Human Cloning

The cloning of human beings is a very controversial issue that has very physical and emotional implications. There are many scientific, religious and legal areas that require clarification.

In its most basic form, cloning involves three steps. 

Step One: Scientists take [donor] cells from an individual they wish to replicate, which are then placed a liquid culture that contains nutrients and stops the cells from dividing.

Step Two: An unfertilized egg is taken from a female and its nucleus is removed, leaving an empty egg cell. The donor cell is then placed into the empty egg. The resulting embryo is an exact copy of the cell donor and not the egg donor.

Step Three: The embryo is put into the uterus of a female of the species and arrives into the world via the natural birth process.

How it all began
In 1952 scientists replaced the nucleus from a frog egg with the nucleus of an embryonic frog cell and got the egg to develop into a tadpole. In 1975, a US scientist cloned tadpoles after transferring cell nuclei from adult frogs.

On July 5, 1996, the first successfully cloned mammal, a sheep named 'Dolly', was born at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute as a result of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT} by a team led by Professor Ian Wilmut. The results were published in February 27, 1997, in the scientific journal Nature. It took 276 tries to clone Dolly.

Scientists around the world have since cloned various species of animals, including sheep, mice, cows, pigs, goats and cats.

Not a fair thing to do to a child
In an interview with Alma H. Bond, Ph.D in March 2000, Dr Wilmot expressed his concern regarding the cloning of humans, "I don't think cloning is a fair thing to do to a child."
Half the cloned pregnancies that we start fail, one fifth of the lambs die. They have abnormalities, birth defects. We couldn't risk doing that to a human child. If you read in the papers that the animals cloned by other scientists are free of birth defects, don't believe them. We are aiming towards it, but who knows when it will happen. We start a lot of pregnancies which seem perfectly normal even when seen through ultrasound, but then the lambs die.

There is no form of infertility that can be cured only by cloning. You need an egg and sperm from a donor to produce a clone, just as you with other reproductive methods. I don't see why anyone needs to clone a human child.
Professor Wilmot went on to explain:
As far as selective breeding is concerned, part of the problem would be that the copy would turn out to be unlike the original. The mitochondria of the egg donor have different DNA in them, and the environment and the times are completely different, so the original and the clone might be quite dissimilar. The events in the life of the new person would be different from those that helped shape the character of the first one. This would make for tension between them.

Some people think that by cloning they can improve the intelligence or the character of their children. That is fallacious thinking. You couldn't know the outcome of those traits in advance. We have so many genes that interact in unknown ways that the child might turn out to be of mediocre intelligence or an absolute bastard. You couldn't raise a daughter to be Mother Theresa. She could turn out to be a criminal. Cloning a famous athlete might result in getting a violinist instead.
Therapeutic cloning 
The creation of cloned babies is banned in the UK, but therapeutic cloning has been legal since 2002 and is under the control of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). In 2004 the HFEA first gave permission to scientists from the University of Newcastle to clone human embryos. The research - which aims to treat a host of incurable diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes - provoked fury from groups opposed to cloning.

Professor Wilmot and fellow applicant Professor Christopher Shaw, of the Department of Neurology, Institute of Psychiatry, at Kings College, London, received the HFEA's second licence to clone human embryos on Feb 8th 2005. Wilmot and Shaw hope that their research will lead to a cure for motor neurone disease.

Opponents branded the research "profoundly unethical" and raised concerns about why the new licence had been awarded while a legal challenge into the first case is still ongoing. Among their concerns was the fact that thousands of human embryos will be destroyed despite there having been no successful experimentation on animals for motor neurone disease.

Opponents further point out that other research using adult stem cells extracted from bone marrow could prove to be as effective as using embryos, and believe it inevitable that therapeutic cloning will lead to reproductive cloning.

"Unviable" embryos
Scientists from the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts believe they have come up with a way that will get around the ethical objections to therapeutic cloning. Their method, only used so far with mice,  tampers with DNA to make the clone they create an "unviable" embryo which could never develop in the womb. 

They believe that, because there is no way the embryos could ever develop anyway, they could not be  regarded as "potential" human lives. Those opposed to cloning say it is "simply unacceptable" and "ethically obtuse".

'Virgin conceptions'
The "virgin conception" technique known as parthenogenesis (from the Greek for "virgin birth"), involves stimulating eggs to start dividing as if they had been fertilised. The resulting embryos are created without the addition of any new genetic material, either from sperm or a clone donor. The aim is to extract a new source of stem cells that one day could cure diseases.

Opponents and church groups are concerned that the method could be 'hi-jacked' to produce clones.

Josephine Quintavalle, from Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said:

"I am struggling to understand why they need to carry out this kind of research to obtain embryonic stem cells when they already have other cloning techniques.

"The last thing we need is more ways to erode the boundaries of nature. What I fear is that we are becoming increasingly desensitised to these astonishing technologies that take control of the reproduction process. How long before mothers decide they cannot be bothered looking for sperm donors and have their eggs cloned?"

Roger Smith, of the Christian charity Care, remarked: "It is the spare parts culture - can one human be sacrificed for the good of another?"

Dispute over who created 'Dolly'  
The lead scientist, Professor Ian Wilmut, acknowledged internationally as Dolly's creator, testified in March 2006 at an employment tribunal in Edinburgh that he played no part in the technology behind the famous animal - and conducted none of the experiments.

Under questioning, Wilmut said that his colleague, Professor Keith Campbell, deserved "66%" of the credit for the work and that he had only taken a supervisory role. 1

  1. The Guardian, Who really made Dolly? March 11, 2006