Much of the world was in shock when Ian Wilmut and his colleagues announced in February 1997 that they had taken a cell from a ewe’s udder and cloned a sheep named Dolly. After reviewing the issue, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission recommended a five-year moratorium on human cloning in the United States to allow further study of cloning technology and ethics. A few months later, in December 1997,Wilmut’s lab in Scotland announced that they had cloned two more sheep, Molly and Polly, this time with human blood-clotting proteins in their milk. The proteins will be extracted from the milk and used to treat human hemophilia.Wilmut’s experiment was repeated in January 1998 when researchers in Texas announced they had cloned calves whose milk produced the human serum albumin, a protein that is critical for burn patients and those suffering from liver disease.Wilmut and other researchers hope the cloned sheep and cows will become “living pharmaceutical factories” for blood proteins. Cloned animals with the human proteins are more desirable than animals that have the proteins added to their cells at a later time, scientists maintain, because the cloned animals produce the human proteins more consistently.
Further news revealed that cloning research has risen to a more disturbing level. In January 1998 physicist Richard Seed of Chicago announced that he intended to clone a human being by mid-1999. All he needs to successfully clone a human, he maintains, is $2 million, a suitable laboratory, and willing DNA donors. He expects that up to 10,000 infertile couples will use his services.
The prospect of an eccentric scientist attempting to clone humans is exactly what many bioethicists and researchers feared. In fact, some claim that in vitro fertilization (IVF)—the fertilization of an egg outside the human body—was just the first step to some serious ethical dilemmas, including eugenics, in which an embryo’s genes are manipulated to produce a child with the desired eye or hair color or with enhanced physical prowess or intelligence. Another fear is that a human will be cloned to provide organs for transplants for its genetic twin, if needed.
A Los Angeles Times editorial echoed the beliefs of many ethicists, scientists, and policy makers when it stated “such doomsday scenarios are bunk.” Critics assert that human cloning is simply not an ethical or practical solution to infertility under any circumstances. They point out that it took 276 attempts to finally clone the sheep embryo that became Dolly. Some of Wilmut’s 276 cloned embryos were born seriously deformed or died shortly after birth. Most people would find the risk to or use of that many human embryos unacceptable, they maintain, and therefore human research is not a possibility.
Others believe that, practical drawbacks aside, biomedical research should continue unrestrained. At a senate hearing on cloning, Tom Harkin, a senator from Iowa, argued that those who want to stop research on human cloning should “take your ranks alongside Pope Paul V, who in 1616 tried to stop Galileo” from publishing his theory that the earth orbited the sun. Others assert that science should proceed as far as it wants, and if something offends public sensibilities, then laws can be passed to prohibit certain procedures, if necessary. However, it appears that near-universal revulsion of human cloning among scientists, researchers, and the public will prevent the cloning of humans for eugenics or for their organs.
The ethical dilemmas presented in the arguments over human cloning are equally present in all the issues covered in Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Viewpoints. This book explores the relationship between ethics and medical science in the following chapters: Is Human Cloning Ethical? What Ethics Should Guide Organ Donations? Are Reproductive Technologies Ethical? What Ethics Should Guide Genetic Research? The authors in this anthology examine the advancements in medical science that have benefited many people but have also raised troubling questions over whether science has gone too far.