The Human Cloning Controversy

Dani is a junior in high school.  She was assigned a report and oral presentation for her Academic Chemistry class.  She chose the human cloning controversy as her topic.  Before she started her research she knew almost nothing about the subject, yet now she is seriously considering a career in the field.

Should cloning humans be legal?  That is a tough question to answer.  Human cloning is a complex issue, and as in many complex issues there are differing opinions on the subject.  Take for example the theory of man’s evolution, there are two completely different sides, and each side is positive they are right.   Since the creation of Dolly the sheep, human cloning has erupted into a global debate.  There are those people who are all for science and technology.  They want human cloning to be a reality.  There are other people who think human cloning is morally, ethically, or religiously wrong.  These people want their governments to intervene and place a ban on human cloning.  American society already have negative feelings on the issue.  About 70% of Americans think human cloning is wrong.  This is mostly because of widespread misconceptions and far fetched stories.  To wisely choose if you think human cloning should be permitted you should be more educated on the subject than most of these people.

The Basics

Let’s start with some basic information.  What is a human clone?  It is simply a time-delayed identical twin.  A clone has the exact DNA of the original.  If a clone is made of an adult it would have to develop in a women’s uterus and be born like a normal baby.  It would be a normal baby.  A clone of a certain person would have it’s own memory and thought’s totally independent of the original.  Clones would be human individuals and be guaranteed the rights of one, under our constitution.

So how do you clone a person?  There are two main techniques used to clone mammals and if scientist are allowed these techniques may be applied in the near future to clone human beings.  The first is embryo splitting.  An embryo is the early stage of a fetus.  Embryo splitting is the artificial division of a single embryo.  The same process happens naturally to produce identical twins.  Identical twins are actually clones of one another because they have the same genetic code.  Embryo splitting is not very popular because embryos can only be split a few times therefore can only produce a few clones.

The second technique, somatic nuclear replacement, has the potential to create endless numbers of the same person.  For this reason this technique is the target of human cloning attacks by political figures, religious leaders, and even some scientist.  Dolly the sheep was cloned by this nuclear replacement procedure.  It involves transferring DNA from a person’s cell to a genetically blank egg.  Dolly was cloned in the following five basic steps and humans can probably be cloned the same way.

Step 1.

Scientists need two cells.  One cell is a body cell from the individual the wish to clone.  This cell contains the DNA that will make the clone.  It is a somatic cell, which is a cell from an organ or tissue.  The second cell is an unfertilized egg.  The nucleus is removed from the egg so it no longer contains any genetic material or DNA.

Step 2.

The somatic cell which has the genetic code is starved of nutrients.  Because of this the cell enters a suspended state.  While the somatic cell is in this state it matches the enucleated egg cell, which simply means the egg has no nucleus.

Step 3

The two cells are than fused together by an electric current.  The current stimulates the development of the egg.

Step 4

The egg is placed in an oviduct where it begins divide.  The oviduct acts as an insulator.  The egg has now reached the stage of it’s development where it is no longer an egg but an embryo.

Step 5

The last step in somatic nuclear replacement is to implant the growing embryo into the uterus of a surrogate mother where it will continue to develop until it is born.  The rest of my report will focus on this process because it is the technique the government is trying to ban.  There are two types of human cloning reproductive and therapeutic.

Reproductive cloning is creating complete human beings with the same genetic code as someone else.  This type of cloning faces the most opposition.  However medical breakthroughs such as this, have always been condemned upon their discovery.  Many people think reproductive cloning allows scientist to play God, and these people accused doctors of the very same thing when they first performed heart transplants.  Now  heart transplants save thousands of lives every year.  In vitro fertilization was also attacked when it was first used.  It is combining sperm and egg outside the human body.  Now this process is used nation wide to allow people, unable to conceive naturally, to have children.  Human Cloning may be accepted in a few years as these common practices have been.

Reproductive cloning could be used for many purposes.  It would be much more effective than modern day drugs and procedures to treat infertility.  Another possible use of creating an entire human would be to make clones of exceptional people in hopes that their gifts and talented could be passed on.  For example, Albert Einstein’s brain has been preserved in a jar.  A somatic cell could be taken from it to produce another Einstein.  Brain capacity is genetic so this duplicate of one of history greatest minds, could possibly have the power to solve some of the modern worlds greatest mysteries.

The second type of cloning is therapeutic.  It is more readily accepted than reproductive cloning.  This type of cloning is meant for medical research and has no intention of creating entire human beings.  It’s purpose is simply a way to try to extend human life which is what medical science has been doing since man’s beginning.  The government is trying to instill laws to ban reproductive cloning but many scientist fear these bans will interfere with therapeutic cloning, which has the potential to find cures or treatment for all major disease known to man.

The Benefits

Human cloning could offer many benefits which would by far out weigh the detriments.  Therapeutic research could be especially helpful in unlocking many of the unsolved puzzles in the medical field.  New developments in therapeutic cloning have led researchers to stem cells.  Stem cells are basically no specific type of cell.  However they may be able to produce cells with certain characteristics.  For example a stem cell could be cloned to produce blood.  By using stem cells scientist anticipate that it will one day be possible to clone human organs or tissue without cloning a complete person.  By using this technology it may be possible to reverse heart attacks by cloning healthy heart cells and injecting them into the damaged areas.  Another almost unbelievable application is to fix the problem of organ shortages for people who need transplants.  There are thousands of people on an incredibly long list waiting for an organ donor, because one of there organs have failed.  It is a sad fact that most of them will suffer and die before they get the transplant they need.  Of those who do receive organs, many of the operations are unsuccessful because the organ was not a close enough match.  It is quite conceivable that stem cells can provide an exact duplicate of an organ for a person who would otherwise die without a transplant.  This means new skin could be produced for severe burn victims.  Human cloning could also provide new brain cells for a person with brain damage.  It could give a quadriplegic a new spinal cord so he could walk again, or an amputee a new arm, leg, or other body part.  The applications of human cloning are numerous as are the benefits.  They used to be thought impossible, yet now they don’t seem that inconceivable.

