OSG Home > Opensewer 11
February 21, 2002
This page posted 12/21/01, updated 02/22/02.
When it comes to scientific advancement, the pertinent question is not "Can we do this," but rather, "Should we do this?" Aside from long-standing controversies such as global warming, abortion and euthanasia, there is probably no greater debate within the popular scientific community right now than that regarding human cloning and stem cell research.
There are three types of human cloning: embryo cloning, adult DNA cloning and therapeutic cloning (see sidebar for more detailed descriptions). Human stem cell research is related to general human cloning in that therapeutic cloning technology is used to produce embryonic stem cells on which health research can be conducted.
The benefits from therapeutic cloning and stem cell research are numerous, including: making possible the production of transplant organs from a person's own DNA; the potential to develop cures for diseases such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and others; and the unknown future medical and scientific advancements that could result from the research.
Human cloning and stem cell research raise ethical problems for many people, the most vocal of which are often religious groups. If a cloned organism were implanted into a womb, it could possibly go on to full development and birth. Because of this potential, some would argue that the organism produced in human therapeutic cloning experiments is the equivalent of any ordinary human embryo. Thus, some believe that destroying these embryos is tantamount to murder. Further, what is the fate of the soul when a human being is duplicated? As the controversy has developed over these issues, Pope John Paul II has alleged that man is attempting to play God. The scientific community has taken a stance that reproductive cloning (as opposed to therapeutic) should be banned, at least for now.
Are the social battles and consequences worth the potential (mostly unknown) future benefits of human cloning and stem cell research? Will this scientific journey result in even more cultural unrest, including possible acts of terrorism similar to that which abortion clinics have faced? Putting aside social issues, are there purely scientific reasons for humanity to avoid delving into this Pandora's Box--i.e., unforeseeable future catastrophes? Consider the long-term effects of nuclear power and the atomic bomb. Is this a similar situation?
These articles are intended to provide basic background information and to deepen the understanding of the subject at hand. This usually helps the discussion. It is not required that you read all of this, and there will be no quizzes. This particular issue is extremely complex--don't get overwhelmed by the amount of information. Just take it step by step, read what you feel are the most important articles, and absorb as much as you can. If you find a good source that we don't list here, please email us.
Designer Babies, Genetic Discrimination, and the Patenting of Human Life (RealAudio link); February 6, 2002 on Democracy NOW!
Stem Cells: A Primer, by The National Institutes of Health. This primer presents background information on stem cells. It includes an explanation of what stem cells are; what pluripotent stem cells are; how pluripotent stem cells are derived; why pluripotent stem cells are important to science; why they hold such great promise for advances in health care; and what adult stem cells are. [posted 2/02/02]
The First Human Embryo Cloned, by Jose B. Cibelli, Robert P. Lanza and Michael D. West, with Carol Ezzell (in Scientific American "SA"). On October 31, 2001, Advanced Cell Technologies successfully cloned a human being. Note that the authors support therapeutic cloning, but not reproductive cloning (here are some proponents of reproductive cloning). [posted 1/27/02]
Human Cloning: The Issues Explained, in the Guardian. This is a very good summary the current situation, and provides some good explanations of key terms as well as links to other resources. [posted 1/27/02]
The Ethical Considerations (of Therapeutic Cloning), by Ronald M. Green (in Scientific American). [posted 1/27/02]
Meaning of Life - in the Laboratory, by Leon R. Kass, in The
Public Interest [posted
Transplant Kidney Reportedly Cloned (in MSNBC). [posted 1/30/02]
Reproductive Cloning Ban Urged (in MSNBC). This message here is a similar stance to that put forth in the SA articles above. Take a look at the live vote on the article's sidebar--very interesting. [posted 1/27/02]
U.S. Embryonic Stem Cell Registry Announced, by Emma Young (in NewScientist.com). [posted 1/27/02]
Emergency Anti-Cloning Bill Introduced, in the Guardian. [Posted 1/27/02]
Stem Cell Research and Applications: Findings and Recommendations. Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute for Civil Society. You can also read the entire report (51-page PDF), or start at the front page. [Posted 8/23/01]
Ethics and moral posturing in the stem cell debate, William Saletan, Slate.com. [Posted 8/26/01]
A cautionary tale from The Atlantic Online (read this for a bit of levity). [posted 8/23/01]
Cloning information from ReligiousTolerance.org. [Posted 8/23/01]
Stem cell research information from ReligiousTolerance.org. [Posted 8/23/01]
US firm offers DNA copyrighting to clone-proof celebrities. This is not a joke (from Yahoo! Asia news). [posted 8/23/01]
Is cloning people easier than animals (MSNBC story)? [posted 8/23/01]
Clearer Guidelines Help Britain to Advance Stem Cell Work (in the New York Times. Username: "opensewer"; password: "iswatching".) [posted 8/23/01]
Human Cloning: How Close Is It? An assessment by infertility doctors, a bioethicist and a geneticist. (From PBS Frontline, 1999). [posted 8/23/01]
The American Journal of Bioethics [posted 8/23/01]
National Bioethics Advisory Commission [posted 8/23/01]
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Therapeutic cloning: This is a procedure that starts off like adult DNA cloning. However, the stem cells are removed from the embryo with the intent of producing tissue or a whole organ for transplant back into the person who supplied the DNA. The embryo dies in the process. The goal of therapeutic cloning is to produce a healthy copy of a sick person's tissue or organ for transplant (how it's done).
Adult DNA cloning: This technique produces a duplicate of an existing animal. It has been used to clone a sheep and other mammals. It has not been tried on humans. It has the potential of producing a twin of an existing person, and is a type of reproductive cloning (controversy).
Embryo cloning: This technique produces identical twins or triplets. It duplicates the process that nature uses to produce twins or triplets. Only very limited experimentation has been done on humans.