The Cloning Quandary

Updated May 8, 2019 | Infoplease Staff

The debate surrounding what constitutes a “life” is sure to intensify as the issue of cloning enters the discussion. As a technology in its infancy, there will no doubt be unintended consequences, and we would need safeguards to prevent accidents from happening. Should cloning be made a personal decision? Should women have the same reproductive rights with their cells and genes that they have in choosing whether to give birth? Lesbian couples could exchange genes and nuclei with their partners and create their own children. Is it wrong for an infertile couple to clone one partner if it is their only chance to have a baby? Do grieving parents have the right to clone a child that is dying? Would it be unethical to replicate someone to serve as a compatible organ donor? Could we have gene banks of elite donors similar to sperm banks? These are just a few of the troubling questions that remain to be answered.

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Society has always been alarmed by the appearance of new reproductive technologies. In the early 1970s, scientists discovered how to clone a gene from one organism and transplant it into the DNA of a different species where it would replicate along with the host DNA. The technique, called recombinant DNA, or “gene splicing,” created a furor at the time, and people feared that scientists would create dangerous microorganisms that might escape from the laboratories and destroy us.

Today, pregnancy by in vitro fertilization is widely accepted. But back in 1978 when “test tube baby” Louise Brown was born—the first human conceived outside the body of a woman—it caused a storm of ethical debate. A similar outcry was heard when children were conceived by artificial insemination.

In June 1997, the President's 18-member National Bioethics Advisory Committee recommended that research on cloning humans should be banned for the present and the technology be re-evaluated several years from now. In the meantime, Congress may pass laws that make creating a child by cloning a criminal offense.

Certainly no one wants this new science to be misused. But like other scientific advances that we at first viewed with fear and suspicion, over time and applied ethically, cloning may serve humanity in a useful and benevolent way. —OTJ

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