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Technology raises possibility of human cloning

Feb. 27, 2001

Procedure may be inevitable despite ethical controversy

By JED WYSE

Reporter

Imagine this: You and your spouse have been trying for years to have a child. Finally, one day you discover you will indeed have a child. You struggle through nine months of pregnancy until the big day comes. You finally have a child. Then you find out there are complications and the baby will soon die. It has taken years to get to this point, and there is no chance of getting pregnant again. If possible, would you allow doctors to take a tissue sample of your child and have your baby cloned?

This is a question society may soon have to answer. After years of research, human cloning is no longer a matter of if, but a question of when.

Many of the previously thought impossible aspects of human cloning were solved with the birth of Dolly the sheep, which was named after Dolly Parton because the adult cell was taken from a mammary gland.

One difficulty facing the creators of Dolly involved the fusing of an adult cell to a donor egg. Scientists accomplished this with an electric shock that brought the fertilized egg to life. Scientists then had to trick the DNA in the adult nucleus to behave like a newly fertilized egg and begin dividing. The embryo was then implanted into the womb of a surrogate mother.

Human cloning would work in much the same manner.

In the case of human cloning the technology will probably be available long before the issues surrounding it are agreed upon. Experts in cellular biology claim that the technology is presently available and may well be used successfully in the next year.

Some believe that studies involving human cloning could lead to the creation of genetically identical tissue benefiting people with Parkinson's and other diseases. If so, this could be used to cure many previously incurable diseases.

Some supporters wish to live forever and others want to pursue the studies of genetic engineering and eugenics. Eugenics involves the breeding of people for the purpose of genetic improvements.

Supporters claim that this would in no way resemble the work of the Nazis' efforts toward creating a superior race. It would be used to help all people create genetically superior offspring.

As far as eugenics and genetic engineering are concerned, 'we have to decide which traits are desirable and [whether it is] desirable to change them,' Dr. Christopher Kearney, assistant professor of biology, said.

'One serious concern about cloning has to do with the manipulative control of another human life,' Dr. Dan McGee, professor of religion, said. 'No human life should ever be created just to serve another person's life. [Each person] should be born with the opportunity to discover it's own purpose.'

'There might be a rare circumstance where cloning might be acceptable,' McGee said. 'If a couple who can't get pregnant finally does and then loses the child, I could imagine this child's second birth. The only purpose of this child would be to be a child to these parents.'

In this case, parents might not realize that a clone of a lost child would not be the same as the original. The child would be gestated in a different womb, subjected to different environmental influences and raised by parents who have been changed by the loss of a child, wrote Margaret Talbot in The New York Times Magazine.

A horrifying aspect of human cloning would be 'to know so much from such an early age about your own fate - what diseases you'd be likely to get, what personality flaws?' wrote sociobiologist Richard Dawkins.

Obstacles in the way of cloning include the moral questions associated with it. 'Our compulsion with using technology to make babies when tens of thousands of babies are not developing their brains adequately [because of malnutrition] is, in my opinion, a serious judgment about all of us,' McGee said.

Because of the birth difficulties associated with cloning, former-President Clinton signed a five-year moratorium beginning in 1997 on the use of federal funds for human cloning research. This was in response to the recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission.