The cloning of humans may soon be a reality. The recent announcement of a sheep and calf cloned using this technique has sparked much controversy in the modern world. The ethical, legal, and moral aspects of cloning must be addressed by governments quickly and its implications must be taken into careful consideration for the future of mankind in general.
On February 23, 1997, Ian Wilmut, a Scottish scientist, and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute announced the successful cloning of a sheep from a cell from the body of another sheep – without the aid of sexual reproduction. Dolly, the sheep produced, is the creation of a new individual genetically identical to an existing mammal – a delayed genetic twin. This process was simply an extension of research in genetics that has been flourishing for several decades. For the past ten years, scientists have methodically cloned sheep and cows from embryo cells, but the cloning procedure used to generate Dolly was quite unique.
The technique used to produce this novel sheep involved the use of a single somatic cell. The cloning of Dolly was the first successful experiment using the nucleus of a somatic cell from an adult animal to clone an animal that matured to a fully developed state.
The basis of this experiment involved the obtaining of individual cells from the udder of an adult ewe. The cells were then cultured in a laboratory and allowed to multiply. Nutrients being fed to the cultured cells were then reduced in order to stop their growth. The lack of nutrients forced the cells into a state of dormancy, so that they became ready to stop acting like udder cells and began acting like embryo cells. The nucleus of the now dormant udder cells was then removed and transferred to unfertilized sheep egg cells, which had their original nucleus removed. The egg with the new nucleus was then implanted into a surrogate mother sheep, allowed to gestate and the result was a lamb, genetically identical to the original sheep. According to Dr. Wilmut, the development clock of an adult udder cell was wound back, the nucleus shook off its identity and was biochemically reprogrammed to begin life all over again. Though this procedure sounds relatively simple, Dolly was the only lamb born from 277 identical trials. The process of cloning animals is far from perfect at this time, but many questions regarding the implications of cloning have been raised.
The initial reaction by a large majority of the general public was one of fear, concern, and serious moral reservations about the likely use or misuse of cloning technology. While after careful consideration, some have viewed cloning as a way to gain a better understanding of animal cells in general and as a possible method of developing new cures for various diseases. It appears that most objections to human cloning reflect the deeply held beliefs about the value of human individuality and personal autonomy, the meaning of family and the value of a child, respect for human life and the natural world, and the preservation of the integrity of the human species.
Many misconceptions about the subject of cloning have also come to light. The American public has been exposed to countless science fiction movies and novels portraying cloning as a type of instant body cloning, where a full-grown identical person is accurately copied. The plots usually involve an evil-twin theme and end with the attempted mass destruction of the world. These science fiction tales have led numerous people to believe that cloning allows for the instant creation of a fully-grown adult from the cells of an individual. Many people also share the belief that there is a direct genetic relationship between the physical and psychological traits that makes up a person. According to a recent CNN poll, most Americans would like to see Michael Jordan cloned. They mistakenly believe that a clone of Jordan would also have his talent and unique personality. Though the clone may be a copy of Michael Jordan, there is no way of knowing if that person would have the drive, desire, or stamina to become one of the world s greatest basketball players. It has been shown that although genes provide the building blocks for each individual, it is the interaction among a person s genetic inheritance, the physical and cultural environment, and the process of learning that result in the uniqueness of each individual human. Though these are pure misconceptions based on fiction, some valid arguments against human cloning have been made.
The public sector has presented many moral issues both for and against human cloning and the different aspects of cell cloning in general. The most commonly cited ethical and moral arguments against human cloning seem to originate from religious perspectives. According to a Time Magazine poll, 74% believe it is against God’s will to clone human beings, while 65% believe that the Federal Government should regulate cloning. Many religious philosophies teach that human life is unique and special and should be created, determined and controlled
only by their deities. Many religions also believe in the existence of, and in the individuality of a human soul. Christians, in this sense, are concerned about whether it will be possible to clone the human soul along with the human. Cloning is viewed by many religious sects as humans assuming the powers, the providence, and the jurisdiction their deities or other spiritual powers of their supernatural universe.
A portion of the religious sector is also concerned over the prospect of eugenics. When desirable traits are genetically determined, Eugenicists advocate that controlled breeding and the use of bio-technologies, including genetic engineering, can and should be used to improve the human genome. This type of Eugenics is most often associated with racist and discriminatory policies, such as the genocidal Nazi programs to exterminate Jews who they believed to be genetically inferior. This use of cloning would appear to give rise to a superior population of humans and thus, repeating history.
Not all religious leaders feel the same. In contrast to the opinions of their peers, some Jewish and Muslim religious leaders testified before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) that they feel that embryo and cloning research might provide discoveries that would lead to an appropriate way to counter infertility and in extending human life.
Other segments of the population argue in favor of continuing human cloning research, and perhaps cloning adult humans in the future. Some arguments in favor of human cloning include the fact that cloned human embryos would make research into genetics and genetically related diseases, and their treatments or prevention, much easier and cheaper. Cloned embryonic tissues might also be used for the replacement of lost or diseased tissues.
Cloning embryos could also facilitate the process of in-vitro fertilization, since the collection and replacement of ova is often a painful and traumatic experience, which can be unsuccessful. Embryo cloning is also seen as a potential treatment for infertility when in-vitro fertilization is not available, such as when parents are infertile, or when one or both parents harbors a genome coding for certain undesirable traits or diseases, or if the parents are homosexual couples desiring children.
