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Cloning has been one of the most
hotly debated and ethically controversial topics in science lately,
particularly since the cloning of Dolly the sheep in Scotland in
1996. More recently, the focus has turned to human cloning, and
the hopes and fears involved with it.
Cloning is the process of copying a cell and creating cell lines
identical to the original cell. These cells can then be used to
correct damaged cells or to be implanted in a uterus for fertilization.
Cloning is achieved by removing the nucleus from an egg and replacing
the nucleus with a cell from the person to be cloned. Following
this step, the egg may either be implanted in the uterus with hopes
of pregnancy (reproductive cloning), or stem cells may be removed
from the cloned egg, to later be used as healthy cells to take the
place of unhealthy cells (therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear
Unlike animal cloning, which deals primarily with reproductive cloning,
human cloning generally pertains to therapeutic. Most scientists
share an opposition to human reproductive cloning, feeling that
the practice is unethical. This is primarily because the consequences
for the created child are unknown, and likely would result in health
problems, as has been the case with cloned animals. Thus, most of
the debate within the scientific and medical fields has been centered
on human therapeutic cloning.
Human therapeutic cloning involves using stem cells to form new
cells, which can be put in place of unhealthy or damaged cells.
In therapeutic cloning, a person's own cells can be used,
which reduces the chance of rejection. Some researchers believe
that this can lead to cures for diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis,
Alzheimer's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's
Cloning has been at the forefront of scientific and bioethical researchas
well as political debatein recent years, particularly since
the successful cloning of the Dolly in 1996 by PPL Therapeutics.
Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned, and this led to heightened
awareness and concern as to the ethical implications involved with
cloning. Since 1996, numerous advances have been made in the field
of cloning, including the successful generation of human embryos
by Advanced Cell Technology in 2001, and possibly the unverified
birth of the first cloned human ("Eve") by the group Clonaid.
While very few scientists are in favor of reproductive human cloning,
many are in favor of therapeutic cloning. The goal of proponents
of therapeutic cloning is to find and correct the causes of incurable
diseases such as Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries. Researchers
have used adult stem cells in their research as well. Adult stem
cells are much less controversial, since they are not taken from
an egg that could potentially become a human. However, embryonic
stem cells are more desirable for their ability to adapt and transform
into whatever type of cell needs correcting. The difference between
embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells is the origin of each.
Embryonic stem cells come from unused frozen embryos created through
fertility treatments, aborted embryos or terminated pregnancies,
whereas adult stem cells come from placenta, cord blood, bone marrow
and organ donors (from living human beings). The National Institutes
of Health require that in order to receive federal funding for embryonic
stem cell research, the stem cell lines must come from leftover
Opponents of cloning feel that the practice is unethical and should
not be allowed to continue. Reasons cited for banning cloning is
necessary are that it devalues human life, it is exploitative of
women, and the overall sense that it is a step toward making procreation
a business. While opponents realize that most scientists are in
favor of banning reproductive human cloning, they feel that without
a complete ban, there will be no way to prevent the production of
human beings through reproductive cloning.
These two views represent the voting blocs that appeared at the
UN vote on whether to ban human cloning, which took place in November
2003. One group of countries, headed by Costa Rica and the U.S.,
favored a ban on all human cloning. The other group, led by France
and Germany, wanted to ban reproductive human cloning, but still
allow cloning for research. The final vote was 80-79 to delay any
decision on the matter for two years. In the meantime, regulation
of cloning remains in the hands of each country's government,
with no international consensus. This, in turn, leaves the field
highly unregulated, and makes many worry that someone will seize
the opportunity to make a human clone without fear of much, if any,
Currently, a number of U.S. states have laws on the books, or bills
in their state congresses, dealing with the legality of human cloning.
Two such bills are S.
245/H.R. 234 and S.
303/H.R. 801. S. 245/H.R. 234 is a bill that would put a total
ban on human cloning in the U.S., with penalties for researchers,
doctors and patients involved in both reproductive cloning and SCNT.
S.303/H.R. 801, on the other hand, would penalize people for participating
in the reproductive cloning of humans, but allow for highly-restricted
Throughout the history of science, and particularly medical science,
new discoveries and techniques have been met with initial concern
and controversy, only to become routine in society over the years.
Cornea transplants, for example, were originally not allowed on
the basis that the practice was unethical, though as time has gone
on, this has become a common practice that is widely accepted. Will
cloning one day become a common practice, with little controversy
surrounding it? If so, will this include only SCNT, or reproductive
cloning as well? Only time will tell, as answers to these questions
continue to unfold in both the national and international communities.
Submitted by: Chris Moore, Spring 2004 intern