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The Boys From Brazil, Cloning, and the Future

By Marnie Schweitzer '96

Science and Literature

Writing Objective: Write a paper which combines science and literature.

“Isn’t it strange? Feels like Tm looking in the mirror

What would people say… if mey only knew that I was

Part of some geneticists plan

Bom to be a carbon copy man

There in a petri dish late one night

They took a donor’s body cell andfertilized a human

egg, and so I say….

I think I’m a clone now

There’s always two of me Just a-hangin’ around.”

(“Weird Al” Yankovic, 1988)

Cloning, a topic made light of by parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic, is a serious topic which may influence the future of evolution. In his book, The Boys From Brazil, fiction writer Ira Levin brings up important and well-needed questions considering cloning and its relationship to the future of humanity. Although The Boys From Brazil is a fictitious novel, the cloning methods and dilemmas it introduces are entirely possible.

Published in 1976, The Boys From Brazil tells the story of fictitious Nazi-hunter Yakov Liebermann and his quest to find the elusive “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele. When the novel begins, it has come to Liebermann’s attention that the “Commrades Organization”, a group of escaped Nazis living in South America, is planning to kill ninety-four men. The men are all sixty-five year old civil servants. Liebermann can find no other connection between the men who are marked for death until he discovers that the men all have fourteen-year old sons similar in appearance. Each boy has dark hair, blue eyes, a sharp nose, and a forelock. Liebermann then discovers that all ninety-four of the boys were adopted through the “Commrades Organization”. The adoption process was led by Dr. Josef Mengele, one of the most atrocious Nazis who ever lived. Between Christmas 1960 and the end of summer 1963, ninety-four baby boys from Brazil were placed In homes by the “Commrades Organization.” Each family was similar. The husband was a civil servant and both parents were Christians with a Nordic heritage. Liebermann can not figure out the reason for Dr. Mengele’s involvement until a biologist named Nurnberger suggests…

“The placement with similar families: this is the giveaway. You put these together and there’s only one possible explanation. He folded his hands on his crossed legs and leaned forward confidingly. “Mononuclear reproduction,” he told Liebermann. “Dr. Mengele was apparently a good ten years ahead of the field.” (Levin, 185)

Then Liebermann makes another sickening discovery: the boys are clones of Adolph Hitler.

He brought his hand from behind his back and showed them Hitler, the paperback book bore three black brush-strokes; mustache, sharp nose, forelock. Liebermann said, “His father was a civil servant, a customs officer. He was fifty-two when …the boy was born. The mother was twenty-nine.” He looked around for someplace to put the book, found no place, put it on one of the stove’s burners. He looked at them again, wiped his hand against his side. “The father died at sixty-five,: he said. “When the boy was thirteen, almost fourteen.”

That is why in The Boys From Brazil, the character Dr. Mengele breeds the clones of Hitler and then kills their fathers. He wants to make their environment exactly like the one Hitler grew up in. In actuality, a Dr. Josef Mengele did exist. He was one of the most notorious Nazis in the Third Reich. While at the Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, Mengele was responsible for the deaths of at least 400,000 victims. However, his particular brand of infamy involved using Auschwitz victims as human guinea pigs for his genetic research. (“Visions”, 54) As Jews arrived at Auschwitz, Mengele would personally pick out twins and people with genetic abnormalities, sparing them from the gas chamber, so he could use them in his laboratory. When Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945, only 157 twin children were still alive. It has been estimated that Mengele worked with 3,000 twin children from 1943 to 1945. (Segal, 54) The experiments he performed on these helpless children were dehumanizing, disgusting and highly unethical. However, Mengele saw nothing wrong with what he was doing because Auschwitz inmates were going to die anyway. He saw the concentration camp as an opportunity to deepen and extend racial vision by means of systematic research. He once told a friend, “it would be a sin, a crime… and irresponsible not to utilize the possibilities that Auschwitz had for twin research, and that there would never be another chance like it.” (Lifton, 22-23) One observer stated. The main thing about him [Mengele] was that he totally lacked feeling.” He was able to feel nothing when killing a young twin, even one he had been fond of, to make a medical point. (Lifton, 24) Most of Mengele’s research was centered around the fact that identical twins are derived from the same egg cell and possess the same genetic constitution. Mengele was running his experiments to see if people with the same genetic background would have the same physical and psychological characteristics. This work in genetics might help him create the perfect Aryan children in the future. In the laboratory, Mengele would measure and compare the size and characteristics of the twins’ bodies such as skulls, noses, lips, ears, hair, and eyes. He would make the twins sick and then test different drugs on them. After one twin died, he would kill the other one and dissect the two to compare their internal organs, or he would sometimes euthanize perfectly healthy twins so he could dissect them. In a deposition given by a Dr. Nyiszli in 1945, he stated:

“In the workroom next to the dissecting room, 14 gypsy twins were waiting…and crying bitterly. Dr. Mengele didn’t say a single word to us, and prepared a 10 cc. and 5 cc. syringe. From a box he took evipan, and from another he took chloroform, which was in 20 cubic-centimeter glass container, and put this on the operation table. After that, the first twin was brought in… a 14-year-old girl. Dr. Mengele ordered me to undress the girl and put her on the dissecting table. Then he injected the evipan into her right arm intravenously. After the child had fallen asleep, he felt for the left ventricle of the heart and injected 10 cc. of chloroform. After one little twitch the child was dead, whereupon Dr. Mengele had it take into the corpse chamber. In this manner, all 14 twins were killed during the night.” (Lifton, 22)

Sometimes he would inject needles into their bodies to measure their pain threshold, and he even attempted to change the eye-color of brown-eyed blondes by injecting methylene blue into their eyes.

