Medical breakthroughs often elicit ambivalent reactions from all quarters of society. Cloning is one such medical technology that has elicited numerous ambivalent reactions. This research paper thus seeks to examine the concept of human and animal reproductive cloning with an aim of investigating the tenets of this concept and the perspective of society on the issue from ethical, scientific, and biological points of view.
In the cloning debate, the following groups have interests on the same.
- Religious Leaders
Main issues in the cloning debate revolve around its fitness for use on humans. Existing literature shows that already cloning has been successfully carried out in animals. The first successful “mammal clone was by Scottish scientists and the clone was a sheep they named Dolly” (UNESCO 16).
Existing literature indicates that clones exhibit numerous defects and malformations that pose serious health risks in the case of humans. Ethical, biological, and scientific concerns also add to the factors that have slowed down research on human and animal cloning. Human cloning remains a farfetched idea due to the documented miniature success rates.
The main issues of concern relating to advancements in medical research often revolve around the safety of the technologies and their moral fitness in society. A typical example of a medical research development that continues to elicit acute criticism is cloning. Since its discovery in the 20th century, cloning has taken center stage as one of the most controversial medical developments of all time.
This research paper thus seeks to examine the concept of human and animal reproductive cloning with an aim of investigating the tenets of this concept and the perspective of society on the issue from ethical, scientific, and biological points of view. Human cloning remains a farfetched idea due to the documented miniature success rates.
Human and Animal Reproductive Cloning in Perspective
Cloning is considered relatively new in the public domain. According to UNESCO, the term ‘clone’ was initially used in early 20th century botanical endeavors that aimed at developing plant grafts (7). Over the years, the term’s use evolved to involve the development of animals from a single parent organism.
Animal cloning started taking shape noticeably in 1952 when scientists, Robert Briggs and Thomas King, decided to experiment with frogs (UNESCO 8). Their experiments were inspired by the work of a German embryologist, Hans Spemann, who had earlier on done some laboratory work on the possibility of somatic cell nuclear transfer using salamanders (UNESCO 8).
Applying the same technology to mammals proved tricky for scientists until 1997 when Dolly, the world’s first cloned mammal, was successfully delivered (Nordgren 279). Since then, several animal species have been successfully clowned (Nordgren 279).
Research on animal cloning is still ongoing because previous attempts have yielded clones that are plagued with defects and malformations. Dolly, the sheep that was cloned by Scottish scientists under the guidance of Ian Wilmut, only survived for six years and it was then euthanized due to lung-related complications associated with older sheep and premature arthritis (UNESCO 11).
The latest development in cloning was when Snuppy, the first cloned dog, was successfully delivered after over one thousand attempts (Nordgren 279). Dogs and primates have been a subject of attention for scientists for quite a long time since their successful cloning has been elusive.
Cloning processes and techniques
According to the German Ethics Council, “several techniques can be used to produce blastocysts artificially, but only two are applicable for animal and human cloning” (17). The two possible techniques are embryo splitting and nuclear transfer. In embryo splitting, the scientists “imitate the natural process through which monozygotic twins are formed and the technique can yield up to several from a single embryo” (German Ethics Council 17).
On the other hand, cell nuclear transfer involves the use of two cells so that one of them, an egg cell or oocyte, acts as the receptor and the other cell, the donor cell, provides the nucleus (German Ethics Council 18). The nucleus of the oocyte is removed to give room for the nucleus from the donor cell, but the oocyte provides the components necessary for embryo development.
Once the nucleus from the donor cell “has been implanted into the oocyte, the egg cell has been ‘fertilized’ and is thus technically an embryo ready for development” (German Ethics Council 18). It is then implanted into a surrogate parent who bears it through the gestation period to delivery.
Possibilities of Cloning a Human Being
The possibility of cloning human beings still seems remote. The only scientists who have claimed to clone human embryos successfully, “are from Advanced Cell Technologies, an American organization, published a scientific paper in 2001 to show that they had carried out research to that effect” (Human Genetics Alert 2). Out of the embryos that were cloned, the most well developed only reached six cells.
Claims of successful human cloning include South Korean scientists’ claim that they had successfully created human embryo clones only for their laboratory to be closed by their government among others. The Raelians, a Canadian religious sect, also made unsubstantiated claims of successfully cloning several children.
Though documentation on human cloning is scarce, it is possible to deduce from the successful attempts of cloning other animals that it is not easy to come up with a normal clone, let alone a human clone. Dolly, the most famous clone was successfully delivered after 227 attempts, 29 of which were successfully implanted into surrogate parents, but Dolly was the only survivor (Nordgren 279).
