Hello dear followers,
Time for my final blogging session regarding my thesis. I can say it’s been a very exhausting, long 12 weeks yet very fulfilling, filled with great memories and even making new friends (you know who you are) at my thesis. I learned alot past weeks but most of all I hope you guys enjoyed reading (some) of my blogs. Agreed some were a little bit of the edge but that’s basically my personality speaking for me as I’m interested in quirky things. In this final blogging post, I quickly made an small paper with a little bit of insight regarding one of the (most interesting) blogging post(s) regarding cloning I made (it received the most comments).
So without further ado, enjoy the last piece of my writing regarding these topics!
Almost two decades ago, the most famous sheep in modern history was born: Dolly(5th of July, 1997) . Scientists were able to genetically clone Dolly using a single cell from an another adult sheep. However, Dolly raised the public awareness about the possible breakthrough of human cloning which subsequently led to worldwide debates regarding the ethics, the possibilities and the consequences of this matter . Even nowadays, the issue of human cloning and its worldwide acceptance or rejection is still ongoing . Hasty or incorrect decisions could lead to genetic abnormalities and accidents because human cloning is still in its infancy and far from a perfected procedure .
The term cloning is used to describe processes involved in making duplicates of biological material . More specifically, human cloning is based on the technique somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which was also used to clone Dolly. During the first phase of SCNT the nucleus of an egg cell of a female donor is removed from the cell and fused with the nucleus of a somatic cell or body cell from another donor, creating an embryo .
Furthermore, human cloning is divided into 2 categories.
First, there are the cloning processes where the created embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother who will then give birth to a clone . This is called ‘reproductive cloning’. On the other hand there is
‘therapeutic cloning’ which is used to describe cloning processes based on embryonic stem cells (ESCs). ESCs are harvested from the embryo which gets destroyed during the process. The harvested ESCs are then used to differentiate into any tissue or organs to trait various diseases and damaged tissues.
My proposal is to keep reproductive cloning banned but to legalize and fund therapeutic cloning worldwide .
While reproductive cloning is theoretically possible, the significant amount of resources required for the research, result in a huge practical barrier . For example, with mice, scientists have thousands of eggs to work with for conducting experiments . Primates on the other hand, have a much lower pool of resources, making their eggs more precious and harder to gather. The lower pool of resources combined with the extremely inefficient procedure of SCNT would make reproductive cloning unethical to spend research on . For example, Dolly was cloned successfully but only after 277 tries. The success rate hovers around 1-5 % which is extremely low. This way, it would be unethical to try hundreds of times before getting a healthy living human clone. Fetuses could possibly die during gestation or shortly after birth. Furthermore, even if successful, a lot of cloned babies would suffer from genetic abnormalities and defect organ problems, shortening their lives drastically . Combining these possible issues render it unethical to conduct research for reproductive cloning and make up the main reason why it will never get legalized in the near future.
Even if we somehow could optimize the procedure for reproductive cloning to 100% efficiency, there are still some ethical questions that can be raised. Clones could be created to help infertile parents who desire a child using their own DNA. However, no one can predict what the relationship between the parents and their cloned child will be. The parents would have to raise a delayed copy of one of themselves which may lead to emotional difficulties .
Furthermore, clones could be treated as ‘second class’ citizens with the sole purpose of being organ donors or, in an even more futuristic view, be created to make armies or workers . They might not receive the same rights and might get frowned upon, undermining the basic equal rights of human beings. While it’s unlikely that anyone would approve of such practices to begin with, history has proven many times it’s a possibility.
From an evolutionary point of view, reproductive cloning would impair the natural selection process, reducing the amount of genetic variation within the human species (due to clones having the same genetic information) . This could have a negative impact in the long run. Just because a specific genotype is beneficial at the current time, does not mean it will be the most beneficial genotype 50 years from now .
