Humanoid Rights

The ACLU studies science fiction to prepare for future threats to our freedom

| January-February 2011

  • Humanoid Rights

    David Gothard /

  • Humanoid Rights

A few months ago I watched Moon with a friend who works on public relations for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The science fiction movie, released in 2009, centers on Sam Bell, a solitary laborer who spends his days extracting helium from moon rocks and drawing comfort from correspondence with his wife on Earth. That is, until he discovers he’s actually one of a series of expendable human clones bred by a mining company for dangerous, repetitive work.

Ultimately, Bell outsmarts the automated systems and escapes on a vessel bound for Earth, where the corporation he worked for gets charged with crimes against humanity. And as the credits rolled, my friend said to me, “I’d like to think that when that guy got to Earth, the ACLU would have taken his case.”

The idea of the ACLU battling a private corporation over whether clones are human beings or pieces of property may seem far-fetched. Almost a decade ago, though, the organization started thinking about how to do it.

James Madison once wrote, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Yet America is in the midst of a global war with no defined end. Which is why, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, the ACLU began anticipating worst case legal scenarios involving the violation of civil liberties.

In the summer of 2002, it wasn’t just the war on terror that was shaking up the civil liberties community. Scientific advancements in the 1990s had led to the first successfully cloned animal, Dolly the sheep. With these domestic and international developments in mind, Jay Stanley, a policy analyst for the ACLU, decided that the time had come to prepare for threats to liberty that, at the time, existed only in the imagination.

Stanley compiled a report titled “Technology, Liberties, and the Future,” which was never released to the public. In it, he draws on insights from scientists, legal scholars, and political theorists to game out legal responses to everything from cloning to artificial intelligence.

12/26/2013 1:11:31 AM

Shirley Hodge
1/19/2011 11:13:42 AM

More than likely the human race will have committed species suicide long before the events in Moon come to pass. When SciFi writers pen their stories they forget or perhaps wish to ignore the simple face that humans are their own worst enemy. Our intellects, for the most part, are so warped and bent from our emotional entanglement with myth and superstition, irrelevant traditions and basic habit/ addictions that we are incapable of accessing the strongest element of our intellect, our capacity for logical and rational thinking. Is there hope for our species? I doubt it, as there are not enough among us who know and access the aforementioned power and the freedom it allows us for pure intellectual development. It is after all our intellect that marks us as different from all life forms on this planet. It was our intellect that allowed us, as a species to survive against great odds and it is our neglect of intellectual development that will be our downfall.

1/6/2011 3:50:42 PM

If a company holds the patents for genes, wouldn't it then be reasonable to sue them when that gene unauthorizedly expresses itself in your body? I.e. If one had the gene that causes those types of cancers in their body they could sue Myriad for the effects that gene has and the subsequent cancer that is caused. Of course, Myriad's counter argument could be that you are breaking their patent by expressing the gene in the first place, since they did not give you authorization to "use" it at all. Which all points at the absurdity of patenting natural biological processes.

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