Therapeutic Cloning: a Brief History and Description of "Cloning", Laws Regarding It, and the Major Ethical Concerns Regarding It
Table of Contents
Therapeutic Cloning: a Brief History and Description of "Cloning", Laws Regarding It, and the Major Ethical Concerns Regarding It
Therapeutic cloning relies on a process named Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. Without this process, cloning cannot take place. In this article, we have summarized this process along with the idea of therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic Cloning poses serious ethical questions as well as legal issues. The most serious and also the most intriguing of these questions are regarding a specific type of Therapeutic Cloning called Reproductive Cloning.
In the late 20th century, the world was introduced to “Dolly” the sheep. Dolly was a major advancement in the field of cloning. Dolly was the first mammal ever to be cloned successfully. This advancement left much of the world wondering what was possible in the new frontier with the use of this new process called “cloning”. If animals could be cloned, specifically mammals, then humans could also be cloned. With the concept of cloning fresh in everyone’s mind, serious ethical questions were posed as whether or not a cloned human being would have an opportunity to be a unique individual along with many other similar questions.
In this article, we will describe Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (the process required to clone genetic material). We give important dates and data regarding this process and briefly discuss “Dolly” the sheep (the world’s most famous clone). After this, we discuss therapeutic cloning and its drawbacks, the laws regarding it, and last give an in-depth look at many of the major arguments both for and against the most controversial type of therapeutic cloning, reproductive cloning.
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) - Basic Description
SCNT is a laboratory procedure for creating a cloned embryo, using an ovum with a donor nucleus; this procedure is also known as therapeutic cloning. To execute this procedure, the nucleus which contains the organism's DNA is removed and simultaneously an egg cell nucleus is also removed. That nucleus is then inserted into the egg cell and reprograms the host cell. It is then shocked so it can begin to divide and hopefully form into a blastocyst which is an early stage embryo with about one hundred cells. For the current policies for SCNT we have that In the United States, it has remained legal and has not been subjected to federal law. In the United Kingdom however, permission must be granted by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in order to conduct experiments using SCNT (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer).
Background/History - Several Important Dates and Data Regarding SCNT
November of 2001, scientists from Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT), a biotechnology company in Massachusetts, claims that they successfully cloned the first human embryos; this is allegedly was to advanced the field of therapeutic cloning. An interesting fact is that the needle used to extract the eggs was less than 2/10000th of an inch wide and the chemical used to stimulate the division is called ionomycin. This alleged accomplishment is not too impressive because of the eight eggs used only three began dividing and only one divided into six cells before stopping (Weekes, Rob). In the recent years there seems to be little movement in the field of therapeutic cloning largely as a result of alternate ways of modifying cells to achieve the same result in a more efficient way; one of those methods is the induced pluripotent stem cell approach. Therapeutic cloning would seem to be a practice that is fading away. Also, and I quote, " The Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine and its Additional Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine, on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Being appear to ban SCNT of human beings. Of the Council's 45 member states, the Convention has been signed by 31 and ratified by 18. The Additional Protocol has been signed by 29 member nations and ratified by 14. The UN is currently against all forms of human cloning." (Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer).
"Dolly" the Sheep
Dolly the sheep has to be the most recognizable case of all the kinds of cloning in mainstream society today; she was born July 5th, 1996 and died February 14, 2003. She was the very first mammal to be cloned and she was cloned using an adult somatic cell using SCNT. Professors Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell as well as other colleagues at the Roslin Institute of Edinburgh, Scotland accomplished this. Surprising Dolly gave birth to six lambs total; she gave birth to one lamb named Bonnie in April of 1998, then twins after that, then finally triplets after that. An important quote given by Professor Wilmut was that the nuclear transfer technique may never be sufficiently efficient for use in humans.(Cloning Dolly the Sheep)
The SCNT alternative: Pluripotent Stem Cells
Because of the moral issues concerning Therapeutic Cloning, Scientists have come up with a new way of generating stem cells called pluripotent stem cells which was developed in the year 2007. This process seems to be outclassing Therapeutic Cloning because in is having a lot of initial success (Cloning Fact Sheet). The process of Pluripotent stem cells involves inducing or forcing the expression of specific genes and proteins; there are certain risks however with this. One such risk would include the fact that viruses are used to alter the genome of the cell; this factor could lead to the expression of cancer-causing genes or oncogenes may potentially trigger. Fortunately, this issue was addressed in the year 2008 when scientists engineered a way to remove the oncogenes after the induction of pluripotency; this has made pluripotent stem cells the premier technique in the study of stem cells. There is still a major concern with these new cells because they still have the habit of forming tumors when injected into immunodeficient mice; this is a major obstacle to this field as it applies to regenerative medicine through cloning. One possible solution to this has been achieved through the use of proteins; using just proteins instead of genes, scientists were able to create pluripotent cells as well (What Is Cloning). This however, has a much lower efficiency but hopefully refinements could lead to production of safer pluripotent stem cells. Also using adenovirus or plasmids are typically considered to be safer then retroviral methods.