It is a proven fact that Mengele did perform these atrocities at Auschwitz during WWII, but did he ever clone Hitler? No evidence exists that he did, but could he have cloned Hitler as his character does in The Boys From Brazil? Yes. The scientific knowledge of human cloning, a process in which a human being with the exact genetic information of one parent is created in the laboratory, existed at that time, but the procedure would be so delicate, he probably would not have been able to do it This is how the character Dr. Mengele describes the clones he created:

The boys are exact genetic duplicates of him. I’m not going to take the time to explain to you how I achieved this -1 doubt whether you’d have the capacity to understand it if I did – but take my word for it, I did achieve it. Exact genetic duplicates. They were conceived in my laboratory, and carried to term by women of the Auiti tribe; healthy docile creatures with a businesslike chieftain. The boys bear no taint of them; they’re pure Hitler, bred entirely from his cells. He allowed me to take half a liter of his blood and a cutting of skin from his ribs -we were in a biblical frame of mind – on the sixth of January, 1943, at Wolfs Lair.” (Levin, 241)

Two methods of mononuclear reproduction (cloning) are currently known. The first method, called nuclear-transplant method, uses donor body cells such as skin cells. Then, by using radiation and delicate surgery, the nucleus of an egg cell is destroyed, leaving the body of the egg cell unharmed. The egg cell is now an enucleated cell. A nucleus from a body cell from the person being cloned Is then put into the enucleated egg. Now the egg cell has forty-six chromosomes in its nucleus. Just like a naturally fertilized cell, the egg cell will begin to multiply and divide. After four or five days, when it is at the sixteen- or thirty-two-cell stage, the egg cell is surgically implanted in the surrogate mother’s womb. The newborn child will have the same set of chromosomes and genes as the donor, who in The Boys From Brazil, is Adolph Hitler. (Levin, 188) The second type of cloning is embryonic cloning. In embryonic cloning, a developing embryo is flushed from the mother. Then, the embryo is divided into several individual cells. Each individual cell is then cultured into a new embryo. Finally, each embryo is transplanted into a surrogate mother who later gives birth to the embryonic clone.

No one known to the scientific community has presented evidence of the successful cloning of any human. (“Cloning”, 164) However, the cloning of plants, mice, rabbits, sheep, and cows has been performed. Robert Briggs and Thomas King pioneered a method of cloning by nuclear-transplant method in the 1950s at the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia. First, they removed the nucleus from a frog egg. Next, they took a cell from the intestinal tissue of a tadpole and inserted the cell in the enucleated frog egg. Then, the egg, with its new nucleus, began to divide and develop into a tadpole, then into an adult frog. This frog was a clone; its genes were exactly like those of the tadpole because all its hereditary instructions came from the nucleus of the tadpole’s intestinal tissue cell. (Facklam, 96)

Today, cloning of purebred sheep and cows is a big business. Steen M. Willadsen of Alta Genetics Incorporated in Calgary, Alberta, Canada clones sheep and cattle by the embryonic method for profit. Steen first flushes the embryo from a pure-bred cow when the embryo has between four and sixteen cells. He then separates individual cells from the embryo, cultures them for several hours, and then implants them in surrogate cows. (Wright, 31) One original embryo may produce several purebred calves that can then be sold for several hundred dollars each.

If scientists are able to clone cattle, why don’t they clone humans? First of all, cloning a human might just be too difficult. Human eggs are so minuscule and delicate that it might take hundreds of eggs to produce one clone. Who would supply those eggs? Also, if a woman did agree to donate her egg, something drastic could go wrong during the surgery to remove the egg or during the cloning surgery. It is difficult to synchronize the growth of an enucleated egg with the growth of the donor cell’s nucleus. Egg cells divide faster than body cells, and if the cells aren’t dividing at the same rate, the chromosomes break, and either the embryo will be deformed or it won’t develop. If the cloned embryo Is deformed, can it be discarded? (Flackam, 96)

The whole concept of cloning brings up an abundance of ethical dilemmas; this may be why Ira Levin wrote The Boys From Brazil. Levin had been thinking of writing a Nazi-hunter thriller for about ten years. Then in 1972, Levin came upon a New York Times article on cloning, and got his idea for The Boys From Brazil. He told journalist David Sterritt in an interview in the September 14, 1978 issue for the Christian Science Monitor that he thinks thrillers have wide-spread appeal because they “touch deep emotional chords. They touch our fears, anxieties, guilts. Its a way of exorcising them. It gives the emotions a workout.” (“Ira”, 39) How true. Many people have a false idea that clonists could produce a huge army of vicious giants that will take over the world. It is important for people to understand that clones would not be evil people, they would only be copies of people. If someone were to clone a madman like Hitler, that clone would have the same genetic make-up of Hitler, but would not act like Hitler unless the clone was raised in the same environment Hitler was. It would be nearly impossible to re-create that environment.

