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Human Cloning - The Ethics (video)
October 31, 2002

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Interviewees: George Q. Daley, Whitehead Institute at MIT; George Annas, Chair of Boston University Health Law Dept.

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Produced by Joyce Gramza

Copyright ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage courtesy ABC News and the Boston Museum of Science.

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"Cloning Human Beings" - 1997 National Bioethics Advisory Commission report

US Federal & State policies on human cloning

United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings

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Reproductive Cloning Network

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Human Cloning Foundation

The United States bars government-funded scientists from cloning human cells to cure diseases. But the nation has not outlawed cloning a human being.

This ScienCentral News video reports on the politics of human cloning.

Ethics & Politics

For most scientists, the issue is pretty clear-cut. A great majority condemn any attempt to clone a human being, but favor creating cells that can generate human tissues to fight aging and disease.

But the first steps in reproductive and therapeutic cloning are identical (see Human Cloning - The Science). Would permitting therapeutic cloning research give carte blanche to those who wish to implant a cloned embryo in a woman's uterus to create a baby? On the other hand, would a ban on all cloning deprive patients of a right to the best treatments? And what if reproductive cloning became a safe method of treating infertility? Would patients have a right to it? Questions like these have led to the current legislative impasse and an ongoing ethical debate.

"It's wrong to make a human baby that's a duplicate of an existing person," says leading medical ethicist George Annas. "It should never be done."

Annas chairs the Health Law Department at Boston University School of Public Health, and founded Global Lawyers and Physicians, a human rights organization working on the proposed United Nations treaty to outlaw reproductive cloning. He says cloning humans would be wrong not only because it's currently unsafe and because proving its safety would involve unlawful human experiments. Annas also says it would be wrong for ethical reasons.

Children, he says, have a right not to be clones. "Even in this hypothetical world that you could possibly do this in a safe manner without subjecting women and children to horrible disabilities and death, even in that situation it would be wrong for the children," Annas says. "It would be treating the children like products, like pets in a sense, and in a sense depriving them of their human dignity."

And, Annas says, cloning to make babies is not a reproductive right because cloning is not reproduction. "There's no right to have a twin brother or a twin sister, which is all you can get from cloning yourself," he says. "I don't have any sympathy for that at all."

An international treaty would make it a crime to make a cloned baby anywhere in the world, so that "those two or three people in the world" who want to clone humans—Kentucky infertility entrepreneur Panayiotis Zavos, Italian obstetrician Severino Antinori, and the Raelian religious sect—can't "jurisdiction-shop."

The treaty would commit countries to "passing national laws and enforcing national laws against cloning to make a baby," says Annas. So we need both a treaty, followed by National laws."

Separating the issues

On July 31, 2001, the US House of Representatives voted to ban all forms of human cloning. But the Senate has balked at outlawing therapeutic cloning, with conservative members like Arlen Specter and Orrin Hatch arguing that therapeutic cloning is pro-life.

Nevertheless, Annas says, there is a concern that permitting therapeutic cloning research will enable reproductive cloning, but he believes laws can be passed and enforced to prevent that. "I also think you'd have to make it a crime to freeze a cloned human embryo and to have a Federal oversight agency that registers all researchers who are doing research with cloned human embryos. And once you have those safeguards in place, I think there's no reason not to permit research to make medicine out of cloned embryos, while forbidding making children out of them."

Annas disagrees with ethicists who say there's any ethical obligation to pursue therapeutic cloning. "We're permitted to do human research under certain circumstances, when we can do it without violating the rights and dignity of humans and you have an important research question," he says. "But I don't think we're obligated to do this... in fact, I think that you want to explore all the other options, including adult stem cells, umbilical cord stem cells, human stem cells from aborted fetuses... before we get carried away in making unique stem cells from cloned embryos."

Meanwhile, though, Annas says many ethicists and scientists are upset that politicians have not been able to separate the two issues and outlaw cloning babies immediately. He's critical of President Bush's stance.

"It doesn't make any sense to say, I don't want to outlaw something I don't want to happen, just because I can't get Congress to outlaw something else that I also don't want to happen," he says. "There's no Congressman and no Senator in favor of making a baby with cloning. You'd get 100 percent of both the House and the Senate... to vote in favor of a bill outlawing or banning making a baby clone today. And that's what should happen.

"The question is, whether we'll get a ban before the first human clones are born, or after," Annas adds. "Historically, we don't act until something horrible has happened. So it may be after. You know, I hope that the first clones are healthy—I actually do. But if they're not, that'll trigger a ban almost immediately."

by Joyce Gramza

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