Human Cloning - How Close Are We?

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A debate is currently raging throughout the world, from the halls of the United States Congress and the President's Oval Office to the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The issue: the cloning of human beings. Ever since researchers in Scotland cloned an adult sheep named Dolly over a year ago, the issue of applying this technology to reproducing human duplicates has been paramount in scientific and social circles. The debate is not merely confined to scientists; everyone from world leaders to the neighborhood barber are engaging in the debate. So where are we now? As of March 1998, almost all major government and world institutions have frowned upon and have even tried to legislate bans on the cloning of human beings. Most major religious sects have also publicly condemned any attempt to clone humans as an ethical and moral violation and the general public, while somewhat split in opinion polls, also tends to favor banning human cloning. A Chicago physicist, Dr. Richard Seed, has been the target of many political attacks for his publicized plan to clone a human within the United States in two years. The debate furiously rages on. IS HUMAN CLONING POSSIBLE? A good place to start would be analyzing the practicality and possibility of physically cloning a human being rather than hypothetically. The first area to look at is how far the technology has progressed as of March 1998 and recent advancements in this exciting scientific field. In January 1998, the Washington Post reported that for the first time scientists (in Texas) had cloned genetically engineered calves. This marked a major advancement in the science of genetic cloning because the calves were not merely cloned, but were actually "genetically engineered in advance so that all of their cells contain(ed) an extra gene" (Washington Post, January 21, 1998). The gene scientists Dr. James Robl and Dr. Steven Stice incorporated into the clones did not produce a noticeable physiological effect, but rather was used as a 'marker' for the scientists to track its presence. The scientists produced four calves (one of whom died within a week of birth) with a much more effective technique than the one used to clone Dolly. "Dolly was the result of 277 (cloning) attempts; each of the four calves were the result of about 50 tries" (Post, 1998). Not only is cloning proving to be more successful, it is also becoming more useful. The hope of the scientists is that their research and experiments will lead to the genetic production of herds of cows that will "produce medicine in their milk" (Post, 1998.) The goal of this research team is to specifically make large quantities of "human serum albumin . . . used to treat hospital burn patients whose treatment requires an increase in blood volume" (Post, 1998). Although progressive, these calves are not the first farm animals to be cloned with a marker gene. In December, "Dr. Ian Wilmut and his colleagues . . . cloned two sheep carrying extra copies of a gene called Factor IX" (Post, 1998). The real achievement in Texas is that these are the first cloned calves and that cows produce milk in much larger quantities in sheep. Factor IX gene "allows the sheep to make a blood-clotting factor needed by some hemophiliacs" (Post, 1998). The two challenges to these new methods are the "unknown expense of extracting these medicines from livestock milk and the challenge of satisfying regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration" (Post, 1998). However, the rapid success in this field is astonishing. Another recent find is that researchers can produce embryos using "cow eggs as hosts" (Dallas Morning News, January 19, 1998). But as of March 1998 there have still been no successful pregnancies reported by using this technique. The hope, however, is that cow eggs could be the "universal recipients for cloning valuable farm animal and endangered species" (Morning News, 1998). The entire discovery came about by "accident," according to Dr. Neal First who led the biological research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The team wanted to attempt to replicate the cloning of Dolly but it was the "wrong season to get sheep eggs" (Morning News, 1998). After another worker suggested cow eggs, the experiments began and the researchers found some intriguing results. As already stated, no successful pregnancies have resulted from the use of cow eggs as host thus far, but the technique involves removing the nuclei of the egg and introducing skin from the animal desired to be cloned into the egg. Dr. First believes that the introduced genes dictate the development of the embryo, which have so far grow "according to the schedule" of every introduced gene's host species. But according to Dr. Piedrahita from Texas A&M University, this new technique of using cow eggs as a universal host "dos not . . . simplify human cloning at all" (Morning News, 1998). Dr. First emphatically stated that no experiments on cloning humans or human genes "had been or will be conducted" (Morning News, 1998). This is good for Dr. First, because one of the agencies that funds his work, The National Institutes of Health, has come out and publicly stated that "any experiments that would use a human nucleus and a cow egg to start and an embryo would not receive any funding" (Morning News, 1998). INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION The international community has spoken with a united voice with virtually no exceptions in their public opposition to not only human cloning, but any experiments involving human nuclei in cloning research. