CLONING

HISTORY

Human somatic cell nuclear transfer, otherwise known (somewhat inaccurately) as creating an embryo by “cloning,” involves1:


The starvation and subsequent implantation of DNA from specialized, non-sexual cells of one organism (e.g., cells specialized to make that organism’s hair or milk) into an egg whose DNA nucleus has been removed.A clone’s DNA is exactly the same as that of the original organism.

  • The resulting egg and nucleus are shocked or chemically treated so that the egg begins to behave as though fertilization has occurred, resulting in the beginning of embryonic development of a second organism containing the entire genetic code of the first organism.
  • The starvation and subsequent implantation of DNA from specialized, non-sexual cells of one organism (e.g., cells specialized to make that organism’s hair or milk) into an egg whose DNA nucleus has been removed.
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Key People

Mammalian cloning, through this nuclear transfer process, has resulted in the birth of hundreds of organisms to date. However, significantly more nuclear transfer generated embryos fail during pregnancy than would fail in sexual reproduction, and a substantial majority of cloned animals who have survived to birth have had some significant birth defect.

Reproduction, or perhaps more accurately, replication of an organism’s DNA identity does not normally occur in mammals, with the exception of twinning, which always results in the simultaneous birth of siblings. Only plants reproduce through replication from one generation to another. The prospect of such replication for humans has resulted in the most controversial debate about reproduction ever to be taken up in western civilization.

First Emperiments

Perhaps the most urgent ethical, legal and social issues about cloning arise in the context and process that may lead to the birth of a first human clone. This is so because, as has been pointed out by scholars and politicians, early human experiments are likely to result in a number of clinical failures and lead to miscarriage, the necessity of dozens or even hundreds of abortions, or births of massively deformed offspring. Recent study of mammalian cloning also suggests that a number of defects often created in the reprogramming of the egg do not manifest themselves until later in the life of the resulting clone, so that mature clones have often undergone spectacular, unforeseen deaths.2

Types

The dangers for early prospective clones are controversial and difficult to manage because

  • in part, one is attempting to protect a future potential person against harms that might be inflicted by their very existence, and
  • in part because societies around the world have indicated that they believe that the early cloning experiments will breach a natural barrier that is moral in character, taking humans into a realm of self-engineering that vastly exceeds any prior experiments with new reproductive technology.
  • The creation of Dolly the sheep at Roslyn, Scotland labs of biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics (and not-for-profit Roslyn Institute) did not involve any of the hallmarks of what is known socially, religiously, and scientifically, as conception: the fusion of egg and sperm and the adhesion of the thus fertilized egg to the wall of the uterus.5
  • The genetic and cellular material that led to Dolly indeed might not even qualify in traditional terms as an embryo, in that mammalian embryos are scientifically defined in part by how they come into being. It is quite difficult to divine “what is in the dish” where a “clone” is being created, a problem that plagues all those who would define and regulate the creation and research on embryonic progenitors of a clone.

Benefits

Laws that would prevent the birth of a first clone are difficult because they traverse complex jurisprudential ground: protecting an as-yet nonexistent life against reproductive dangers, in a western world that, in statutory and case law at least, favors reproductive autonomy.3,4

But the dangers for the first clone pale in comparison to the ethical issues that will arise should cloning succeed in producing a healthy child, and become part of the repertoire of new reproductive technologies presently offered to those with sufficient funds.

Risks

By analogy, many have speculated as to whether

Does a clone have parents, autonomy, or even a soul?

  • a human clone lacks traits necessary for true independence from “parent” progenitors
  • whether a clone is entitled by contrast to feel that a progenitor (genetically its monozygotic twin) is an appropriate parent
  • and many in the general public in western nations identified the most important problem of cloning as whether a clone would have a soul.

Who?

Reproduction, or perhaps more accurately, replication of an organism’s DNA identity does not normally occur in mammals, with the exception of twinning, which always results in the simultaneous birth of siblings. Only plants reproduce through replication from one generation to another. The prospect of such replication for humans has resulted in the most controversial debate about reproduction ever to be taken up in western civilization.

What?

Legal scholars have argued that cloning may violate, for example, a child’s “right to an open future.” A child born as a genetic copy of another may feel undue pressure to become like or different from its progenitor. Yet a right to an open future is difficult to validate by common law or analogy to ethical analysis about parenthood. What is parenthood, after all, but the teaching of values and knowledge to children in an act of stewardship? Perhaps children do not ever have fully open futures. Failing an absolute standard, society will have to find ways to reconcile differences among the many kinds and degrees of parental control and enhancement of children. While it is tempting to describe cloning as either a radical new form of parenting or as twinning, either analysis fails to take account of the need for new ways to integrate the problem of cloning into social institutions before it becomes an accepted form of reproductive medicine.

Why?

Cloning offers remarkable insight into the power of creation that humanity has taken into its fold. One theological analysis holds that humans are co-creators with God; perhaps it is more accurate to say that humans are moving ever closer to a posture of making babies, rather than having babies. Cloning represents a remarkable test of human restraint, wisdom and institutional development, one that will in many ways identify the moral features of 21st century biotechnology.

How?

While it is tempting to describe cloning as either a radical new form of parenting or as twinning, either analysis fails to take account of the need for new ways to integrate the problem of cloning into social institutions before it becomes an accepted form of reproductive medicine.