’re ready to admit he’s a being, then,’ said the first voice.

‘Of course, Judge.  He is, therefore he has being.  What is at question is his humanity.’

‘Excuse me–’ said the naked man on the couch.

The Bishop continued, ‘The existence of his soul I find a somewhat complex riddle, I freely admit, if it is cast only in terms of “psychological” attributes.  No.  The question – the much simpler question – is, “Does he have a spirit by which he is able to commune with God?”’

‘But why,’ rejoined the Professor, ‘should that in particular make him human when everything else about him proclaims his humanity for all to hear?  How do we know that any of us have spirits?  I find the concept to be quite unnecessary to my existence.  I have never “communed with God”, as you put it.  In fact, I don’t believe there’s a god to commune with.  Am I therefore not human?  Even though I came into this world by natural means?’

‘Your humanity, Professor, is beyond question.  You have been created in the image of God and so possess a spirit even though you do not recognise it.  It is just not enlivened towards God.  The point is that it could be.’

‘So your argument, then,’ said the Judge ‘is that he did not come about by natural means and therefore was not created in the image of God.’

‘Quite so.  And so does not have a spirit, and what we might describe as his soul cannot therefore be saved.’

‘Nor, presumably, burn in hell!’ said the professor.  ‘I find your view somewhat uncomfortable.  If you are wrong, you give him no opportunity of salvation, whatever that may mean.’

‘And you, if you are wrong, would deny that possibility to the whole of mankind,’ replied the Bishop.

‘Whereas you only deny it to poor devils like our friend here,’ said the Judge.

‘Well, if I am right, I only deny what has never been granted – and it was not I who introduced the term “devil”.’

The three men fell silent.  The Judge stood and walked into the periphery of the illuminated area and addressed the naked captive, ‘Do you believe you have a spirit?  Have you ever communed with God?’

The naked man studied on his questioner before replying, ‘I don’t know.  I’ve never considered it.  No-one has discussed these issues with me before.  What would it be like?’

The Judge turned away and addressed the Bishop, ‘Look at his art, man, it is so vital, so full of energy.  It communicates so clearly the human condition.  Surely that is evidence of spirit?’

‘Ah, a simple confusion, my friend.  What he, in fact, appeals to, what he touches so wonderfully well, I grant you – in fact I believe I have never seen the like – are the human senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell – all rooted in the flesh, our vehicle for communing with the natural world.  Why, even dolphins show pleasure in their frolicking, and even my dog delights in running after rabbits and doing his tricks for me.  Not evidence for the spirit, though.’

‘So how do you know that dolphins don’t have spirits, then?’ jibed the Professor.

‘Only mankind was made in the image of God.  Ah yes, everything else was made good but only man was made god-like.’

‘Oh, I see – dogma!’

The Bishop addressed the naked man, ‘You asked the Judge a question.  The Bible teaches that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men”.  His intention in doing so is that they might yearn for something beyond this world and so seek him and find him.  Have you experienced anything of that longing?’

‘That’s a preposterous question,’ cried the Professor, drawing attention once more away from the object of their argument, ‘How many people can say that.  I’ve never “experienced anything of that longing” as you put it.’

‘Really?  Can you honestly say you have never had the sense that you are seeking something?’

The Professor thought for a while.  ‘I have sought meaning and purpose but I have sought it in science!  It does not prove I have a spirit!’

‘And have you found meaning and purpose, or just more questions?’

The Professor responded, ‘I have found meaning enough.  Of course there are more questions.  My purpose is found in the pursuit of the answers to those questions.’

‘Which leads only to even more questions, I believe.’  The Bishop turned in his chair, hidden in the darkness.  ‘And you, Judge, have you the sense of seeking and striving after something?’

‘Perhaps when I was younger I had.  I felt I was seeking something then.  Now I’m content that life has no meaning.  One might just as well enjoy one’s self.  One is a long time dead, after all.’

The Bishop smiled a wry smile then turned his attention back to the naked man, ‘And you, my friend, what about you?’

