Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Cloning Hearing Moves Congress toward a Ban

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Cloning Hearing Moves Congress toward a Ban

Article excerpt

When Dolly, the cloned sheep, made her spectacular appearance four years ago, newspapers and magazines featured photos of identical babies waiting only for the perfection of human cloning to gain entry into this world. Those babies will have to wait a very long time, according to experts in cloning who testified at a cloning hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 28 March 2001.

Two leading scientists asserted that the overwhelming majority of efforts to clone mammals have ended in failure. According to Texas A&M professor of veterinary medicine Mark Westhusin, the few that have led to live births have left newborns with severe respiratory, circulatory, and other difficulties, or in jeopardy of lethal malfunctions later in life. Massachusetts Institute of Technology investigator Rudolf Jaenisch maintained that no wholly normal clones have been created, Dolly included. The underlying difficulty, Jaenisch hypothesized, lies in the genetic reprogramming that must occur to create a new organism. During coital or in vitro reproduction, such reprogramming has had months and years to develop in sperm and egg, respectively. In reproductive cloning, however, genetic reprogramming must take place within a different cellular context, and within minutes or hours of nuclear transfer. This may cause the reprogramming errors seen so far in animal clones.

Perhaps the most startling scientific revelation at the hearing is that it might take as long as a century to prove that reproductive cloning is safe for humans. The mechanisms of skewed programming must be elucidated and corrected in primates and a succession of their progeny before human testing should even begin. Scientists would then have to do the same in human clones, observing their descendants for several generations. Thus certification of human reproductive cloning as safe might take 80 to 100 years, assuming all goes well.

What moves have reproductive cloning advocates left to make to keep their dream alive? The stem cell move, for one: cloning advocates might link human reproductive cloning with cloning to create embryonic stem cells for research and therapy. If reproductive cloning is harmful, as leading scientists argue, then one might wonder why stem cells, or differentiated cells derived from them, wouldn't also be unsafe for anyone in whom they were used as therapy. …

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