Research Ethics, Clones & Orphan Black

Microscope in a lab Are you a member of the Clone Club? If not, you still might have heard of the highly popular show on BBC America called, Orphan Black. (*Spoiler Alert: if you want to watch the show, STOP READING!*) The ever-clever, fast-pasted sci-fi show’s premise is based around the concept that the Dyad Institute created many clones –identical looking women (played by the talented Tatiana Maslany) who are mostly unaware that they are clones and unaware of each other. What ensues is their discovery of each other and who created them and why.

While the show is fantastic to watch, there are some horrific ethical research questions that require one’s suspension of disbelief in order for the show to work. So, today, just for fun, let’s look at the research ethics (or lack thereof) involved in Orphan Black. What follows are some observations and questions.

Many of Orphan Black’s research ethics issues pertain to a lack of informed consent:

-Being a clone from a cellular level, obviously begs the question of informed consent.

-Many of the clones were not “self-aware” –in other words, they were never told that they were clones.

-Clones are “monitored” by third parties, both through observation and physical exams –usually without knowing it.

-Most of the clones were purposely made infertile –again without consent.

-Clones are unable to “opt-out” of the experiment.

-Clones are not given access to their own, personal information.

Other issues pertain to the idea of being cloned and “patented:”

-So far, most countries have bans on human cloning and naturally occurring human DNA can’t be patented (at least according to the US Supreme Court). But, was the clones’ DNA synthetically created? Do we know? Does it matter?

-If you accept the premise of Dyad owning the clones’ patent(s), and a clone has an off-spring, does the Dyad Institute “own” them, too?

How much of an obligation/responsibility does the Dyad Institute have in terms of the clones’ quality of life and well being?

-Some of the clones have become sick with a respiratory illness that clones are susceptible to developing. What obligation does the Dyad Institute have to treat them and/or find a cure for them?

Finally, there are questions regarding the doctor-patient relationship:

-The clone, Cosima, is being treated by her love, Delphine. Delphine, a scientist at the Dyad Institute, has a unique understanding of Cosima’s physical health, yet she’s also in a personal relationship with her. The lines between personal and professional relationships are blurred.

Clearly, there is not an IRB at the Dyad Institute! What other ethical issues are out there for Orphan Black?! Let me know and have fun with it! Leave your comments below.

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