Cloning might also appeal to those who desire children who are genetically identical to themselves, or genetically identical to someone whom they love or admire. Cloning could provide a genetically identical replacement for a lost loved one. The common belief here is that cloning can be justified as an expression of reproductive freedom of choice, a choice that should not be limited by legislation.
Scientists and the medical communities ponder how will the federal ban on human cloning research and the ban on certain types of human embryo research will effect other related fields of research that are deemed important. Human embryo research and embryo cloning can be used to conduct research and development of contraceptives, studies aimed at understanding the causes of human infertility and its solutions; research involving genetic testing and genetic engineering; disease diagnoses: prevention and treatment; and in testing various medicines and medical procedures, thus improving the quality and standard overall health of man . However, the American Medical Association, the World Medical Association, and the World Health Organization have already called for a five year moratorium on any clinical activities leading to human cloning.
Currently, human cloning is illegal in England and a few other countries, but it is not totally illegal in the United States. In the United States, federal, but not private, funds are prohibited from being used to create human embryos or do research on human embryos if they will be harmed or destroyed. In 1997, President Clinton imposed a five year moratorium on human cloning research, banning federal funds from being used for human cloning research, stating that, “Any discovery that touches upon human creation is not simply a matter of scientific inquiry, it is a matter of morality and spirituality as well… Each human life is unique, born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science…”
President Clinton asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) to report on the ethics of human cloning research and all aspects of cloning in general. The commission invited testimony from scientists, religious thinkers and bio-ethicists, as well as from the general public. Within 90 days, recommendations of the committee, both as a matter of ethics and as a matter of public policy , were delivered to the President and Congress. President Clinton endorsed these recommendations and remains adamant that a moratorium on cloning humans should remain in effect until a permanent ban and/or adequate legislation can be passed by Congress and signed into law. He made it clear that research should go forward on other cloning techniques that might lead to treatments and cures for human diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, diabetes and cancer, and to better crops and stronger livestock.
As decision makers in the United States debate whether or not to support research on
human embryos and human cloning, the many ethical and legal questions again arise. Legislation being proposed at this time ranges from a total ban in experiments involving human clones to a ban on the implantation of cloned embryos into a woman’s uterus. online news The two major bills being debated at this time include Frist/Bond and Feinstein/Kennedy. Though both bills deem that actual human cloning should be illegal, key differences in the bills are being debated.
Republican Senators Bill Frist and Kit Bond proposed a bill that permits only certain aspects of cloning research, including gene therapy, cloning of DNA molecules, cloning of body cells and, tissues, and cloning of plants and animals. This bill outlaws research of any type on cloned human embryos, mentioning that the destruction of such embryos during the research process would be unethical and a waste of potential life Many scientists have lobbied against this bill since it halts all future stem cell research for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer s and Parkinson s diseases. Scientists believe that the basis for research of these diseases lies within the cloning of human embryo cells.
Democrat Senators Dianne Feinstein and Edward Kennedy have introduced a slightly different bill in front of the Senate. The Feinstein/Kennedy bill allows for the cloning of human embryos, but the implantation of the embryo into a surrogate mother is prohibited. Therefore, potential life-saving cures and advanced medical techniques have the chance to be discovered.
The major conflict with the Feinstein/Kennedy bill at present time is that the human embryos must be destroyed after being experimentation is performed. In this regard, the embryonic cells are not viewed as potential human life, slightly mirroring the abortion debate of the early 1970s. Questions again arise as to whether cloned embryonic cells constitute a human life or merely a mass of cells. Special interest groups, such as research scientists, have stated that if Congress is to pass human cloning ban, the Feinstein/Kennedy bill is the measure to pass, because it protects vital research while banning human cloning.
Another point that must be addressed is the type of control on human cloning research. If the government funds this type of research, then it will have some important control over the nature of the research. The type of control imposed by the government will be of utmost importance and controversy.
If the federal government decides to continue to not fund human embryo and cloning research, then the government will not have one important avenue for controlling, to some degree, the nature of the research. When the private sector is left to fund research and development, Research would then be driven by entrepreneurial profit motives and forces, the effects of the research could be detrimental to our country.
A democracy is designed to facilitate a balance between competing interests, and to achieve the maximum benefit for the maximum number of its citizens. The introduction of new technology challenges a democratic society to decide who gets what, when, where, and how much. The advent of cloning by nuclear transfer technology presents the inevitability of new
In the United States, it is possible to patent both cloning processes and genetically altered living creatures. Should the market for human embryo, cloning research, and the products of this research become available, decisions must be made as to who owns and controls the technology. These are only a few matters that must be considered by our government when making its decision on federal legislation regarding cloning in general.
In regard to human cloning, the government must move quickly to enact legislation, which takes into account the voices of special interest groups, such as scientists, religious leaders, and the medical community. Cloning legislation must be ongoing in order to keep up with the different technological advancements in science. Our leaders must be able to remain open-minded and consider the potential benefit that human cloning offers society. As our world progresses through the marvels of science, our country must not fall behind in finding cures for diseases and in developing of future genetic technological procedures which will be profitable to mankind overall.