“I was convinced that there was still plenty of time.” With those words the author Aldous Huxley looked back to 1931, and the publication of his famous novel Brave New World. Huxley’s vision of an oppressive culture of total authoritarian control and social engineering was among the most shocking literary events of the twentieth century. But just 27 years after the publication of Brave New World, Huxley was already aware of his underestimation of the threat represented by modern technocratic society.

Though the cloning of a sheep was the proof that cloning could be achieved, few thoughtful persons could keep their minds on the lamb. The cloning of human beings–long limited to the domain of science fiction–now appeared to be an impending reality. Ian Wilmut accepted the fact that cloning humans would be possible. “There is no reason in principle why you couldn’t do it,” he acknowledged. Yet he added, “All of us would find that offensive.”

Since the rise of genetic knowledge, the eugenic temptation has always been with us. As Daniel Kevles notes, the desire to breed better humans goes back as far as Plato, though Plato had no conception that genetic knowledge would one day put that goal within human reach. Francis Galton’s term eugenics (literally, “good in birth”) is now a part of our cultural vocabulary, and the eugenic reality is on the front line of our cultural crisis.

Sociobiologists explain the emergence and survival of the family in terms of evolutionary development and the need for a stable breeding unit. Given the present stage of human development, the family is passing as a necessity and contemporary persons are redefining relationships to serve other, more individualized needs.