For the purposes of this essay, “human cloning” will refer to human reproductive cloning involving somatic cell nuclear transfer (explained later), rather than therapeutic human cloning, which involves the use of pluripotent stem cells. Advances in cloning research have used (differentiated) somatic cells. Essentially any cell within body could be used to make a clone, be it a neuron or a hepatocyte or myocyte, it still contains all the genetic material and instruction to create a new identical organism. It was the birth of “Dolly” the sheep in 1997 that highlighted the possibility that the cloning of human beings is possible.
The process of somatic cell nuclear transfer involves obtaining a donor oocyte and removing its genetic contents, to produce an “enucleated” cell. Cloning techniques involve obtaining a somatic cell from the person to be cloned and fusing it with the enucleated cell via electrofusion, which both fuses and activates the new cell. The somatic cell sample is primarily “starved” to prevent it copying any more of its DNA. Fusion of two cells in such a technique results in the mixing of the mitochondrial contents of both cells. Mitochondrial DNA is thought to have little effect on the cell and organism (providing there is no mitochondrial disease).
The resulting embryo is then implanted in to the host female or surrogate mother. In discussing the ethics of the use of cloning technology to produce another human we must first and foremost look at whether it would be ethical to even use such a procedure. It took 277 endonucleated ova, to produce 29 blastocysts. Of these, 1 developed in to a live lamb. The whole process therefore was found to be only 3% efficient. It could be argued that this would be ethically wrong right from the start with the use of such large numbers of human eggs required to produce one single child.
IVF treatment however, can also require large numbers of human eggs, with as many as 10-15 being harvested at each attempt, given that it may take several procedures to result in a successful pregnancy1. Following on from that is the increased incidence of developmental abnormalities noted in cloned mammals, found in approximately one third of procedures. It has been found however that cloning rhesus monkeys produces no developmental or physiological abnormalities. Developmental abnormality however, occurs in 3% of natural pregnancies (and even more when maternal age is over 40 years).
Should it be proven that the same risk can be attributed to cloning techniques, this may mean a leniency on attitudes towards such technology being used. 2 For this technique to become available human testing would be essential, which is unethical to begin with? The paradox is that it would be completely unethical to test such a risky technique on humans, since nobody can predict the longer term outcomes on a new species, but in order for techniques to be available, testing has to take place. It could be argued that IVF also required controversial testing in the early stages which have proven to be a success.
Were these tests also ethical to begin with? Should we clone? Leon Kass states the mere fact that human cloning is repugnant to people needs no further explanation of why it should be banned3, in the same idea father daughter incest is morally wrong to us springing from most major religions of the world. Asexual human reproduction could fall in the same category as simply being wrong, or being unacceptable to most world religions. This could however be just another reaction in society to a new treatment, which was seen in the early stages of organ transplantation and IVF use, both now widely accepted.
Ron James, the Scottish millionaire who funded much of Ian Wimut’s research of Dolly, points out that social attitudes change fast. Before the announcement of Dolly, polls showed that people thought that cloning animals and gene transfer in to animals were “morally problematic”, where as germ-line therapy fell into the category of being “just wrong”. Two months after the announcement of Dolly, and after much discussion on human cloning, peoples attitudes had shifted to accepting animal cloning and gene transfer to humans as “morally permissible,” whereas germ-line gene therapy had shifted to being “merely problematic.
“4 Assuming the public polls were a true representation of society’s views, and with the supposed birth of the first human clone in January 2003, what will society think in 5-10 years time? Public opinion on these matters dictates the law. No government would risk the backlash of allowing this procedure to occur in light of such strong views from their voters (for the time being). Reasons to clone British law regarding cloning is now clear when the human reproductive cloning act was set up in 2001 to amend loop holes in the human fertilisation and embryology act of 1990.
Subsection 1 forbids “implanting a human embryo in to a woman which has been created by any method other than fertilization”. Should cloning ever become legal, realistic uses for its technology would be likely to include assisted reproduction, allowing couples unable to conceive by natural methods to have a child whilst maintaining a genetic link to their offspring, with minimal genetic input from outside the relationship. 4
A person living in Britain has the right not to reproduce by contraception and abortion (under strict conditions set by the law) so it could be argued that the opposite is true, having the same right to reproduce. It could be argued that they do not have this right, i. e Catholicism’s views on abortion (killing a child), but this is only an opinion and not the present situation. People cannot reproduce on their own however so the absolute right to reproduce needs to be combined with another person’s, which in this case may be surrogacy, egg donation or DNA donation.
No one can be said to have the right to reproduce by any means, for example a ban on incest protects the child resulting, i. e the clone, or an underage girl raped by a near relative, in terms of protection from physical ailments and psycho-social ones later in life. 6 Could cloning for childless couples ever be justified? For some couples, this would be the only option to have a child exclusive to their relationship (with very little outside genetic input), especially in the case of gay couples (the option of surrogacy and egg donation however, is still present).
At the same time however, not only is there genetic exclusivity in the coupled relationship, but also exclusively between the clone and the original, bypassing one of its parents, which would be important in the case of a break up or divorce.. To clone ones self is not simply the same as having a child by conventional means. Sexual reproduction involves bringing together 2 separate mixtures of DNA to produce a new being, which occupies a niche never before taken in the world.
Nobody knows what traits the new being will carry; it has its own unique identity, just as its parents did before it, being of equal standing in society. One argument relevant to this discussion is the presence of natural monozygotic (identical) twins, themselves being exact copies or clones of each other. Identical twins however are born together from two natural parents where their genotype still holds a sense of mystery about what they will become, what their height will be, balding patterns, or even likely cause of death; this would not necessarily be that case of a cloned child.
Would the “original” be able to accept his child as a new individual and resist placing constraints upon them, rather than attempting to mould the child into the person he is or would like to have become? Are the parents acquiring the power to decide what kind of child to have? No parent could be entirely innocent of this, by attempting to school their child in the best way, restricting who they can and can’t see and encouraging them to be independent and able to succeed in life.
This may be taken to the extreme however in a cloned child, where their appearance, manner and intelligence can to some extent be predicted and consciously or unconsciously compared to that of the original, which may constantly overshadow it. This scenario could be compared to somebody buying a new car, they have read the review and had a test drive and found it to be everything they want. They buy the car and find it handles a different way than they expected. In the case of cloning however, another being is affected.