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The Ethics of Cloning

The success of South Korean scientists last August in creating “Snuppy,” the first cloned dog, has raised fears that human cloning may be next.

Many analysts consider the South Korean success a milestone in genetic research because of the complexity of the canine reproductive system and the difficulty of cloning mammals in general. To some, it heralds a new era in animal cloning for stem cell research. But most animal rights advocates question the ethics of experiments that claim a high number of casualties to produce a single clone.

In Chicago, Nigel Cameron, President of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future says scientific research nearly always has some benefit, although spending time and money on cloning a dog in an attempt to further human cloning research is a waste of time.

“What is this for?" Mr. Cameron asks. "It’s plainly to enable us to clone human beings, which very few people want to do. Of course, the South Koreans have also cloned human embryos, taken stem cells from them and destroyed the embryos. So it seems plain that they want to be able to both clone embryos for research and make live-born human babies. And the dog cloning is a half-way house.”

Human Cloning or Therapeutic Research?

But other analysts insist that what the South Koreans accomplished was intended for medical research, not human cloning. Autumn Fiester of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania says the experiment will be important if stem cell therapy ever becomes a viable option for curing diseases. She adds, “The reason the Koreans did this particular experiment was to see if you could generate my stem cells from my own cells. So you start with someone else’s enucleated egg, you take my adult cell and you put it into that embryo, and then you stop it at the point where it was producing the stem cells. You make it into a stem cell line. That means that you could then take those stem cells, implant them back in me, and my body wouldn’t reject them. They were not trying to produce a human baby.”

Nonetheless, Crystal Miller-Spiegel of the American Anti-Vivisection Society acknowledges that the creation of Snuppy makes human cloning appear more certain because of the knowledge gained in the process. But she stresses that it should not be attempted. Because the DNA used in cloning is often old and imperfect, Mrs. Spiegel says cloned animals develop the same health problems and suffer the same high mortality rates as the donor.

“When we’re talking about the dog that was cloned, there were 123 dogs used to produce one puppy. There were three pregnancies, only two of which came to term. One puppy, in addition to the one that was in the news, died after three weeks of life from respiratory problems. So the technology is extremely inefficient. It results in a lot of suffering on the side of the surrogate animals and then also the cloned animals themselves tend to suffer quite severely.”

High Risks, Imperfect Technologies

And for that reason, many analysts argue that animal cloning research should not be used as a precursor to human cloning. Most, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Autumn Fiester, agree that human cloning should be banned because of the high risks and invasive procedures involved.

“If we try to create a human baby," Professor Fiester argues,"we will create humans with defects, with serious, horrible birth defects. It may be possible someday to get a healthy human baby, but along the way we will have terrible deformities. We already know in the animal models that even when a cloning experiment can produce some healthy clones, there are clones that are stillborn or are born with terrible congenital abnormalities. That is the reason why we can never move forward with human reproductive cloning.”

Human Cloning Nightmares

Moreover, many experts warn that any human clones are likely to suffer psychological problems. The University of Virginia’s Jonathan Moreno, a professor of biomedical ethics and author of the book Is There an Ethicist in the House? says clones would have to deal with a host of problems.

He goes on to say, “Let’s imagine that there’s this young couple. The woman dies in an accident. The man is desperate to have a child that resembles his late wife. Before she’s buried or cremated, one of her skin cells is taken, the nucleus is removed, the DNA is put into an egg cell and there’s a little clone that’s put into a cloned embryo that’s then put into a surrogate mother. The resulting female child is going to be the twin of the man’s late wife or is that in some psychological sense his daughter? And so she’s growing up in his home, probably physically resembling his late wife very much. I don’t think very many people would consider this a healthy circumstance for a child to grow up in.”

Even if it were possible to produce a human clone with minimal risk, many ethical questions still need to be answered. Would the clone be a slave or a free individual? And should one person be allowed to dominate another by determining that person’s DNA?

To Clone or Not to Clone?

Most analysts agree that human cloning should be banned, at least for the time being. Some support continuing animal cloning research to produce stem cells to benefit humans or reproduce endangered species. But philosopher Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown University says that cloning that leads to the destruction of embryos should be banned, given that the fate of the embryos is usually decided after the cloning has been done.

“There is only one form of cloning, which is the generation of a human being by insertion of a full set of human chromosomes. People distinguish between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, but those are the uses that are later made of the embryo obtained through cloning. They are the decision either to destroy or dismantle that embryo or to implant it. But those are choices that are made after the cloning has taken place.”

Is There a Clone in Your Future?

Despite the risks, cloning technologies have found their way into the commercial market. Several U-S companies are already producing cloned pets, especially cats, for interested owners. Now, they look to Snuppy to open the market for cloned dogs. And many analysts think that the day companies take orders for human clones may not be far behind.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, “VOA News Now.” For other “Focus” reports, Click Here.