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Human cloning is the creation of a genetically identical copy of a human (not usually referring to monozygotic multiple births), human cell, or human tissue. The ethics of cloning is an extremely controversial issue. The term is generally used to refer to artificial human cloning; human clones in the form of identical twins are commonplace, with their cloning occurring during the natural process of reproduction. There are two commonly discussed types of human cloning: therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning involves cloning cells from an adult for use in medicine and is an active area of research, while reproductive cloning would involve making cloned humans. Such reproductive cloning has not been performed and is illegal in many countries. A third type of cloning called replacement cloning is a theoretical possibility, and would be a combination of therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Replacement cloning would entail the replacement of an extensively damaged, failed, or failing body through cloning followed by whole or partial brain transplant.

History

Although the possibility of cloning humans has been the subject of speculation for much of the twentieth century, scientists and policy makers began to take the prospect seriously in the 1960s. Nobel Prize winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg advocated for cloning and genetic engineering in a seminal article in the American Naturalist in 1966 and again, the following year, in the Washington Post. He sparked a debate with conservative bioethicist Leon Kass, who wrote at the time that "the programmed reproduction of man will, in fact, dehumanize him." Another Nobel Laureate, James D. Watson, publicized the potential and the perils of cloning in his Atlantic Monthly essay, "Moving Toward the Clonal Man", in 1971.

Human cloning also gained a foothold in popular culture, starting in the 1970s. Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, David Rorvik's In His Image: Toward Cloning of a Man, Woody Allen's film Sleeper and The Boys from Brazil all helped to make the public aware of the ethical issues surrounding human cloning.

Ethical implications

Advocates of human therapeutic cloning believe the practice could provide genetically identical cells for regenerative medicine, and tissues and organs for transplantation. Such cells, tissues and organs would neither trigger an immune response nor require the use of immunosuppressive drugs. Both basic research and therapeutic development for serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, as well as improvements in burn treatment and reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, are areas that might benefit from such new technology. New York University bioethicist Jacob M. Appel has argued that "children cloned for therapeutic purposes" such as "to donate bone marrow to a sibling with leukemia" might someday be viewed as heroes.

Proponents claim that human reproductive cloning also would produce benefits. Severino Antinori and Panos Zavos hope to create a fertility treatment that allows parents who are both infertile to have children with at least some of their DNA in their offspring.

Some scientists, including Dr. Richard Seed, suggest that human cloning might obviate the human aging process. Dr. Preston Estep has suggested the terms "replacement cloning" to describe the generation of a clone of a previously living person, and "persistence cloning" to describe the production of a cloned body for the purpose of obviating aging, although he maintains that such procedures currently should be considered science fiction and current cloning techniques risk producing a prematurely aged child.

In Aubrey de Gray's proposed SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), one of the considered options to repair the cell depletion related to cellular senescence is to grow replacement tissues from stem cells harvested from a cloned embryo.

Opponents of human cloning argue that the process will likely lead to severely disabled children.For example, bioethicist Thomas Murray of the Hastings Center argues that "it is absolutely inevitable that groups are going to try to clone a human being. But they are going to create a lot of dead and dying babies along the way."ie: because of the difficulty of cloning any living animal, it is likely that there would be a great number of failures in the creation of a living human clone, such as clones without viable immune systems or other gross genetic failures.

Current law

United Nations

On December 12, 2001, the United Nations General Assembly began elaborating an international convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings. A broad coalition of States, including Spainmarker, Italymarker, Philippinesmarker, the United Statesmarker, Costa Ricamarker and the Holy See sought to extend the debate to ban all forms of human cloning, noting that, in their view, therapeutic human cloning violates human dignity. Costa Rica proposed the adoption of an international convention to ban all forms of Human Cloning. Unable to reach a consensus on a binding convention, in March 2005 a non-binding United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning calling for the ban of all forms of Human Cloning contrary to human dignity, was finally adopted.

Australia

Australia had prohibited human cloning, though as of December 2006, a bill legalising therapeutic cloning and the creation of human embryos for stem cell research passed the House of Representatives. Within certain regulatory limits, and subject to the effect of state legislation, therapeutic cloning is now legal in some parts of Australia.

European Union

The European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine prohibits human cloning in one of its additional protocols, but this protocol has been ratified only by Greecemarker, Spainmarker and Portugalmarker. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union explicitly prohibits reproductive human cloning, though the Charter currently carries no legal standing. The proposed Treaty of Lisbon would, if ratified, make the charter legally binding for the institutions of the European Union.

United States

In 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007, the United States House of Representatives voted whether to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic. Each time, divisions in the Senate over therapeutic cloning prevented either competing proposal (a ban on both forms or reproductive cloning only) from passing. Some American states ban both forms of cloning, while some others outlaw only reproductive cloning.

Current regulations prohibit federal funding for research into human cloning, which effectively prevents such research from occurring in public institutions and private institutions such as universities which receive federal funding. However, there are currently no federal laws in the United States which ban cloning completely, and any such laws would raise difficult Constitutional questions similar to the issues raised by abortion.

United Kingdom

The British government introduced legislation in order to allow licensed therapeutic cloning in a debate in January 14, 2001 in an amendment to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990. However, on November 15, 2001, a pro-life group won a High Courtmarker legal challenge that effectively left cloning unregulated in the UK. Their hope was that Parliament would fill this gap by passing prohibitive legislation. The government was quick to pass legislation prohibiting reproductive cloning Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001. The remaining gap with regard to therapeutic cloning was closed when the appeals courts reversed the previous decision of the High Court.

The first licence was granted on August 11, 2004 to researchers at the University of Newcastlemarker to allow them to investigate treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

In popular culture

Cloning is a recurring theme in contemporary science fiction. Examples include the novels Joshua Son of None (about the cloning of an assassinated U.S. President strongly implied to be John F. Kennedy) and The Boys from Brazil (cloning Adolf Hitler), as well as the Star Wars films and TV series The Clone Wars. The 2000 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The 6th Day and 2005 The Island, directed by Michael Bay, also explores the theme of human cloning. An episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (Similitude) deals with the moral and ethical issues surrounding growing a human clone to harvest tissue for an injured crewman. The famous video game franchise Metal Gear Solid, also revolves around the concept of cloning and genetic alteration. In Margaret Peterson Haddix's novel Double Identity, Bethany is an exact copy of her deceased older sister Elizabeth. The young adult sci-fi novel The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, also explores the idea of cloning.

Religious objections

The Roman Catholic Church, under the papacy of Benedict XVI, has condemned the practice of human cloning, in the magisterial instruction Dignitas Personae, stating that it represents a "grave offense to the dignity of that person as well as to the fundamental equality of all people".

Human Cloning is forbidden in Islam. The Islamic Fiqh Academy, in its Tenth Conference proceedings, which was convened in Jeddahmarker, Saudi Arabiamarker in the period from June 28, 1997 to July 3, 1997, issued a Fatwā stating that human cloning is haraam (prohibited by the faith).

Bibliography

  • Araujo, Robert John,“The UN Declaration on Human Cloning: a survey and assesment of the debate,” 7 The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 129 - 149 (2007).


References

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