Cloning danger: 'Making' a human could be tragic mistake
Tuesday, April 3, 2001
All the hoopla that attended the cloning of a sheep named Dolly four years ago might lead some to believe that this process is not much more complicated now than ordering another print from a photographic negative.
That's far from the truth. Putting aside the state of the scientific, the major issues are ethical and legal. And until those issues are fully aired and explored, the probability that this promising technology will be abused is too great to ignore.
Cloning emerged in the public spotlight a relatively short time ago. There has not been adequate time for a thorough airing of the relevant issues. In time, public consensus is likely to evolve, based on a wide understanding of what is involved. As for cloning humans, there already is strong opposition to doing this. And to move forward before a full examination of the ethical and legal implications would be irresponsible.
This science is in its infancy. Cloning of animals has resulted in severe problems, including heart and lung defects, developmental delays and malfunctioning immune systems. The thought of rushing into experimentation with human reproduction that almost certainly will lead to these same types of problems is unacceptable.
But, as already has been evident in the field of genetic engineering, the profit motive often produces questionable efforts.
Congress failed to ban human cloning in 1998 and a House subcommittee conducted a hearing Wednesday. The feeling of many members of Congress is that cloning should be banned, and such a law would be appropriate and well received.
One of the goofier proponents of human cloning is Claude Vorilhon, who goes by the name Rael and runs a religious sect in Canada that believes mankind was created by space aliens.
This sounds like something out of a bad sci-fi movie.
Dr. Panayiotis Zavos, a fertility expert and director of the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Ky., told the House committee he intends to clone a human within two years outside the United States. At this stage of the science, human cloning could be tragic.
Reasonable people would agree with Rep. W.J. "Billy'' Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the committee that conducted the cloning hearing. Tauzin told an interviewer last week, "I won't kid you. I feel relatively strongly right now that there's a problem with cloning a human being, and not just from a safety standpoint but from a legal and ethical standpoint.''
Cloning a human would be reckless and irresponsible in the view of Massachusetts Institute of Technology biology professor Rudolph Jaenisch, who testified at the hearing. In an earlier interview with The New York Times, he remarked, "What do you do with humans who are born with half a kidney or no immune system?''
Genetic problems crop up almost every time scientists try to clone animals. But as these animal experiments continue, researchers will learn much about the complications and the ethical implications associated with cloning. Whether or not Congress bans human cloning, public pressure should rein in those who would rush headlong to develop a human clone before profound issues have been resolved.
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