Earlier this year, three doctors met in Rome and announced they would continue with their attempts at cloning humans.
The Italian doctor, Severino Antinori, told a group of scientists and journalists, “Some people say we are going to clone the world, but this isn’t true. We’re talking science, we’re not here to create a fuss.”
On March 7, 1997 the world was stunned by the news that a team of scientists in Edinburgh, Scotland had successfully cloned a sheep they named Dolly. All of a sudden, the worries of science fiction writers seemed very relevant. Would vast armies of cloned soldiers be raised to fights wars for us? Or perhaps we’d create a race of slaves to do our bidding?
However, at the symposium in Rome, the doctors insisted they were motivated solely by the desire to help infertile couples have children.
Cloning is the Pandora’s box of the new millennium. No one can be certain where this technology will lead, yet the lure and romantic possibilities we envision are an overwhelming temptation.
A wealthy couple, whose 10-month old baby died of a heart defect, is working with a company called Clonaid so they can ‘create a healthy duplicate, a twin,’ of their son. In a heart-felt letter to the U.S. House of Representatives, the father (who chooses to remain anonymous for safety reasons) writes, “I could do no less for him. He deserves a chance to live, to grow, to learn, to walk, to talk, go to school, to listen to music, to drive a car, to make a difference in this world; all these things he would never have the chance to do if this were the end…how could this be, how could a father accept this outcome?”
If you were able to give back to the parents the children they lost in Columbine or at the Oklahoma bombing, would you?
Inevitably, there are those who border on bizarre. Bob Meyer, the founder and president of Americans for Cloning Elvis (ACE) has started a petition to have, yes, the King himself, cloned. The petition reads, “We the undersigned, in our enduring love for Elvis, implore all those involved in cloning to hear our plea. One cell would allow future generations to witness his presence. The technology is here, and this petition is a testament to our will.”
Apparently, two people have claimed to have samples suitable for cloning. One person has a wart and the other a toenail.
The problem with cloning celebrities or notable individuals is that it is highly unlikely the cloned individual would be able to equal the achievements of their genetic ‘twin’. Is it realistic to expect a cloned Einstein to equal the accomplishments of the ‘original’? Would a cloned Nelly Furtado still want to fly? But then again, the nature vs. nurture debate would be resolved once and for all.
And, of course, there are those that will leave you speechless. You can visit a website that proposes the following, “We can take DNA samples from Jesus’ Shroud of Turin and use them to clone the second coming! This is fantastic, but to stop here would be blasphemy. Friends, we should clone a Jesus for anyone who wants one. Why, any woman that wanted to could immaculately conceive Jesus. No more communicating with God through your pastor or priest. If you have a question for God you could just call home and ask him. Just imagine a world with a Jesus in every household. Sounds like heaven to me. I urge you to tell your friends and neighbours about Jesus. No need to be greedy, they can have one too.”
Are they kidding? Who knows, but what they propose is not as far-fetched as it sounds. The possibilities of cloning are as limitless as our imagination, and some people have really sick imaginations.
It is not surprising then, that governments around the world are either banning or introducing strict regulations to monitor the technology.
The Canadian Minister of Health, Allan Rock, has presented a draft law to the House of Commons Committee on Health that would ban human cloning and regulate assisted human reproduction. The law would ban the sale and purchase of human embryos, sex selection of children for non-medical reasons, hybrid animal-human embryos and creation of embryos solely for research. The committee has until January to propose their changes.
The question no longer seems to be if we will clone humans, but when? Somewhere, sometime, a human clone will be born. This fact has gripped our species in a global debate.
There are anti-cloning advocates who believe human cloning shouldn’t be allowed since it infringes on one of the things we value most, our individuality. Some also believe that human cloning may damage dignity and break down our social structure. Some religious groups and other organizations say human cloning is wrong. Period.
Daniel Osmond, a Professor of Physiology and Medicine in Toronto, believes there are inherent problems in changing the natural course of a species, “I feel that if we clone ourselves we will limit our ability to adapt. I believe we need the diversity nature provides,” says Osmond.
Of course, there are those who believe that the ability to clone humans is invaluable, especially if we take into consideration that we don’t necessarily have to clone entire people. For example, cells could be duplicated so that victims of severe burns could grow back their own skin.
Dr. Ian Wilmut, one of the scientists responsible for cloning Dolly, in his article written for Scientific American, states, “Cloning offers many other possibilities. One is the generation of genetically modified animal organs that are suitable for transplantation into humans.”
Wilmut goes on to say, “At present, thousands of patients die every year before a replacement heart, liver or kidney becomes available.” He explains that pig organs that are transplanted into humans would be rapidly destroyed by the human immune system and suggests that organs from a pig that have been genetically altered could eventually be accepted into the human body and save lives.
He also adds, “Another promising area is the rapid production of large animals carrying genetic defects that mimic human illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis. Although mice have provided some information, mice and humans have very different genes for cystic fibrosis. Sheep are expected to be more valuable for research into this condition, because their lungs resemble those of humans.” However, creating animals with genetic defects so we can study them raises further ethical debate.
There is a company in Texas called Genetic Savings and Clone that states on their website, “A few years down the line, cloning pets and livestock is likely to be commonplace…Gene banking is easy and affordable. We’ll help your veterinarian obtain small tissue samples from your animal, which we’ll then specially prepare and store in liquid nitrogen, where they can safely remain indefinitely.” They even have a banner that says gift certificates are available.
Many argue that cloning animals could save species that are newly extinct or on the brink of extinction. For example, scientists in Spain are working on bringing back the bucardo, a newly extinct Spanish mountain goat while other teams are looking into saving rare animals such as the African bongo, the ocelot and the giant panda.
Robert P. Lanza, one of the lead authors of a study published in a recent issue of the journal Cloning, says it is unlikely scientists will be able to resurrect a woolly mammoth from specimens frozen for centuries in Siberian permafrost because their DNA has become fragmented.
Scientists believe the potential of human cloning is so valuable to the human race that it would be premature to stop research now. They are just beginning to understand the possibilities of the technology.
The notion of cloning, particularly human cloning, challenges our sense of morality and ethics as we pursue knowledge through science and technology. Regardless of our point of view this issue will force us all to reflect on our values and make decisions that may alter the natural evolution of the human species. Some have said, we have come to a second Genesis and we are playing God.