The Cloning of a Man

In 1978 David Rorvik made the startling claim that the world's first human clone had been born. Rorvik was not just a random eccentric whose claim could be dismissed. He was a respected writer who had worked as a medical reporter for both Time and the New York Times, and therefore he spoke with some credibility. He laid out the full story of the clone in a book titled In His Image: The Cloning of a Man, published by J.B. Lippincott Company, itself a well-regarded publisher of medical books.

According to Rorvik, he had been approached in 1973 by a wealthy American millionaire who wanted to create a clone of himself. The millionaire, whom Rorvik referred to as 'Max' in order to conceal the man's identity, asked Rorvik to manage a research project with this aim. Rorvik accepted the challenge and used his connections as a well-placed science writer to recruit the necessary scientific talent. The scientific team was flown to a lab located on a secret island somewhere 'beyond Hawaii,' where after five years of experimentation they succeeded in creating a viable human egg containing Max's DNA. They implanted the egg into the uterus of a surrogate mother (an island resident code-named 'Sparrow'), and nine months later the first human clone was born.

Before Rorvik's book even appeared it print it gained national attention when the New York Post learned about it and proclaimed the birth of a human clone on its front page. This occurred on March 3, 1978. The next day newspapers and news shows throughout the country picked up the story. Scientists, however, were skeptical. They argued that Rorvik's claim could not be true because the state-of-the-art in cloning technology was nowhere near the level required to produced a human clone. When they had a chance to read his book they became doubly skeptical. The cloning technique he described was loosely based on a procedure that had been successfully used to clone a frog in the mid-1960s. However, it was well known that this technique would not work in mammals because of the differences between mammalian and amphibian biology.

Rorvik's book sold extremely well and sparked national debate about the ethics of cloning. However, within months Lippincott and Rorvik found themselves in court when they were sued for defamation by J. Derek Bromhall, a British scientist whose research had been cited in the book. The court asked Rorvik to provide concrete evidence of the existence of the cloned boy. When he failed to do so, the court ruled that Rorvik's book was a "fraud and a hoax." A year later, in 1982, Lippincott agreed to pay an unspecified amount of damages to Bromhall.

Rorvik's motivations for perpetrating the hoax remain unclear. Money might have been a factor, although he lost a great deal of what he earned from the book to legal fees. Alternatively, he might have hoped to draw attention to the ethical issues raised by the startling advances being achieved in the biological sciences. During the 1980s these advances spawned the biotechnology industry and in 1997 allowed the (true) cloning of a mammal, a Scottish sheep named Dolly. In this sense, although Rorvik's story was not true, it was, at least, prescient.

  • Culliton, Barbara J. "Scientists Dispute Book's Claim That Human Clone Has Been Born." Science, Vol. 199. March 24, 1978. p.1314-1316.
  • Broad, William J. "Court Affirms: Boy Clone Saga Is a Hoax." Science, Vol. 213, July 3 1981, p.118-119.
  • Broad, William J. "Publisher Settles Suit, Says Clone Book Is a Fake." Science, Vol. 216. April 23, 1982. p.391.

David Rorvik, author of
In His Image: The Cloning of a Man