However, there does exist a future for human cloning in my opinion and it lies with therapeutic cloning. The biggest advantage of therapeutic cloning is that the ESCs are pluripotent. Pluripotent stem cells, as mentioned above, have the ability to differentiate into almost any type of cell or tissue. Furthermore, they can be grown more easily in laboratories in contrast to multipotent cells such as the adult stem cells (ASCs) which as the name suggest reside and can be harvested from the adult human body . These multipotent ASCs also have the ability to differentiate but they are far more restricted in their differentiation variation and can only differentiate into cells where they originate from .
Research regarding ASCs has shown promising results and is a hot topic because of the ethical issues regarding ESCs, yet their potential is still less significant in comparison to ESCs as a renewable source of healthy cells to treat diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s or any other organ defect for that matter, making therapeutic cloning the more interesting choice for regenerative medicine .
A quick example supporting and illustrating therapeutic cloning would be to use your own skin cells to create ESCs which then could be used to create a new organ to replace the defect organ.
The problem for therapeutic cloning however is the fact that embryos are destroyed during the harvesting process of ESCs, creating a lot of controversy about the morality concerning this technique with all sorts of different responses. For example, Belgium has allowed therapeutic cloning for medical purposes, yet a lot of countries, such as Germany, France, Brazil and India to name a few, have banned all sorts of human cloning including therapeutic cloning .
The biggest question regarding this issue is ‘When does human life actually start?’ The truth is no one knows the exact answer to this question and opinions concerning this matter vary widely across the globe .
The most conservative position claims that human life begins at conception because it has the potential to fully develop into a full-grown human, thus violating the rights of the embryo would be immoral .
Another popular belief is that life begins at birth, taking away the moral rights and legal protection embryos have. Yet the fact remains we simply don’t know the correct answer.
However, if we take the abortion or the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) technique into account, a lot of countries such as Germany, France and India are far more tolerant regarding destroying embryos .
IVF is generally considered even less controversial than abortion while there are more embryos destroyed per attempt for IVF than per abortion .
One could reason that it is less unethical to destroy an embryo before it is implanted in the womb (IVF versus abortion). Another argument why IVF is seen as less controversial is that the primary purpose of IVF is to create new life, meaning that some people are more willing to tolerate the destruction of embryos .
If I compare these generally more accepted techniques and the concept behind the use of embryos with therapeutic cloning, I say: what’s the difference? Therapeutic cloning also destroys embryos but it can also save a lot of lives.
I don’t see any justification for our discriminatory attitude towards therapeutic cloning. The embryos used in therapeutic cloning should receive just as much or as little protection as the embryos used in IVF or the embryos destroyed in abortion . If we prohibit therapeutic cloning, should we prohibit IVF and abortion as well? Probably not since IVF for example is seen as a miracle cure for infertile couples .
Thus, to end this argument, if IVF and abortion techniques continue to exist, legalize therapeutic cloning as well and make their benefits public worldwide .
There are also arguments to state that the embryo before a certain stage should not have the moral status of a person . When ESCs are harvested from the embryo, the embryo is only a few days old and literally a mass of clumped up cells . It would be difficult to establish if the embryo, though clearly alive, is actually a person . Moreover, the definition of personhood embodies uniqueness which an embryo at this stage clearly does not fulfill.
The exact description of personhood is worth another discussion and beyond the scope of this statement. But as long as there is controversy about whether an embryo is a human being, most would intuitively agree that the embryo at this stage is definitely not a person .
To summarize and end this statement, we can all agree that the issue of human cloning is complicated and complex with all sorts of different opinions regarding the matter. While almost everyone agrees reproductive cloning should remain banned for various reasons, therapeutic cloning has a bigger variation in beliefs.
Personally, I support therapeutic cloning as I believe it has a lot of potential to enhance the quality of human life.
Therapeutic cloning can prolong human lives by replacing damaged organs and tissue or cure diseases. The opposing side of therapeutic cloning claims destroying embryos for ESCs is immoral. However, I claim it is just as unethical to destroy embryos in techniques such as IVF or abortion, yet these techniques are generally more accepted. My point of view in this statement is not to discuss whether destroying embryos is immoral, but to equalize all these techniques on the same level. If IVF and abortion are legally recognized why shouldn’t therapeutic cloning be legalized as well?
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