'A powerful clone of a human being comes to the rescue of mankind'. Till 1996, this could have been a plot of a sci-fi thriller, a figment of imagination, an event far from becoming true. However, with the creation of Dolly (the sheep), this concept seemed to have turned into a reality. While scientists all over the world were still mulling over the landmark breakthroughs and increasing knowledge in the field of human genetics, a group of scientists led by Dr. Ian Wilmut in the Roslin Institute in Scotland created Dolly, the first successful endeavor in the field of animal cloning. Since then, cloning has been a debate, both for its scientific as well as ethical implications. However, much of this debate revolves around human cloning. To understand it all, we need to know some human cloning facts first.
What is Human Cloning?
The simplest explanation of human cloning is the creation of a copy of another human being without involving sexual reproduction using sperms and eggs. How is this done? In this case, the nucleus of a cell that is received from the donor (which has to be cloned) is isolated from the cell. This nucleus is then inserted into an egg whose nucleus has already been removed. The egg is then subjected to chemical treatment or jolts of electricity. This results in the integration of the donor nucleus with the host egg, thus, triggering cell division. Once a desired level of cell division has been achieved by the egg (which is now referred to as the zygote), it is implanted in the surrogate mother using the technique of in vitro fertilization. This type of cloning is known as reproductive cloning. The sheep Dolly was created using this method.
The other type of cloning is therapeutic cloning. In this procedure, instead of implanting the embryo into a mother's womb, the embryo is grown to develop into stem cells. These stem cells could then be grown into organs of the human body like the skin, liver, or heart. These organs would then be used to replace the original defunct organs of the donor. Therapeutic cloning holds promise for those suffering from degenerative nervous system disorders like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Since the new organ would be created from the genetic material of the person suffering from the disease, there are no chances of a patient's body rejecting the organs. Therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research are being explored by scientists to provide answers to a number of diseases suffered by mankind.
Pros and Cons
Cloning a human being is a big step. Right since the cloning of Dolly, the interest in cloning a human being has been on the rise in the scientific community. But we need to know its pros and cons before we can form an opinion about its rationality.
- Infertility Treatment: Human cloning could be a blessing for infertile couples, as reproductive cloning does not involve the fusion of the sex cells.
- Treating Diseases: As already discussed, therapeutic cloning can be used to treat a number of degenerative diseases like those of the nervous system, spinal cord injury, and organ failure. Also who knows, it could also be used to regenerate whole limbs. This would provide a life-changing line of treatment for amputees.
- Replacing Defective Genes: Defective genes would cause sickness in an individual, irrespective of how healthy a lifestyle he leads. Advances in human cloning will help him to replace the defective genes with healthy ones.
- Cosmetic Treatment: Relieving individuals of the diseases that are caused due to plastic or cosmetic surgery is another benefit of the cloning process.
- Low Success Rate: Cloning technology is still at an infant stage. Experiments with animals show that the success rate of animal cloning is quite low. More than 90% of the efforts to produce a viable offspring in animals have failed.
- Disorders in Off-springs: Cloned animals tend to have a weak immune system due to which they are prone to infections. Such organisms often show tumorous growth, other disorders, and tend to die young. For example, a group of Japanese scientists who had cloned a dozen mice reported that the animals died early.
- Expensive and Extensive Procedure: Cloning Dolly involved 277 eggs. Out of them, only 30 started to divide and 9 induced pregnancy. Only 1 out of them survived.
These attempts with grave consequences cast a cloud of doubt over the rationality of cloning human beings.
Is Human Cloning Ethical?
Is human cloning wrong? This question plagues many a mind. Besides the scientific angle to its fallout, cloning raises a serious ethical concern like:
- Should we play God and decide whether and how human babies will be born?
- Human clones may now be created for medical reasons. But with the advancement in scientific technology, human clones may be created for other reasons, say just to create a younger copy of an older individual. Wouldn't this be an insult to humanity on the whole?
- What would be the place of a child in the society who has been created through cloning? What would be the social challenges that he would face?
- Who would be the parents of such a child?
- Maybe human cloning would be regulated, but who would do that and how?
- Even though it is therapeutic cloning, many regard it to cause destruction of the embryo.
- A clone is not an exact copy of the donor of the genetic material, as the mitochondrial DNA does not come from the donor. Also, a human being is quite affected by his experiences/environment. These experiences would always be different for the DNA donor and his clone.
- The clone would not have a biological father and mother as it is the result of asexual reproduction.
- The cloned individual could not be called the sibling, daughter, or son of the donor. He/she would have the relationship of being a clone of the DNA donor.
- Although a clone is formed from the cells of an adult, it would start its life as an infant.
- Human cloning is legally banned in many countries.
- It is legal in Great Britain for therapeutic purposes only.
- In 2001, scientists led by Panayiotis Zavos announced that they would clone a human in two years time.
Despite a couple of claims, there hasn't been any success in cloning human beings. The facts about cloning reflect the urge of many to achieve this incredible feat. Be it out of concern for the medical benefits it promises, or due to the frenzy of a genius mind, the fact is that human cloning has a lot of potential. But at present, it needs to be tightly regulated.