Therapeutic Cloning: Description
Therapeutic cloning is a procedure in which SCNT is used to create new organs. The cell that is so created using SCNT is permitted to divide repeatedly, but only enough to form a blastocyst. Scientists then extract stem cells from it, and use those cells to grow tissue that are a perfect genetic match for the patient. Therapeutic cloning can produce stem cells which may be used to treat disorders such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. The cells created by therapeutic cloning can potentially be transplanted into the patient to treat a disease from which the patient suffers (AMA).
In laymen’s terms, if a person needs a new organ, a scientist can extract DNA through skin cells, called somatic cells because they are not reproductive cells, and implant them into a donated fertilized egg. Then, the new cell is shocked and made to divide into an embryo. The embryo is allowed to grow into a cluster of about 100 cells, called a blastocyst, which is genetically identical to the hosts’ DNA. Then, the stem cells are harvested to construct a new organ that will not, in theory, be rejected by the host.
Therapeutic Cloning: Drawbacks
There are many drawbacks to therapeutic cloning. Most of these drawbacks have to do with moral and ethical issues, but some of them stem from lack of research.
The main drawback to therapeutic cloning is that stem cells are very similar to cancer cells. Both cell types have the ability to reproduce without letting up, and some studies show that after sixty cycles of cell division, stem cells can build up mutations that could lead to cancer. More research must be done on stem cells and cancer cells to determine why the similarities exist before therapeutic cloning can be used to treat diseases (NHGRI).
Most of the other drawbacks come from an ethical standpoint. There are many ethical concerns when it comes to any type of cloning. Although therapeutic cloning is the least controversial, there are still concerns from many religious and political groups.
The controversy in SCNT is that people define “life” in different ways. Many religious groups believe that life begins at conception. This would mean that the fertilized egg used in SCNT would be a human life that would be sacrificed to grow organs. Most of the controversy concerning human life and cloning comes from reproductive cloning, but to those who believe that a human life begins as an egg, the controversy can be carried over to therapeutic cloning.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some who are against cloning for the fact that it may mean that eventually every disease will have a cure. This may sound like a good thing, but if there were no diseases, then the human life span would be greatly extended. Our species depends on death because there are not enough resources on our planet to sustain as much life as we are capable of producing. If therapeutic cloning research can help to cure disease, then we would have to also put more research into alternate resources to sustain a larger population.
Another controversy surrounding therapeutic cloning is that many believe that it is merely a stepping-stone to reproductive cloning. Since the two processes start in the same way, it is hard to say whether money invested in therapeutic cloning is also being used in the research of reproductive cloning. Many states have laws, discussed below, about which type of cloning research is allowed to be funded, but research of SCNT can apply to several types of cloning.
Several states in the United States have laws pertaining to cloning. The issue was first addressed by California legislature, which banned reproductive cloning only in 1997. Since then, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia have passed laws to prohibit reproductive cloning, although Rhode Island’s legislature did expire in July 2010. Arizona and Missouri have rules that deal with the use of public funds for cloning, and Maryland prohibits the use of state stem cell research funds for reproductive cloning and possibly therapeutic cloning depending on how human cloning is defined. Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota laws also prohibit therapeutic cloning. Virginia's law is vague on what types of cloning are banned because the law does not define the term "human being," which is used in the definition of human cloning. Rhode Island law does not prohibit cloning for research and California and New Jersey human cloning laws specifically permit cloning for the purpose of research (Human Cloning Laws).
