The Cloning Question: To Do, or Not to Do

As a sophomore computer engineering student at the University of Texas at El Paso, Miguel had to pick a controversial subject and write a 7 to 10 page research paper in full MLA style.  He received an “A” for the class because of this paper.  It might be published in a book that all incoming freshmen at UTEP must buy to help them with writing.  If you have any questions, contact Miguel at:, or fax him at: (603) 994-3129. 

Imagine if a new procedure were developed that could lead not only to a cure for cancer, but would provide an unlimited source of organ donors and could lead to the first effective treatment of nerve damage.  Now adding to this scenario, imagine our government was taking action to ban this new procedure because of a few myths and exaggerations.  This scenario is true and is taking place with human cloning at this very moment. If action is not taken, this crowning achievement of medical science could be lost forever.

It all began with the team from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, led by Dr. Ian Wilmut.  Wilmut and his colleagues wanted to see if specialized cells could be reprogrammed into thinking that they were not specialized and develop all over again, thus creating a clone (Wilmut et al. 810).  Cloning, as defined by the Cloning Prohibition Act of 1997, “means the production of a precise genetic copy of a molecule (including DNA), cell, tissue, plant, animal, or human” (4).

Before this experiment, it was known that once an egg cell from a mammal was fertilized, it would begin to divide and differentiate, first into an embryo, and then into other specialized cell types like skin and organs.  Once specialized, scientists assumed that the cell could never become anything else.  For example, skin cells could never divide and turn into organ cells (Wilmut et al. 810).

To answer their question, Wilmut’s team took a test cell from an ewe and starved it of nutrients to the point where the cell stopped dividing and making DNA.  In effect, all the cell’s functions, except those necessary for life, stopped.  Dubbed G0, this state is the genetic equivalent of suspended animation and the heart of Wilmut’s procedure.  The team then extracted the cell’s nucleus and transplanted it into an unfertilized egg with no nucleus using electrical pulses.  Finally, the egg was transplanted into a surrogate mother so it could develop.  A few months later, Dolly was born.  Thus, Wilmut and his team proved that cells that had already been specialized could be reprogrammed and made to develop all over again (Wilmut et al. 810-813).

Not everyone is thrilled about Dr. Wilmut’s discovery, though.  During the past two years, various commentators – scientists and theologians, physicians and legal experts, talk-radio hosts and editorial writers – have been busily responding to the news, some trying to calm fears, while others fuel the controversy.

One argument against cloning comes from animal rights groups who say that animal experimentation or anything that causes “unnecessary distress to animals is inhumane” (Cunningham 92).  Other arguments against cloning involve humans.  The National Bioethics Advisory Commission wonders if a cloned human will be “regarded as less of a person” and treated as a scientific specimen rather than a human being (29).  The media makes “inflated claims” and talks of so-called “superhumans” which will take over the world (Allen B2).  Others relate to the days of slavery and hypothesize that if humans can be cloned, it makes them property, items that can be sold.  The main arguments against cloning stem from the idea of eugenics, founded by Francis Galton (1822-1910).  He believed that the human species could be improved by mating with those who have desirable traits and leaving those with undesirable traits alone (Gray 84).

Nazi Germany advocated eugenics in a horrifying way.  In the beginning, Hitler targeted Germans, not Jews.  The handicapped, mentally ill, and others with undesirable traits were sterilized so as not to reproduce.  When Hitler turned on the Jews, one man’s view of the perfect society threatened the world (Gray 84-85).  Because cloning offers parents the prospects of genetically altering their children, eugenics of this caliber leads into another argument against cloning.

Princeton University biologist Lee Silver envisions a future world broken into two classes: the “gen-rich” and the “gen-poor” (Lemoick 66).  Silver holds that these different classes of humans will not be allowed to have sexual relations with each other.  He theorizes that the two classes will become so dissimilar that the “gen-rich” will evolve into a totally new species and oppress the “gen-poor.”  Illustrating his idea, Silver compares humans to monkeys.  Although monkeys are extremely intelligent and the closest genetically to humans, they are still kept in zoos and experimented on because, after all, they are still not like us (Boyce 37).

On the other side of the coin, proponents of cloning declare that studying cloned animals and humans will enhance our understanding of genetics.  In this light, cloning should be practiced because the potential benefits for the human species, non-medical and medical, outweigh the consequences.  For example, cows will be genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals in their milk (Coghlan 5).  That means that shots and pills will be notions of the past.  Babies could be brought up immune to diseases by simply mixing their formula with milk.  Imagine the possibilities in third world countries like Somalia.  With a few gallons of drug enriched milk, whole villages could be made healthy and immune to disease.  But why stop with milk?  Simple foods like bread could be fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to cure malnutrition forever.  Once cloned into an endless supply, hunger will also be cured.  Children and families in these countries will never have to worry about food again.  In fact, no one will.

Another non-medical benefit from cloning is the potential for immortality.  Cloning essentially means taking DNA and reversing its age back to zero.  Dr. Richard Seed, a physicist who graduated from Harvard University with three degrees, hopes that cloning will help us understand how to reverse DNA back to age 20 or whatever age we want to be.  He ultimately wants to reprogram his DNA to become immortal (Cole 77).  Could cloning be the long sought after fountain of youth?

