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What is Human Cloning?
Cloning is a form of asexual reproduction. One method of asexual reproduction is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), in which the nucleus from a human egg is discarded and a somatic cell (any human cell other than an egg or sperm cell) is then inserted into the enucleated egg. At that moment of fusion, a new human life has been created, and his or her cells begin multiplying in the same way as those of a human life created by traditional fertilization. Even though no sperm was involved, the product of asexual reproduction and SCNT is indeed a new tiny human being; the somatic cell acts as the fertilizing agent for the enucleated egg.
There are two types of cloning: reproductive and research (or therapeutic) cloning. The same scientific process is used for both types; the difference is how these cloned humans are used after they are created. In reproductive cloning, the cloned human embryos are implanted into a womb with the intention of birthing a cloned baby. In research or therapeutic cloning, the cloned human embryos are created for and thus destroyed through scientific experimentation. Proponents of research/therapeutic cloning want to create the human clones in order to extract their stem cells for scientific experimentation via embryonic stem cell research. Dismembering the embryos to harvest their stem cells kills these cloned human embryos. Therefore, therapeutic/research cloning entails the intentional and premeditated death of these tiny human embryos.
The ethics of human cloning
Many ethical problems arise with both types of human cloning. In addition to the deliberate destruction of the cloned human embryos for research/therapeutic cloning, scientists cloning for reproductive purposes are engineering the genetic code for these cloned humans (as opposed to natural selection). The scientists then determine which characteristics are desirable and which cloned humans should be born and, of course, who of them are unfit and should die.
In November 2007, Nature (a science journal) published an article asserting that scientists have just successfully cloned primate embryos. However, they used 304 eggs in order to make two lines of embryonic stem cells (one of which was chromosomally abnormal), making such a process profoundly inefficient and expensive. The potential consequences of not only creating innocent human life in the laboratory, but also manipulating the human genetic code, are too great.
Some advocate that human embryos should be cloned because research using the extracted stem cells could lead to cures for diseases. However, this over-exaggerated potential for cures in no way justifies lethal experimentation on nascent human life. To date, no cures or medical breakthroughs have been realized with embryonic stem cell research, while over fifty-eight diseases and conditions have been successfully treated with adult stem cell therapies, which is a morally acceptable option with proven results.
Is human cloning necessary?
No, human cloning is not even necessary. Dr. Ian Wilmut, the British scientist who made headlines for cloning Dolly the sheep in 1997, has recently decided to no longer pursue therapeutic cloning. He had been awarded a license to clone human embryos in 2005, but he has now acknowledged, “Given the low efficiency, you wonder just how long nuclear transfer will have a useful life.” Dr. Wilmut has instead decided to pursue research referred to as dedifferentiation, which was first conducted in Japan by Prof. Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University. This new, more promising research creates embryo-like stem cells without human eggs and without creating and destroying human cloned embryos. He has successfully transformed skin cells into what seem to be versatile stem cells; these cells are called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and exhibit the typical activity seen in embryos. Dedifferentiation is much more scientifically promising than human cloning and is morally acceptable and preferable.