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release one year ago and still stands by that document. Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, Director-General of WHO, said, "WHO considers the use of cloning for the replication of human individuals to be ethically unacceptable as it would violate some of the basic principles which govern medically assisted procreation. These include respect for the dignity of the human being and protection of the security of human genetic material" (WHO, 1997). DR. Nakajima also cited a report produced at a meeting of a special committee of the Development Training in Human Research Production back in 1992, when human cloning was still a matter of science fiction and dealt within terms of hypothetical. But the group did emphasize that "there is a universal consensus on the need to prohibit extreme forms of experimentation, such as human cloning (and) interspecies fertilization" (WHO, 1997). Dr. Nakajima acknowledged the potential useful benefits of research on animal cloning, such as "therapeutic applications," but urged that "at all times we must remain alert to their possible negative outcomes" (WHO, 1997). He also stated that WHO would take the lead in organizing the debate on human cloning, focusing on "reproductive health and the biomedical applications of research on the human genome" and also urged worldwide participation "in this global process" (WHO, 1997). Nationally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that it will "shut anyone down who tries cloning without its permission" (San Jose Mercury News, January 20, 1998). The FDA's acting commissioner Dr. Michael Friedman noted the numerous attempts it took to clone Dolly in Scotland. "The first cloning success took 277 tries . . . we're more interested in the 277 failures than in the success" (Mercury News, 1998). President Clinton has been urging Congress to push through bills banning human cloning. Scientists are critical of these attempts because the proposed bills are too broadly worded and will stifle their research. California became the first state to pass a law banning human cloning, which went into effect January 1 of this year. The biggest alarm for scientist's came from Florida where a bill proposing making cloning of any human DNA a felony was nearly passed (Mercury News, 1998). It was withdrawn after he legislators realized that it would "stop biomedical research in Florida dead in its tracks" according to Dr. Carl Feldbaum of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (Mercury News, 1998). A fear that arises from the possibility of human cloning is that the technology will fall into nefarious hands and be misused to create a catastrophe. One of these fear seemed to be confirmed in an interview published in London's Sunday Telegraph in April 1998. The interview was with an unnamed but "prominent Iraqi doctor" who revealed that Saddam had become "fixated with his own mortality" (Sunday Telegraph, April 26, 1998). The doctor revealed that Saddam had established a cloning laboratory in Baghdad with the expressed goal of "cloning himself" (Telegraph, 1998). In response to this report, the UPI interviewed fertility expert Robert Winston who spelled out the reasons why the plan wouldn't work. "Given the failure rate in previous published cloning experiments, Iraqi scientists would have to transfer genes to the uteruses of 40,000 primed women to produce 100 Saddams, then they would have to wait 30 years because they look much like Saddam." Winston went on to say "Clones cannot replicate anyone emotionally or culturally, only physically. You cannot create another Saddam Hussein. He is unique" (UPI, 1998). Building on this idea came an article published one year earlier by Stanton Peele. He addresses the issue of cloning an Adolf Hitler or Albert Einstein and comes to the same conclusion. In regards to taking some of Hitler's DNA (assuming anyone could find some) and using it to create a human clone, Peele says that there is "virtually no possibility that the incredible set of circumstances that thrust him into world leadership is recreated" (New Jersey Daily Record. April 13, 1997). He goes on further to argue that "a cloned genome of Hitler would not become the historic figure we know without experiencing the circumstances that formed his outlook and personality. It is not likely that Hitler's anti-Semitism was genetically based" (Daily Record, 1997). Of course, one has to wonder why any prominent Iraqi doctor would be so willing to just tell of all Saddam's plans to a London newspaper, especially considering unsubstantiated reports in the last few weeks that Iraq was planning to ship the biological agent anthrax into England, a country they consider hostile. Was this just an attempt to scare the general public and reinforce the negative connotations the public is associating with the possibilities of human cloning? Dr. Winston had one more barrier to Saddam's alleged clone dream. "The cloning of mammals is currently possible only with female subjects" (UPI, 1998). DEFENDING HUMAN CLONING