No government should allow reproductive cloning near humans. But it will happenby Shereen El Feki / March 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
Book: A Clone of your Own? Author: Arlene Judith Klotzko Price: Oxford University Press, ?12.99
Arlene Klotzko, a bioethicist, wants us to stop worrying and learn to love the clone. In her beginner’s guide to cloning, she argues that this new technology has become a scapegoat for all we fear about uncontrollable, unnecessary and unethical science.
Human cloning is a focus both for the worries about genetic determinism raised by the human genome project, and for long-standing fears about “man-made” people. Nor is its credibility enhanced by its practitioners, full of big talk and little proof – scientific showmen such as Panos Zavos, an American fertility expert, or the Raelians, a UFO-loving cult which claims to have achieved six births through cloning, with more to come.
The reality, Klotzko argues, is that human cloning is no more unnatural than many other now-accepted technologies, and the prospective ethical dilemmas it poses are not much different to those found in more familiar situations. Identical genes do not mean identical lives: just look at twins. There are profound technical barriers to producing healthy human clones, but Klotzko is fairly confident that these will be overcome: “Human reproductive cloning is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”
Indeed, human cloning of a sort has already occurred. In February, a team of scientists from universities in South Korea announced the first step towards human therapeutic cloning. “Somatic cell nuclear transfer,” as it is called, creates embryos without the meeting of egg and sperm. In reproductive cloning, these embryos settle into the womb until birth. In therapeutic cloning, however, they stay in the laboratory, coaxed into becoming multi-cell structures known as blastocysts from which stem cells can be derived.
Unlike most of the body’s cells, say in the skin or lungs, which are locked into a single role for a limited lifetime, embryonic stem cells are able to reproduce themselves repeatedly, and when given the right biological signals, can mature into a wide range of different cell types. This makes them a potentially useful source of new cells to repair damaged tissue in, for example, diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. Human embryonic stem cells are usually derived from early embryos discarded during in vitro fertilisation. But many scientists think that there is greater potential in human embryonic stem cells derived from nuclear transfer because they could be made from a patient’s own genetic…