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Cloning Ban (video)
March 18, 2003

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Interviewees: Gregory Pence, Medical Ethicist, University of Alabama, Birmingham; George Annas, Chair, Boston University Health Law Dept.

Video is 1 min 27 sec long. Please be patient while it loads enough to start playing.

Produced by Joyce Gramza

Copyright ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage courtesy University of Missouri - Columbia, University of Alabama - Birmingham, Medtronic, and NBC News.

Also on ScienCentral News

Cloned Child - With the reported birth of the first human clone comes a renewed campaign to outlaw reproductive cloning. (12/27/02)

Clone Quirks? - Are clones normal? It’s a serious question, and cloning experts are far from in agreement. (11/12/02)

Elsewhere on the web

Adult stem cells breakthrough - National Review commentary 3/14/03

British Court Rules against Pro-Life Group in Cloning Case

French Senate Passes Tough Ban on Cloning - 1/31/03

The Senate Judiciary Committee this week is again scheduled to take up the question of banning human cloning.

The House has already approved a ban on all human cloning, and as this ScienCentral News Video reports, the science community is weighing in on the debate.

Not All Cloning is the Same

The House vote to ban all human cloning research in February 2003 may have seemed like a carbon copy of its vote in April 2002. Once again, President Bush supports the total ban. But this time around, the bill has been sent to a Republican-controlled Senate.

The vote also came after the claim that human beings have already been cloned. In December 2002, members of the Raelians claimed they had cloned several babies around the world, babies that nobody ever actually saw. This apparent hoax did little to ease some people’s minds about the issue of cloning.

Gregory Pence, a medical ethicist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, believes this time the Senate bill will pass. “A lot of people are caught up in the emotion about reproductive cloning and the so-called ‘yuk’ factor, and they’re willing to grant Congress this power,” Pence says.

But biomedical and genetics researchers, and some Senate leaders, are concerned that a ban on all cloning would deprive millions of sick people of potential cures. They support a different bill that would ban human cloning research for the purpose of making babies but allow it for developing new medical therapies.

George Annas, Chair of the Boston University Health Law Department, supports that measure. He agrees that reproductive cloning, the type that created the late Dolly the Sheep, is wrong to attempt on humans, not to mention unsafe. But he favors therapeutic cloning, which genetics scientists believe is a promising new kind of medicine. Supporters of therapeutic cloning argue that it has the potential for producing stem cells that could yield major scientific breakthroughs in curing human diseases. Stem cells are cells that can develop into any other cells in the body. Stem cells cloned from a person's own cells would not be rejected by their immune system. Pence describes it as “a potential to make my own medicine that would exactly match my body and wouldn’t be rejected by my immune system.”

Pence argues that banning any human cloning research, including research on reproductive cloning, would be a mistake, and that no tool should be taken off the table. “Basically I think it’s a political move in part to say that we’re going to sacrifice reproductive cloning so we can get embryonic [therapeutic] cloning.”

Cloned kids vs. medical revolution

While Annas favors separating reproductive and therapeutic cloning, one problem is that both begin with the same first step—putting the DNA of an adult body cell into an empty egg cell to create an embryo. “Once you have the embryos made, people are afraid that someone will implant one of those embryos in a woman’s uterus and try to grow it up to be a child,” says Annas. But, he adds, “I think you can make medicine without making children, that those are two different things.”

Annas believes that, even if it were medically safe, there are other reasons never to clone a child. “It would be treating the children like products, like pets, and in a sense, depriving them of their human dignity.

"It would never be psychologically safe," he says. "It's the harm of being made a duplicate and living under your parents’ expectations. They cloned you just because they wanted a duplicate of that existing person. That really makes cloning intolerable and an affront to human dignity."

Pence disagrees, pointing out that there was a similar debate over in-vitro fertilization 25 years ago. "Many people made these outlandish predictions about what test-tube babies were going to do to society," Pence says. "They had not in any way thought through the practical steps. They didn't realize how hard it was, how expensive, and how very, very few people would ever be trying this. If you get practical about these things, all the fear just kind of evaporates."

He also sees a double standard being applied by those who view reproductive cloning as selfish. “People are pretending that every couple who wants to create a child sexually sits down and says, ‘Oh yes, we want to have a child now. We’re going to love it just for itself. We’ll have no selfish motives at all in having this child.’ Nothing about ‘Do I want somebody to care for me when I get older? Do I want something of myself to continue? Do I want my genes to continue?’ I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to reproductive cloning.”

Pence acknowledges that today his view may not be a popular one, but he believes we may eventually come to regret any ban on human cloning.

by Karen Lurie

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