If I cloned myself would I be my clone's father or brother? Would a clone have its own identity?
Questions like these elicit images of a bizarre and frightening future that prompt many bioethicists and scientists to call for a ban on human reproductive cloning. As a result, they condemn the efforts of renegade organizations like Clonaid, founded by the Raelians, a UFO cult. They also express concern about the work of legitimate reproductive scientists, like Panayiotis Zavos, who actively pursue cloning as a form of reproductive therapy.
Many in the scientific community, however, support human therapeutic cloning. Biomedical researchers justify therapeutic cloning based on the potential medical benefits that this biotechnology may one day yield. For example, in 2002 the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) adopted a resolution to ban human reproductive cloning while supporting human therapeutic cloning "in order to realize the enormous potential health benefits this technology offers."1
Both therapeutic and reproductive cloning use the same technique, called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). During this procedure, researchers remove the nucleus (which houses the genetic material) from a human egg cell and replace it with the nucleus from a human body cell. Because the body cell has 46 chromosomes, the outcome is similar to the fertilization process, in which the genetic material from a human sperm cell (23 chromosomes) unites with the egg's genetic material (23 chromosomes). Once the nuclear transfer is completed, researchers artificially stimulate the egg cell to divide to form a developing embryo. If the embryo is implanted in the womb of a human surrogate, the process is termed reproductive cloning. If an embryo is used to harvest embryonic stem cells (a procedure that destroys the embryo), the process is referred to as therapeutic cloning.
Most of the public supports the position of the AAAS. Yet this view of human cloning stems from distorted moral reasoning and leads to a backward stance on human cloning. For those who embrace a "culture of life," therapeutic cloning must be condemned, while reproductive cloning, at least in principle, can be tolerated.
The goal of reproductive cloning is to create a human embryo to be implanted in a womb with the full intent that it will grow into a fully developed human being with every opportunity for life. In effect, human reproductive cloning is no different from in vitro fertilization.2 On the other hand, the sole purpose of therapeutic cloning is to create a human embryo only to disassemble it for its "parts" (embryonic stem cells).
On March 3, 2005, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a declaration that calls on all governments around the world to ban all forms of human cloning that are "incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life."3 This is good news. Hopefully this U.N. declaration will help bring an end to human therapeutic cloning and the wanton creation and destruction of human life.
- "AAAS Resolution: Statement on Human Cloning," (February 14, 2002)
http://archives.aaas.org/docs/resolutions.php?doc_id=425, accessed May 3, 2005.
- From a practical standpoint, reproductive cloning is problematic. The cloning procedure is highly inefficient and clones produced with current technology are unhealthy (based on animal studies).
- "General Assembly Adopts United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning by Vote of 84-34-37," Press Release GA/10333,
http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2005/ga10333.doc.htm, accessed May 10, 2005.