The naked man frowned and thought before responding, ‘No.  I have always been happy until recently.  Life has been delightful.  I have known love and joy and pleasure.  I have found meaning, if ever I sought it, in my art, in my family, and my friends before them.  Even fear has only directed me towards self-preservation and the defence of my family.  Except–’

‘You see,’ said the Bishop, cutting him off short, ‘No longing, no yearning, no sense that there must be something more.  I believe he has no spirit and is therefore not human.’

‘So what about identical twins then, Bishop? What do they have?  Half a spirit each?  What does half a spirit amount to?  Half an idea that there must be something more?  Half a longing for the eternal?’  The Professor’s tone verged on the derisory.

‘No, my dear Professor.  The division of the blastoma is a rare, but natural, process.  The human spirit, however, is elemental.  God grants each foetus a spirit of its own.’

‘And In Vitro Fertilisation?  What’s natural about that?  Are all IVF babies non-human too?’

‘No.  You have merely borrowed a natural process, or else assisted it – at great cost, I might add.  Each foetus formed is a life in the making.  Otherwise I could not complain about the children you leave to die in the Petri dish.’

‘And so is each of the millions of sperm that is wasted because of the one that found the egg – and each egg that is unfertilised and gets flushed down the toilet, but you don’t complain about all the unmarried women who, by your standards, are not allowed to mate so that their eggs can get fertilised and live.’

‘But Professor,’ the Bishop replied reproachfully, ‘an unfertilised egg is not a life in the making.  It is but half of what is needed.  Each sperm is only half of what is needed.  An egg or sperm left on its own cannot become a human being.  There is no paradox in this, I assure you.  Such unsound reasoning does not do you credit.  Sophistry would be a better word for it!’

‘Pah!  Poppycock!  When does God impart spirit?  Presumably, in the case of identical twins, after the dividing of the blastoma?  How do you know if spirit is present in the Petri dish?’

‘God most likely gives both twins’ spirits before and in anticipation of division, and in the Petri dish at fertilisation.’

‘God must waste a lot of spirits on foetuses that don’t make it!’

‘Please,’ said the naked man, raising his voice before the Bishop could respond, ‘would you just cover me up!’

The Judge, still standing near the couch, responded, ‘Sorry, old boy, I didn’t realise it was cold.’

‘I’m not cold!’ the naked man shouted, ‘I’m…I’m…embarrassed!  This is very undignified, you know, lying here butt-naked in full gaze of you three and God knows how many cameras!’

‘Ah, so you understand the concept of an all-knowing God?’ the Bishop asked.

‘All I understand at the moment,’ said the naked man, ‘is that I’m strapped to this damned couch with my private parts exposed for all to see, and I’m damn well uncomfortable with it.’ The Professor asked for a towel, only to be told by the Judge that there was no such thing in a room like this.  The Bishop slipped off his jacket and used it to cover the naked man from knees to navel. ‘Thank you.’

‘You’re welcome.’

The Professor resumed the discourse, addressing the Bishop with, ‘So you are convinced that he is not one of God’s creatures, then?’

‘Well, in answer to that, who made him?’

‘A scientist – but, I suppose, using materials that you believe were created by God.’

‘The building in which we find ourselves is not a creation of God, yet comprises materials he provided.’

The Judge rejoined the conversation, ‘I see a weakness in your argument here, Bishop.  This building was made by man using materials supplied by God and the ingenuity God gave man to extract them from the raw, to refine them, and to shape them.  What’s the difference?  Hasn’t the scientist done just the same?’

‘Yes, and no,’ the Bishop replied.  ‘Yes, the scientist has used his God-given ingenuity to create from God-given material.  No, he has not created that which only God can create – a human spirit!’

‘But you say God made us in his image.  Isn’t creation of man by man a reflection of that image?  Shouldn’t he be willing to cooperate with us?’

‘He made us to be like him, for his pleasure, not to supplant him.’

‘As far as I’m concerned,’ the Professor said, gesturing towards the couch, ‘this human being can do everything I can do, some things better, some worse, and he is indistinguishable in nature from… from my own son.  It’s abhorrent that we treat him like a caged animal.’

The Bishop replied with genuine sadness in his voice, ‘I agree that our treatment of him is abhorrent.  He does, after all, have feelings.  I would not wish to treat a dumb animal in this way, let alone one which has full faculties of perception, at least on a temporal plane.’

