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Illegal Beings: Human Clones

Disease Prevention and Treatment

The Cloning Question: To Do, or Not to Do

by Miguel Hernandez IV

Imagine if a new procedure were developed that could lead not only to a cure for cancer, but would provide an unlimited source of organ donors and could lead to the first effective treatment of nerve damage. Now adding to this scenario, imagine our government was taking action to ban this new procedure because of a few myths and exaggerations. This scenario is true and is taking place with human cloning at this very moment. If action is not taken, this crowning achievement of medical science could be lost forever.

It all began with the team from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, led by Dr. Ian Wilmut. Wilmut and his colleagues wanted to see if specialized cells could be reprogrammed into thinking that they were not specialized and develop all over again, thus creating a clone (Wilmut et al. 810). Cloning, as defined by the Cloning Prohibition Act of 1997, “means the production of a precise genetic copy of a molecule (including DNA), cell, tissue, plant, animal, or human” (4).

Before this experiment, it was known that once an egg cell from a mammal was fertilized, it would begin to divide and differentiate, first into an embryo, and then into other specialized cell types like skin and organs. Once specialized, scientists assumed that the cell could never become anything else. For example, skin cells could never divide and turn into organ cells (Wilmut et al. 810).

To answer their question, Wilmut’s team took a test cell from an ewe and starved it of nutrients to the point where the cell stopped dividing and making DNA. In effect, all the cell’s functions, except those necessary for life, stopped. Dubbed G0, this state is the genetic equivalent of suspended animation and the heart of Wilmut’s procedure. The team then extracted the cell’s nucleus and transplanted it into an unfertilized egg with no nucleus using electrical pulses. Finally, the egg was transplanted into a surrogate mother so it could develop. A few months later, Dolly was born. Thus, Wilmut and his team proved that cells that had already been specialized could be reprogrammed and made to develop all over again (Wilmut et al. 810-813).

Not everyone is thrilled about Dr. Wilmut’s discovery, though. During the past two years, various commentators – scientists and theologians, physicians and legal experts, talk-radio hosts and editorial writers – have been busily responding to the news, some trying to calm fears, while others fuel the controversy.

One argument against cloning comes from animal rights groups who say that animal experimentation or anything that causes “unnecessary distress to animals is inhumane” (Cunningham 92). Other arguments against cloning involve humans. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission wonders if a cloned human will be “regarded as less of a person” and treated as a scientific specimen rather than a human being (29). The media makes “inflated claims” and talks of so-called “superhumans” which will take over the world (Allen B2). Others relate to the days of slavery and hypothesize that if humans can be cloned, it makes them property, items that can be sold. The main arguments against cloning stem from the idea of eugenics, founded by Francis Galton (1822-1910). He believed that the human species could be improved by mating with those who have desirable traits and leaving those with undesirable traits alone (Gray 84).

Nazi Germany advocated eugenics in a horrifying way. In the beginning, Hitler targeted Germans, not Jews. The handicapped, mentally ill, and others with undesirable traits were sterilized so as not to reproduce. When Hitler turned on the Jews, one man’s view of the perfect society threatened the world (Gray 84-85). Because cloning offers parents the prospects of genetically altering their children, eugenics of this caliber leads into another argument against cloning.

Princeton University biologist Lee Silver envisions a future world broken into two classes: the “gen-rich” and the “gen-poor” (Lemoick 66). Silver holds that these different classes of humans will not be allowed to have sexual relations with each other. He theorizes that the two classes will become so dissimilar that the “gen-rich” will evolve into a totally new species and oppress the “gen-poor.” Illustrating his idea, Silver compares humans to monkeys. Although monkeys are extremely intelligent and the closest genetically to humans, they are still kept in zoos and experimented on because, after all, they are still not like us (Boyce 37).

On the other side of the coin, proponents of cloning declare that studying cloned animals and humans will enhance our understanding of genetics. In this light, cloning should be practiced because the potential benefits for the human species, non-medical and medical, outweigh the consequences. For example, cows will be genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals in their milk (Coghlan 5). That means that shots and pills will be notions of the past. Babies could be brought up immune to diseases by simply mixing their formula with milk. Imagine the possibilities in third world countries like Somalia. With a few gallons of drug enriched milk, whole villages could be made healthy and immune to disease. But why stop with milk? Simple foods like bread could be fortified with essential vitamins and minerals to cure malnutrition forever. Once cloned into an endless supply, hunger will also be cured. Children and families in these countries will never have to worry about food again. In fact, no one will.

Another non-medical benefit from cloning is the potential for immortality. Cloning essentially means taking DNA and reversing its age back to zero. Dr. Richard Seed, a physicist who graduated from Harvard University with three degrees, hopes that cloning will help us understand how to reverse DNA back to age 20 or whatever age we want to be. He ultimately wants to reprogram his DNA to become immortal (Cole 77). Could cloning be the long sought after fountain of youth?

The area that stands to benefit most from cloning is medicine. Theories exist about how cloning may lead to a better treatment for heart attacks. Doctors will be able to treat heart attack victims by cloning their healthy heart cells and injecting them into the areas of the heart that have been damaged. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and several other industrialized countries. If heart disease can be cured, then human life expectancy will increase.

In addition to better treatments for heart attacks, cloning may be able to ensure that we no longer suffer because of “defective genes” that cause cancer (Allen B2). Although scientists do not know exactly how cells differentiate into specific kinds of tissue, nor understand why cancerous cells lose their differentiation, cloning, at long last, could answer how to switch cells on and off, thus curing cancer.

Cloning also has the power to cure infertility. Infertile men are made to feel like they are not "not holding up their part of the bargain," while women are made to feel as if they are “useless barren vessels.” Continue...