Although it is fiction. Levin’s book is significant because it addresses topics that need to be discussed. Through discussion comes education and answer-provoking thought. Cloning brings up some serious situations that need to be talked about. For instance, who are going to be the donors for nuclei for cloning? Scientist Robert Gilmore McKinnell says in his book, Cloning of Frogs, Mice, and Other Animals, that the nuclear donor, of necessity with today’s technology, would be embyronic. Another living being would have to be destroyed to produce dissociated cells for nuclear donation. (McKinnell, 103) Would this embryo have rights? If it becomes deformed during the cloning procedure can it be destroyed? And, of course, there is always a question of funding. Should the government spend tax dollars to research cloning and its benefits? McKinnell asks a most difficult question, “Is research that would lead to the production of cloned human replicates more Important than research that seeks to improve the quality of life for humans already In existence?” (McKinnell, 101) These are questions that have no definite correct answer, nor do they have answers that can be given in a research paper.

Two sides exist to every story, and as Nurnberger says in The Boys From Brazil, “It’s [cloning] a technique, and like any other technique you can mention, it can be put to either good or bad uses.” (Levin, 193) For instance, cloning could benefit cancer research. When researchers use mice in their cancer experiments, they can only use pure strains of mice that have no diseased cells. Finding a “pure” mouse can take up to five years. Once researchers find a “pure” mouse, they could clone the mouse many times, saving both precious research time and money. Or in Africa for instance, a need for cattle that produce a lot of milk and are resistant to specific diseases exists. Such cattle exist in the United States, but in order to prevent the spread of disease, strict federal laws limit the transportation of animals to and from other countries. However, the cattle can be shipped before they are born and have to comply to laws. A rancher can select a cow with a high milk yield and resistance to disease, give her hormones so she super-ovulates, then flush the eggs from her body. The eggs are then fertilized in a petri dish. After the fertilized eggs begin to divide, the eggs are placed in rabbits that have been injected with special hormones to strengthen their wombs. Next, the rabbits are shipped to Africa, and the Africans remove the calf embryos and implant them into African cows. The cows give birth, and the newborn calves are disease resistant and produce a lot of milk. In addition, one of the most interesting ways cloning could be beneficial was brought up by the character Nurnberger in The Boys From Brazil. “It’s revolutionize cattle-breeding. And it’ll also preserve our endangered species, like that beautiful leopard there.” Currently, Dr. T. C. Hsu of the M.D. Anderson Tumor Institute in Houston, Texas has a collection of cells from more than two hundred wild animals. Zoologists from all over the world have supplied him with snips of skin from whatever animal they are studying. He then freezes the cells In liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius. Thousands of years from now, those cells can be thawed, and extinct species can be cloned from them.

While cloning may have some good uses, at the present time the ethical problems human cloning will create outweigh its possible good uses. Author Ira levin’s book, The Boys From Brazil, may seem unbelievable, but it has started an argument over the pros and cons of cloning, an argument that needs to continue. Currently, there are not any answers to the question “Should humans be cloned?’ but through discussion and research, an answer may be found. For now, remember this: The ability to done a human is not sufficient reason to do so. Medicine is not an industry, and people are not products.” (Facklam, 107)

Works Cited

“Cloning of a Man: Debate Begins.” Science News, March 18, 1978: 164.

Facklam, Margery and Howard. From Cell to Clone. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.. 1979, pp. 95-110.

Friedrich, Otto. “Mengele: Non-Requiecscat in Pace.” Time. 24 June 1985: 90.

“Ira Levin.” Current Biography. August 1992: 37-40.

Levin, Ira. The Boys From Brazil. New York: Random House, 1976.

Lifton, Robert Jay. “What Made This Man? Mengele.” New York Times Magazine, 21 July 1985: 16-25.

McKinnell, Robert Gilmore. Cloning of Frogs, Mice, and Other Animals. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, pp. 103-115.

Segal, Nancy L. “Holocaust Twins: Their Special Bond: Psychology Today. August 1985: 52-58. “Visions of Hell; Pursuing the Angel of Death.” Time 18 February 1985: 54.

Watson, Russell. The Menglel Mystery.” Time 18 February 1985: 45.

Wright, Karen. “Playing Demigod; Biologists Find Limits to Tinkering With Reproduction.” Scientific American

May 1989: 30-31.