The Law

Still one thing remains in the way of progress… the law.  For quite some time different political groups have tried to impose laws and regulate cloning and closely related genetic engineering.  With the cloning of Dolly in 96’ and the recent cloning of many other animals these new technologies, which used to only be considered science fiction, are right around the corner.  So the government is trying to intervene more now, than ever.  The long-term effects from man manipulating his own biology have been imprinted in people’s minds as negative.  We can see this by watching films such as Multiplicity and Gattaca, or by reading books like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  These works of fiction show the exaggerated negative outcomes of human cloning and related technology and people start to  believe them.  There are also some ethical questions involved.  These concerns are based on far fetched horror stories about human cloning.  Stories like millionaires keeping clones locked up in the basement in case they get sick and need a spare part.  Other fears that surface are that evil dictators will clone thousands of perfectly made soldiers to take over the world.  And my favorite story is that laboratories will clone masses of people to be used as slaves.  These stories are unfounded and crazy.  Besides the fact that US law already prohibits these things.  Another reason people are against human cloning is a religious one.  Yet the government is supposed to be separate of religion.  It would be unconstitutional for the US to ban human cloning for a religious conviction.

The United States is not the only country trying to decide what to do about human cloning.  It has been banned in Europe, while in other countries there no regulations what so ever and there probably never will be.  The US government is openly against human cloning.  After the news about Dolly reached the White House President Clinton immediately issued a five year ban on using federal funds to conduct research on human embryos.  This greatly reduces the research being accomplished on cloning for medical advancements, because many labs rely on government funds to continue there research.

Bill S.1601 is the republican bill to outlaw human cloning.  In February of 98’ it didn’t quite get the 60 votes needed to pass.  This would be law comes complete with a 10-year prison sentence for anyone creating a human embryo using somatic nuclear transfer cloning.  Keep in mind that the creation, use, and storage of human embryos is perfectly legal according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990.  The law permits in vitro fertilization and research on human embryos.  Under current laws research embryos cannot surpass development beyond 14 days.  After that amount of time has past the embryos must be destroyed.  It is also legal to place research embryos in a women uterus for a child to develop.  Human Cloning would remain within the already given guidelines and not attempt to do any thing which is already prohibited.  So the republican law is basically against human cloning in general and has nothing to do with stopping research being done on human embryos.  Current law already allows that type of research and there is no attempt being made to change it.  It’s all politics.  The bill sounds as if it is going to prevent human cloning scientist from tampering with mother nature by not allowing research on human embryos, yet those type of experiments are already being done by scientist in the medical field of fertility and it is perfectly legal.  If this cloning law is passed human embryo research will still be done.

The democrats also have a bill that has been introduced in Congress.  The Kennedy-Feinstein bill, named for the two politicians who proposed it, bans human cloning for at least ten years.  It allows scientists to use human cloning in limited experiments if they destroy the embryo in the early stage of development.  The bill suggests that any experiment going outside the given parameters be met with a million dollar fine.  The government will also confiscate any lab equipment used in the experiment.  This bill raises questions like, just how is the government to supervise every single lab to see which experiments go to far?  The FDA has volunteered to regulate human cloning although it hardly falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.

As Congress has not yet reached a consensus no law has been voted on.  But just because the federal government can’t get a law passed doesn’t mean the states can’t.  California was the first of many states to outlaw human cloning.  Maryland has not yet banned cloning but government funds cannot be used for cloning research in our state.

While these laws are coming into play scientists like Richard Seed are still determined to clone entire individuals not just use cloning for therapeutic reasons, so they are finding loopholes in the proposed bills.  Seven state laws specifically say it is illegal to create exact genetic duplicates of people.  Yet when using somatic nuclear transfer the DNA is not a 100% exact copy.  The nucleus of a cell contains more than 99% of a persons DNA and the mitochondria, which produces the cell’s energy contains less than 1%.  The mitochondria is outside the nucleus so when the nucleus is removed from an egg cell in somatic nuclear replace 1% of it’s DNA remains behind in the cell.  Then the nucleus from the somatic cell enters and there is still left over DNA in the egg which is supposed to be genetically blank.  Lawyers can argue in a court of law that the individual created from this process would not be an exact genetic copy of the person who donated the somatic cell.  Technically this procedure would be within the law.  Another state law prohibits the transfer of a nucleus into a human donor egg.  So the obvious way around this law is to not use a human egg.  A cow egg acts as a universal incubator for mammals and could easily replace a human egg.  However the embryo produced form this procedure would contain mostly human DNA but a very small percentage would be cow DNA in the mitochondria.

The governments attempts to ban human cloning are futile.  The laws are easy to work around and if by some chance a very specific law is passed in the US that prohibits any type of human cloning dedicated scientist can move to another country where such laws are nonexistent.

I hope you now have a better understanding of the human cloning controversy.  One day you might have to decide if you want human cloning to be permitted in this nation.   While the government and most of society are against this type of cloning, a few people are able to vision the future it could provide.  Imagine how much more advanced the medical field could become.  Many people can’t quite see all the possibilities that lie in this new technology.  They are more concerned with moral or spiritual side of it.  If the government could just act responsibly and not let human cloning get out of hand, a change could occur in our entire nation, probably in the whole world, a change for the better.  Remember that this technology has the potential to save millions of lives maybe even yours.

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