Ethics and Human Cloning

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Does research on cloned human embryos cause the death of those embryos?

Yes.  When scientists dismember cloned human embryos by extracting their stem cells, the inner cell mass is destroyed, causing the death of the embryo.1  (If a scientist were to extract your heart or dismember your body in another significant manner, you would die also.)

If a cloned human embryo is in the laboratory outside of the womb of a woman, is that embryo still a human being?

Yes.  The product of asexual reproduction is not simply a cell, but rather an embryo with a complete set of chromosomes.2  Fertilization occurs when the egg is fused with the somatic cell of the person to be cloned.  At the instant of this fusion, a new cloned human embryo is created.  This human embryo is nascent human life and possesses all that is necessary for continued development; nothing else must be added in order for the embryo to develop into a fully formed human.  In fact, if implanted in a womb, the cloned human embryo will continue through the subsequent stages of human development and could be birthed after 40 weeks gestation.  The location of a human embryo does not determine the embryo’s humanity.  Likewise, age, size, or degree of dependability cannot be a basis for denying rights to human beings, including human beings in the embryonic stages.

If a cloned human embryo is implanted in a woman’s womb, what will happen?

The cloned human embryo would continue through the developmental stages of human life, and if no complications arose, the woman would birth a human clone.3  Although there have been no documented instances of the implantation of a cloned human embryo or the birth of a human clone, cloned animal embryos are implanted and birthed regularly by the same process of asexual reproduction.  Since cloned human embryos are being created in U.S. laboratories (using the same procedures by which animals are cloned) and since no law exists to ban the implantation of those human clones into a woman’s womb, there is no guarantee that human clones are not being implanted and birthed.

What is the difference between “reproductive cloning” and “therapeutic cloning?”

Cloning proponents often say that “reproductive cloning” should be outlawed and “therapeutic cloning” permitted, thereby implying (1) that there is one kind of cloning for reproduction and another kind for research and (2) that embryos created by cloning can be somehow different biologically, depending on their intended use.  This is a false distinction.  Somatic cell nuclear transfer, or asexual reproduction, creates a living human embryo, at which point the question becomes what to do with this newly created human life.4 When used for research, a process popularly known as “therapeutic cloning,” the cloned human embryo will be dismembered and destroyed in the laboratory.  If the same cloned embryo is implanted and gestates, a cloned baby is birthed.  This is called “reproductive cloning.” Whether for research or reproductive purposes, cloning is cloning.  Woo Suk Hwang, the South Korean researcher who created the first cloned human embryos, admitted, “This technique [somatic cell nuclear transfer]cannot be separated from reproductive people cloning …”5

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How does human cloning exploit women?

Human cloning, whether for research or offspring, requires donated human eggs.  Scientists estimate that at least 50 eggs are required to create one cloned human embryo.  Over 200 sheep embryos were created to clone Dolly the Sheep.  Following this Dolly ratio, in order to treat 16 million Parkinson’s patients, over 800 million human eggs would need to be harvested.  Billions of eggs would be necessary to treat the countless other afflictions.

This scenario could lead to the exploitation of women.  Women, especially low-income women, will be paid to undergo fertility treatments which cause hyper-ovulation, that is, the production of excessive eggs.  The drugs required for egg production can be detrimental to a woman’s health, especially if used repetitively and in large doses – which is necessary to yield the quantities of eggs to create a significant number of cloned human embryos.  Payment to women for their eggs, even if it is considered reimbursement, would create an economic inducement for women to put themselves at risk.  This would be especially true for poor and young women.  As Francine Coeytaux of the Pro-Choice Alliance for Responsible Research noted in testimony before a California legislative committee recently: Women, not human embryos, will be the first experimental subjects of Proposition 71, California’s $3 billion funding initiative for human cloning and embryo research.”6

1. “Human Genome Project Information: Cloning Fact Sheet.” National Institute of Health . http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/HumanGenome/elsi/cloning.shtml.
2. “Human Cloning and Genetic Modification: The Basic Science You Need to Know.” The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. http://www.arhp.org/patienteducation/onlinebrochures/cloning/index.cfm?ID=282.
3. “Human Cloning and Genetic Modification: The Basic Science You Need to Know.” The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. http://www.arhp.org/patienteducation/onlinebrochures/cloning/index.cfm?ID=282.
4. Human Cloning and Human Dignity. The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics. (2002, Public Affairs, New York ), pp. 62-63.
5. “Korean Stem Cell Research Labeled Recipe for Cloning.” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. February 13, 2004 .
6. Associated Press. “Scientists seeking egg donors.” San Mateo County Times . March 11, 2005. http://www.insidebayarea.com/sanmateocountytimes/news/ci_2604995.

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