The area that stands to benefit most from cloning is medicine.  Theories exist about how cloning may lead to a better treatment for heart attacks.  Doctors will be able to treat heart attack victims by cloning their healthy heart cells and injecting them into the areas of the heart that have been damaged.  Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and several other industrialized countries.  If heart disease can be cured, then human life expectancy will increase. 
In addition to better treatments for heart attacks, cloning may be able to ensure that we no longer suffer because of “defective genes” that cause cancer (Allen B2).  Although scientists do not know exactly how cells differentiate into specific kinds of tissue, nor understand why cancerous cells lose their differentiation, cloning, at long last, could answer how to switch cells on and off, thus curing cancer.

Cloning also has the power to cure infertility.  Infertile men are made to feel like they are not “not holding up their part of the bargain,” while women are made to feel as if they are “useless barren vessels.”  The current options for infertile couples are inefficient, painful, expensive, and heart breaking.  Many couples run out of time and money without successfully having children.  Cloning could make it possible for many more infertile couples to have children than ever before by boosting efficiency through nuclear transfer, the same process created by Dr. Wilmut, rather than in in-vitro fertilization (Cohen, “Infertile” 6).  Sperm from the father could be transferred into the mother’s egg, thus creating a unique child, not a clone.

Because of cloning and its technology, organ transplants and cosmetic procedures, like silicone breast implants, that may cause immune disease should soon cease to exist.  Instead of using materials foreign to the body for such procedures, doctors will be able to manufacture bone, fat, connective tissue, or cartilage that match the patient’s tissues exactly, thus ensuring that the needed tissue will be free of rejection by their immune system (Cohen, “Organs” 4).  Victims of terrible accidents that deform the face and body should now be able to have their features repaired with new, safer technology.  Limbs for amputees will be able to be regenerated easily.  Anyone will be able to have their appearance altered to their satisfaction without the leaking of silicone gel into their bodies or the other problems that occur with present day plastic surgery. 
Because cloning will insure acceptance by the body, those in desperate need of organ and other transplants will one-day have their prayers answered by cloning.  Using one’s own cells to grow whole organs will eliminate the need for organ donors and waiting lists (Cohen “Organs” 4).  Skin for burn victims, brain cells for the brain damaged, and hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys for the needy could all be produced.  Cloning could be the tool used to grow nerves or the spinal cord back again after severe injuries.  Those who suffer from such injuries, like Christopher Reeve, might one day be able to get out of their wheelchairs and walk again.  Are not these reasons enough to encourage cloning?

The above list only scratches the surface of what cloning technology can do for mankind.  The suffering that can be relieved is staggering.  This new technology heralds a new era of unparalleled advancement in medicine if people will release their fears and let the benefits begin.  Why should another child die from leukemia when, if the technology is allowed, we should be able to cure it in a few years time?

Until recently, cloning was an idea found in science fiction; now, it is a reality.  History is full of similar stories.  Two men by the name of Wright had the crazy idea of a machine that could fly; they never imagined rockets and satellites going into space and men walking on the moon.  In 1860, the great English physicist James Clerk Maxwell found that the laws of electricity and magnetism could be summarized in four simple equations.  Less than forty years later, the world was filled with radios, automobiles, trains, light bulbs, and factories.  Maxwell never envisioned personal computers.  Similarly, the power of cloning lies not only in what we imagine will be, but even more exciting, those things that we cannot at this time imagine.

Works Cited

Allen, William.  “Scientists Warn That Genetic Rhetoric be Cooled.  Group Warns that Hyperbole Over New Technology Could Harm Debate – and Patients.” Five Star Lift 25 Jan 1999: B2.

Boyce, Nell. “Us and Them.” New Scientist 09 May 1998: 36-37.

Coghlan, Andy. “Will Cloned Cows Rise from the Dead.” New Scientist 08 Mar 1997: 05.

Cohen, Philip. “Dolly Helps the Infertile.” New Scientist 09 May 1998: 6.

—. “Organs Without Donors.” New Scientist 11 July 1998: 4-5.

Cole, Wendy. “Seed of Controversy.” Time Jan 11 1999: 77.

Cunningham, Jennifer. “Aminal-To-Human Organ Transplants Could Save Lives.” Biomedical Ethics. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1998.

Grey, Paul. “Cursed by Eugenics.” Time Jan 11 1999: 84-85.

Lemonick, Michael D. “Designer Babies.” Time Jan 11 1999: 64-66.

National Bioethics Advisory Commission. “The Risks of Human Cloning Outweigh the Benefits.” Biomedical Ethics. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1998.

United States. Executive Branch. Cloning Prohibition Act of 1997. Washington: GPO, 1997.

Wilmut, Ian., et al. “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells.” Nature 385 (1997): 810-813.

Golden, Frederic. “Good Eggs, Bad Eggs.” Time Jan 11 1999: 84-85.

Isaacson, Walter. “The Biotech Century.” Time Jan 11 1999: 42-43.

“Racing to Map Our DNA.” Time Jan 11 1999: 46-50.

Vines, Gail. “One Giant Leap into the Unknown.” New Scientist 01 Mar 1997: 05.

Weiss, Rick. “Oregon Scientists Try 135 Times, But Can’t Clone Monkey.” San Francisco Chronicle 29 Jan 1999: A5.

Wilmut, Ian. “Dolly’s False Legacy.” Time Jan 11 1999: 74-77.

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