Snuppy came to be after 1095 attempts of which 123 implantations were made, but they yielded only two live births of which Snuppy was the only survivor (Nordgren 279). From the existing statistics, although the few attempts that have been successful seem to show that cloning is possible, it has been reported that the success rates stand at about 5% for some species, but a slow as 1% for others (Lane 126).
The German Ethics Council notes that the failure rates of cloning are about 96% implying a success rate of only 4% (21). It is important to note that what has been documented refers only to the animal species that have so far been successfully cloned. Those that have not been successfully cloned, especially monkeys, are primates like humans.
Consequently, if a monkey or any other primate has not yet been successfully cloned, it can only mean that humans are even more difficult to clone. A breakthrough was recently reported on dog cloning, which had proved elusive alongside primates and this aspect indicates that there is development and in future, primates may successfully be cloned.
The German Ethics Council notes that currently, the primary obstacle in primate cloning lies in the fact that a primate egg cell has some essential protein structures located so proximately to the cell nuclear (20). The removal of the nuclear to give room for a transplant interferes with their ability to catalyze cell division thus eliminating the cell’s ability to replicate and grow.
This aspect has impaired the researchers’ ability to produce successful primate clones, but research is ongoing. However, human cloning may take longer to be achieved because the scientific community generally perceives it as unacceptable so that those who do any research in this area do so amid protests from many quarters, which can impede research in the line of human cloning.
Ethical Issues surrounding Reproductive Cloning
From an ethical perspective, opponents of cloning argue that cloning is an attempt at playing God and controlling nature, which is not acceptable. It is considered a violation of human rights and serious undermining of human dignity to experiment with humans as has been the case with other animals.
For instance, as noted earlier Snuppy was obtained after over one thousand attempts, which only gave two live births, but only one survived. The same was the case with Dolly because over two hundred attempts resulted into only one sheep. This magnitude of experimentation cannot be applied to humans because it is not morally correct.
Biological concerns for reproductive cloning
From a biological perspective, the clone that is obtained is not an offspring of the donor or the animal from which it is cloned, but a sibling (UNESCO 10). Therefore, claims that cloning could be employed in sourcing offspring for barren couples are misconceived.
Even though the couples are the source of the cells used for cloning, the clone is almost genetically identical to the donor save for a few differences, which implies that they could technically be considered as ‘delayed twins’ of the donors’ siblings rather than offspring (Caulfield 3). This element means that the clone lacks a sense of identity and may have problems relating to the ‘parents’.
Scientific Concerns on Reproductive Cloning
Scientists who have carried out research in the line of cloning acknowledge that there are numerous errors inherent in the cloning process especially during genetic reprogramming hence the numerous deformities and abnormalities that have been reported in cloned animals (McMahan 79). This element has largely slowed down research towards human cloning because most of the errors are still beyond scientists’ control. Therefore, any attempt at cloning humans for reproductive purposes can pose serious health risks and challenges for those involved (McMahan 82).
The concept of cloning continues to be researched and advances are bound to be made to the effect of making the technology better. However, the successful attempts have clearly pointed to the fact that the technology is not yet adequately mature for application to humans. Although several scientists claim to have successfully cloned humans, lack of evidence to this effect suggests otherwise.
The many concerns from ethical, biological, and scientific points of views also seem to slow down the pace of research towards human cloning. However, like any other issues in the public domain, it has its proponents and opponents and whether technology matures enough to accommodate human cloning successfully, debates will always rage on about its appropriateness. However, human cloning remains a farfetched idea due to the documented miniature success rates.
Caulfield, Timothy. “Human cloning laws, human dignity and the poverty of the policy making dialogue.” BMC Medical Ethics 4.1 (2003): Print.
German Ethics Council. Cloning for reproductive purposes and cloning for the purposes of biomedical research, Berlin: GNEC, 2004. Print.
Lane, Robert. “Safety, identity and consent: A limited defense of reproductive human cloning.” Bioethics 20.3 (2006): 125-135. Print.
McMahan, Jeff. “Cloning, Killing, and Identity.” Journal of Medical Ethics 25.2 (1999): 77-86. Print.
Nordgren, Anders. “Analysis of an epigenetic argument against human reproductive cloning.” Reproductive BioMedicine 13.2 (2006): 278-283. Print.
UNESCO. Human cloning: ethical issues, Paris: UNESCO, 2004. Print.