Why stop human cloning? As we have already seen, the science has not yet been perfected, only females are able to be cloned presently, and, according to the likes of Stanton Peele and Dr. Winston, even if a human was cloned, and even if the human cloned was produced from the DNA from an evil person such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein, the only trait these individuals would share would be genetic. They would not be the same person because they would not be exposed to the same environmental and social conditions that surrounded their predecessors. Although genetically similar, it is virtually impossible that they would be the same person or do the same things. Stanton Peele also addresses the issue of cloning geniuses or great figures in history. He specifically mentions Albert Einstein. "Einstein's special talent of envisioning the universe was most productive at a certain stage in physics. As the field moved onto the subatomic level and relied on experiments conducted in cyclotrons and acceleration tunnels, breakthroughs on the scale Einstein conceived became implausible, and a less valued scientific activity" (Daily Record, 1997). So Peele acknowledges both sides of the argument. Cloning Hitler's DNA today would not produce an evil person, at least not based on genetics, and cloning Einstein would not produce a genius, even if the brain and its intelligence were cloned. Another article written in response to the Scotland cloning success was by Dr. Ruth Macklin. Her article addresses the criticism those human clones would be awarded less rights then natural human beings and would be subjected to the whims of the master human race. One criticism made by an unnamed lawyer-ethicist is that cloning would "violate the right to genetic identity" (U.S. News & World Report, March 1, 1997). But Macklin wants to know where he came up with such a right? She concedes that adults have a right not to be cloned without their voluntary, informed consent, but wants to know who's "right to genetic identity" would be violated if consent is given (U.S. News, 1997). Another absurd criticism, she contends, is the notion that clones will be bred for 'spare parts', such as cloning a child who needs an organ transplant, with the expressed purpose of only cloning the child to gather the organs out of the clone. Her most compelling argument is that parents of identical twins (natural clones) don't view one child as being the organ bin for another, but views them both as equal human beings (U.S. News, 1997). Another criticism she addresses is the argument that cloning will lead to efforts to breed individuals with perceived exceptional qualities. Her answer is a rather simple one. Sperm banks stocked with the sperm of geniuses already exist, but haven't created a master race because "only a tiny number of women have decided to impregnate themselves this way. Why think it will be different if human cloning is available?" (U.S. News, 1997). She concludes her argument to support human cloning efforts strongly. Even if human cloning offers no obvious benefits to society, why ban it? "In a democratic society we don't usually pass laws outlawing something before there is actual or probable evidence of harm" (U.S. News, 1997). There is also no evidence to suggest that a human clone would not be protected by the same rights that apply to all people living in the United States now. She says that "a world not safe for cloned humans would not be a world safe for the rest of us" (U.S. News, 1997). RESPONSE FROM THE CHURCH Predictably, religious sects worldwide have condemned human cloning. Their arguments are not based on the fact that this technology might be used for evil purposes or that clones will have less rights, but attacks the attempt to replicate the human soul and defy God's authority over the creation of human life. The response cited here, from Light, July-August 1997 and published by The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention incorporates many aspects of various religious objections to cloning human beings. Richard D. Land says that "seeking to clone humans signifies a spiritual and technological hubris on the part of man which aims to usurp God's prerogatives as Creator" (Light, 1997). Land believes that cloning is subject to "frightful and grotesque abuse" and that "it must be rejected in the United States as well as internationally" (Light, 1997). Land believes that humans only want to clone themselves because of their "narcissistic, sinful tendencies to achieve some flawed, anthropocentric vision of human perfection through the eugenic manipulation of the human genome" (Light, 1997). Land finds no morally acceptable reasons for cloning human beings, but finds it perfectly acceptable to clone human body parts, "such as hearts, lungs and livers for transplant patients without having to harvest them from cloned human persons" (Light, 1997). The Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission voted unanimously to call upon Congress to "make human cloning unlawful and to call on all nations of the world . . . to prevent the cloning of any human being" (Light, 1997). Land believes that the development of a human clone would be a biomedical disaster equal in proportion to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Light, 1997). DR. RIC

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