A Highly Controversial Type of Therapeutic Cloning: Reproductive Cloning
Therapeutic Cloning as a concept does not carry that much controversy, but a specific type of Therapeutic Cloning called Reproductive Cloning is where we can find the major arguments for and against cloning. Of these issues, there are many arguments in favor of the practice of cloning. Here are some them: Reproductive Liberty, Savior Siblings, Cloning in order to Replace a Deceased Child, and the Resultant Loss of Therapeutic Cloning for Stem Cell Research and Treating Diseases.
Major Arguments in Support of Therapeutic/Reproductive Cloning
The first major argument for reproductive cloning is Reproductive Liberty. Reproductive Liberty is an issue involving the westernized idea that everyone has the right to procreate (Manninen 4a). For many with reproductive issues and abnormalities, this is not an option, but with therapeutic cloning it would be. For instance, a man who is reproductively sterile would have the ability to be genetically cloned. The embryo as a result of this cloning could then be carried to term by his wife or significant other. Another serious reproductive issue that could be avoided is genetic predisposition to disease. A person with certain genetic markers for serious diseases could chose to have their partner cloned and doing so avoid reproducing a child with their specific disease potential.
The second major argument for reproductive cloning is that of a “Savior” sibling. The idea behind this is that a clone of an existing person would be a perfect genetic match for bodily fluids, non-vital organs, umbilical cord blood, and tissue to that person. For instance, if you were in need a kidney and had a genetic clone, that clone could consensually give you the needed kidney. This example also applies to blood, bodily fluids, and tissue.
The third major argument in support of reproductive cloning is for replacing deceased children. Many parents who have lost a child feel that having the choice to try and clone the deceased child is a right that they would like. Although a genetic clone of the deceased would not “bring” their child back, it would help them try to “get back” what they had previously lost.
The last major argument in support of cloning is that to further the disease and illness research associated with therapeutic cloning. Cloning, not for reproductive purposes, but for therapeutic or research purposes would still have to be permitted.
Now, we have examined the major arguments for reproductive cloning. Let’s examine some of the arguments against it. The major arguments in this category include: the right to an open future, the right to a unique genetic identity, cloning is wrong because it is “playing God” or because it is “unnatural”, the dangers of cloning, cloning turns children into designer commodities, and cloning and the ambiguities of familial roles (Manninen 5a-e).
Major Arguments against Therapeutic/Reproductive Cloning
The first major argument against cloning is “the right to an open future”. In this argument, opponents of cloning hold that “a cloned child’s identity and individuality will be compromised given that she will be “saddled with a genotype that has already lived” (Kass, 1998, 56; see also Annas, 1998 and Kitcher, 1997). In doing so, this clone would be deprived of his/her own right to an “open future”.
The second major argument against cloning deals with the right to a unique genetic identity. Opponents of cloning argue that cloning violates an existing person’s right to a unique genetic code being that every human that lives or has ever lived possesses a unique genetic code and if cloning was permitted, this “uniqueness” would cease to exist.
The third major argument against cloning states that cloning removes God from the process of creation by overstepping a human role in scientific research and development (Manninen 5c). Any method of procreation that does not implement traditional modes of conception, i.e., not involving the union of sperm and ova, is guilty of one (or both) of these infractions (Goodman, 2008; Tierney, 2007).
The last major argument against reproductive cloning is that there are dangers associated with cloning. Many of those who would otherwise support cloning believe that a cloned child would suffer from serious genetic defects or that many severely defective embryos would be created in the process of obtaining a healthy embryo. The creator of the infamous “Dolly”, Ian Wilmut has denounced human reproductive cloning as to dangerous to attempt stating that “Dolly was derived from 277 embryos, so the other 276 didn’t make it” (Travis 2001).
With the major arguments of the proponents and opponents of reproductive cloning having been discussed we can see many of the moral and ethical issues involved with human reproductive and therapeutic cloning.
Therapeutic cloning is the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer to create new organs for people in need. One specific type of therapeutic cloning, called reproductive cloning, can be especially beneficial. But, although cloning can be useful, there are also major drawbacks. Cloning is still in the beginning stages of research so, like most new processes, there are many issues involving safety and efficiency. In addition, there are ethical concerns regarding the creation of new life. Therapeutic cloning is a controversial, possibly dangerous, and potentially life changing technology.
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