Recent reports in the press and on the radio have raised many questions about cloning human embryos.
What is meant by “cloning”?
The term “cloning,” which applies to plants and animals as well as humans, comes from the Greek word for “two.’ One definition for human cloning is “the production, from one cell, of two (or more) different individuals with identical genetic inheritance.” Identical twins result from naturally-occurring cloning.
Since the 1950s there has been scientific research into artificially-induced cloning in animals, and this has been accomplished in frogs, mice, cattle and sheep. In the 1970s and early 1980s many scientists engaged in in-vitro fertilization began to speculate, quite openly, on possible experiments using human clones.
How can human beings be cloned?
In October, 1993, researchers in the United States announced that they had succeeded in cloning some human embryos, obtained by in-vitro fertilization. We do not know the methods used, but we do know what is done in animal research, and what the possibilities are for applying this to humans. We know, for example, that in the early human embryo each cell is totipotent up to the eight-cell stage. Totipotent means, here that each of the eight cells has all of the genetic information and d the potential to develop eventually into an adult, given adequate conditions. Thus it is possible for an embryo of eight cells, within its protective shell called the zona pellucida, to divide naturally into two parts, each part taking some part of the zona pellucida. If all goes well, identical twins will be born.
Dr. Jerome Lejeune told the Warnock commission in 1984, how artificially-induced cloning is done. “If the zona pellucida is split and the embryo is cleaved into two halves, each mass [of cells] can be inserted into a separate zona pellucida.” Dr. Joachim Huarte, an embryologist at Geneva University has explained where the extra zona pellucidas come from. The scientist must take another fertilized ovum, remove the cells by micro-techniques, and insert the cells from the split embryo.
There are other suggested methods of cloning. In 1986, one researcher Dr. Robert Jansen told the Australian Senate Commission that “it is likely that within a few years any adult cell will be able to be so managed that it produces a new individual.”
What is the purpose of cloning?
Scientists have proposed many uses for these new or potential techniques, and mostly they read like science fiction. One of the first ideas was to clone an embryo and produce twins. One embryo, twin “A,” would be deep frozen; the other embryo, twin “B<” would be allowed to develop, past the stage at which it could be implanted in the mother’s womb, and then examined for chromosomal constitution, normality of growth, etc…If twin “B” is then declared to have passed the test it will be allowed to die; and twin “A” will be removed from the deep-freezer, thawed out, and transferred into the mother. If, however, twin “B” is found to be defective then both embryos will be discarded. This procedure is supposedly to prevent the births of babies with conditions such as cystic fibrosis.
Another suggestion is that one twin should be deep frozen so that later he or she might be used for “spare parts.” The twin would be genetically identical and less likely to be rejected in organ transplant, and could therefore serve as an organ bank to be cannibalized by his brother. (This suggestion was actually put forward by the Warnock Commission as meriting discussion).
What does public opinion say about cloning? Aren’t there any laws?
Wherever people have learned about cloning they have been shocked and have condemned it. Almost all churches, all polls, all Government inquiries and major medical groups, such as the Australian and British Medical Associations are adamantly opposed to cloning. On the other hand, scientists have outstripped the law, and there are few areas where cloning is against a statutory law. Canada does not have a law which protects a child before it is born, and there is nothing illegal about cloning.
However, in some areas, where public outrage has infected the politicians, there are laws; embryo experiments are banned in Germany; the Infertility (Medical Procedures) Act, 1982 of Victoria, Australia makes cloning illegal; the Swiss guidelines oppose embryonic research and oppose freezing, even for a short time (1987); The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly is totally against cloning.
In 1984 the late Professor Paul Ramsey spoke on embryo experimentation to the Warnock Committee. He remarked: “…there may be some thing that men should never do. The good things men do can be made complete only by the things they refuse to do.”