When I arrived at the laboratory, Professor Hung Lo was waiting to greet me. From his reputation I'd expected a charismatic figure. Instead, I was confronted by a little wizened Chinaman who reminded me of the shopkeeper in that film, The Gremlins. Ho said he didn't normally deal with journalists unless they were from the scientific journals. But he'd heard I'd written a series of articles about human genetic engineering for one of the more serious Sunday supplements. There was also the fact that we'd both studied at Oxford where I graduated with a degree in biology.
'I never normally read the Sunday supplements,' Lo explained after we'd shaken hands. 'Only the Lancet, the New Scientist…periodicals of that nature. But your article impressed me.'
'Thank you,' I said.
'It was quite good,' Lo explained. 'For an amateur.'
He took me into his office. It was cluttered with papers and the remnants of a canteen lunch. "By the way" he asked, settling down in his chair and fixing me with a frosty stare. 'Do you know who it was?'
'Who what was?'
'Don't be obtuse, woman. The whistleblower.'
I told that I didn't know who had made the complaint. I only knew what had been reported to the press. That the GMC were investigating the possibility that Lo's work contravened the guidelines on medical research laid down by the Ethical Standards Committee. That he'd cloned a human being. And that, by doing so, he had caused unnecessary suffering.
The Professor laughed. 'Political correctness!' he retorted. 'Everyone knows that the General Medical Council is pandering to politically correct Guardian readers and hysterical New Age Activists…the sort of people who protest about GM crops and every other branch of scientific research.'
Lo had momentarily dropped the detached and analytic mantle of a scientist. It was clear he wanted to show me that genetic engineering was more than just a job. It was his underlying passion. I recalled what one of his contemporaries had told me: 'Strip away the professional mask and you'll find a man with a mission.' Others were less charitable. 'Lo's applying for a job in heaven. He wants to be God.'
This discussion was getting us nowhere, so I decided to go for the jugular and I asked Lo if there any truth in these allegations? For a split second he looked away. Was it guilt? Then he sighed.
'Yes,' he said. 'We have cloned a human being.'
I asked him if by cloned he meant in the same way Doris the Sheep was cloned.
'Yes.' He said. 'Its name is Cyclops and it's six months old.' For a moment Lo looked mildly embarrassed. Then he explained that they'd been unable to determine its sex. There was a pause as I tried to take this information in. When I recovered my composure I asked him if this thing was alive.
'As far as we can determine, yes.'
I frowned. His answer didn't make any sense. Either the thing was alive or it wasn't. So I decided to leave that for the moment. 'This name you've given it…Cyclops. Isn't that rather unusual?'
Lo stood up. 'You'd better see for yourself.'
With some trepidation I followed him down the corridor to a small room. The door was marked in big red letters:
OUT OF BOUNDS! AUTHORISED STAFF ONLY.
BY ORDER OF PROFESSOR LO.
As we entered I almost expected to see bubbling liquids in test tubes and massive coils giving off electrical currents. Like Frankenstein's laboratory. Instead, I was confronted by one of those incubators that keep premature babies alive. It stood in the middle of the room, hooked up to various tubes and monitoring equipment. I turned to look at Lo who nodded at me. I realised that I was on the verge of one of those momentous occasions that shape society. Of course, the ethical problems were well known to me. But there was a more fundamental question. If it became commonplace to clone perfect babies in the laboratory, it might also be possible to produce the female eggs synthetically. And then what use would men have for us women?
Taking a deep breath, I walked towards the incubator and looked in. For a moment I thought I was going to pass out. As a doctor I had witnessed many horrible sights. But nothing had ever prepared me for this. There, on a large gauze pad, was an eye. Just an eye…nothing more. A big blue one.
I turned to Lo. 'Is this some kind of sick joke?'
Lo shook his head.
Struggling to maintain my composure, I took out my notebook and pen. All right,' I said. 'We appear to have a living organism in the shape of a human eye. It has no limbs, no trunk, no head, ears nose or mouth.' I paused, glancing at Lo.
'I'll need to take a photograph of…of…Cyclops. Without one it may be difficult convincing my editor that I wasn't hallucinating.'
'You'll have my full cooperation.
Afterwards Lo escorted me to the main entrance. As he held the door open I stopped and turned to him. It was a rhetorical question, but procedure demanded I ask it.
'By the way. Just for the record, Professor Lo. Is there anything else wrong with it?'
'Yes,' he said. 'It's blind.'