‘As far as I’m concerned,’ said the Judge, ‘he should never have been brought into existence.  These experiments are quite illegal and were so at the time of his conception, or inception, or whatever the term should be.  He should not be here – and neither should we.’

‘But I am and you are,’ came the plaintiff repost from the couch.

The three men whose humanity was not in question now stood by the couch and looked deep into the eyes of their captive.  The Judge spoke up, ‘You said, “Except–”.  What did you mean?’  The naked man shook his head, not understanding.  ‘You were talking about your search for meaning and purpose, or rather your lack of it.  You were about to say something else.  “Except–” you said.  Except what?’

Confusion filled the eyes of the naked man, who swallowed hard.  His observers watched his Adam’s Apple (although the Bishop may have disputed the term) slide up and down on the front of his throat.  ‘When my father-donor died – at the exact moment that he died – it was as though something that had been the tiniest of seeds within me suddenly grew to enormous proportion, so much so that it stunned me.  I thought at first that it was grief or shock but it wasn’t.  I have never actually felt any sadness at all for his death.  To me, it’s as though he never died, more like he was drawn into me, like he became part of me.’  He paused, struggling with the concept that he had just expressed.  ‘No, that’s not it,’ he said, ‘much more like…like…like I became part of him.  It was an overwhelming experience.  Now I have a sense that he’s with me…that he is me…that I am he.  I feel absolutely full where I never before knew I had been empty.  And yet, there’s a vague purposelessness pervading it all that I’ve never known before.  Perhaps that’s the eternity thing, or maybe it’s just grief after all…’  As his words tailed off, he looked intently at the Bishop.  ‘Pray for me?’  The Bishop shook his head and walked away into the darkness.

The three sat in silence for some time musing on the naked man’s revelation.  The Judge thought it to be an overwhelming experience of grief, the Professor, much the same but with the psychological jargon to dress the theory more elegantly, and the Bishop, that it was the most convincing evidence for the existence of the human spirit that he had ever encountered…

‘What will happen to my family?’ the naked man asked.

The Judge furnished the reply, ‘You know the law on these matters.  When they are found they will be processed duly in accordance with that law.  Your wife’s status, of course, is not in question, she being the progeny of natural gametes.  Your children’s status is… well, somewhat difficult.  You’re the first one to have escaped detection for long enough to reach maturity, to marry and reproduce – a testimony, perhaps, to the skill of your creator–’ he glanced towards the Bishop and added, ‘small “c”.’

‘Will they be…impounded, like me?’

‘Most likely.’

‘And…and…’ he could not bring himself to ask the question.

‘Most likely.’

‘Do you have any idea where they are?’

‘At the moment, no.  But we will find them, of that there is no doubt.’

The naked man suddenly wailed with such anguish that he broke the hearts of his observers, and tears streaked down his temples and pooled on the soft leather of the couch.  The Bishop knelt beside the couch and grasped the naked man’s hand. 

The naked man, at last, fell silent.  The Bishop, still beside him, whispered in his ear.  The others watched the scene and saw the naked man nodding in response to questions posed sotto voce by the Bishop, who, to the surprise of the others, removed the crucifix from around his neck and pressed it into the palm of the naked man.  The naked man, with an almost serene expression, gazed endlessly past the spotlights at the place where the ceiling would have been, and clasped the crucifix in both hands against his chest.

‘It’s time,’ the Judge said, and he left the room.  He returned a few minutes later and shook his head in response to the Professor’s pleading look.  The Professor took up his station opposite the Bishop, and the Judge his at the foot of the couch, from where he made his pronouncement.

‘At the order of the High Court and in accordance with the Human Cloning Act 2054 you will now be euthanized by lethal injection, this means of termination having been selected as the most humane.  You will feel no pain.’

The lights went out.  The three heard the naked man’s breathing quicken and intensify until it rasped in his throat. Then they heard the hum of the motor on the syringe pump beneath the couch.  The naked man’s taut muscles relaxed and his breathing slowed to a gentle stop.

The lights came on and the Judge and Professor left the room.  The Bishop, who lingered for a while in silence before the naked man, now at peace, retrieved only his jacket and followed the others.

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