How it is done; possible benefits
|"Somatic cell nuclear transfer (more commonly called therapeutic
cloning) is about saving and improving lives. It is fundamentally different
from human reproductive cloning; it produces stem cells, not babies." U.S.
that fail to respect the dignity and value of the person must always
be avoided. I am thinking in particular of attempts at human cloning
with a view to obtaining organs for transplants: these techniques,
insofar as they involve the manipulation and destruction of human
embryos, are not morally acceptable, even when their proposed goal is
good in itself." Pope John Paul II in
an address before International Congress
on Transplants on 2000-AUG-29. 2|
Cloning is the production of one or more individual plants or animals (whole
or in part) that are
genetically identical to an original plant or animal.
Three very different procedures have been referred to as "cloning."
|Adult DNA cloning (a.k.a. cell nuclear replacement): This
involves removing the DNA from an embryo and replacing it with the DNA
from a cell removed from an individual. Then, the embryo would be
implanted in a woman's womb and be allowed to
develop in to a new human whose DNA is identical to that of the
original individual. This method has been used to clone a sheep. The
initial steps of the procedure were
human DNA in 1998-DEC. Adult DNA cloning cannot ethically be used to
produce a human clone, because experiments on animals have sometimes
produced defective specimens. |
|Therapeutic cloning: (a.k.a. Somatic cell nuclear transfer or
research cloning): This starts with the same procedure as
is used in adult DNA cloning. The resultant embryo would be allowed to
grow for perhaps 14 days. It's stem cells would then be
extracted and encouraged to grow into a piece of human tissue or a complete human organ for transplant. The end
result would not be a human being; it would be a replacement organ, or
piece of nerve tissue, or quantity of skin. The first successful
therapeutic cloning was accomplished in 2001-NOV by Advanced Cell
Technology, a biotech company in Worcester, MA.|
Unfortunately, although adult DNA cloning and therapeutic cloning are
quite different procedures leading to very different goals, both terms
contain the word "cloning." This causes a great deal of confusion among the
public. Many transfer their disgust at the concept of creating cloned babies
to therapeutic cloning whose goal is to create an organ to heal people.
Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a pro-life senator has suggested the term "somatic cell
nuclear transfer" to replace therapeutic cloning. 3
How is therapeutic cloning done?
I once had a Swedish ivy plant, and about a dozen empty flower pots. I cut
off many leaves from the original plant, placed each of them in a pot filled
with damp soil, and surrounded the pots with clear plastic. In a few weeks, I
had a dozen new plants. This shows that all of the material and information
needed to create a Swedish ivy plant is contained in a single leaf. Actually, it
is contained in a single cell of a single leaf.
So too, all the information needed to create a new human being is contained
in each cell of an existing human being. DNA testing on an human often starts by
scraping some cells from the inside of a person's mouth. Living cells can be
scraped off of a person's skin. No matter how a cell is obtained, it contains
the DNA of the person, and thus contains all of the information required to
produce a duplicate or cloned person. Each cell is, in fact, a form of human
life for the simple reason that it contains human DNA.
A woman's ovum also contains her DNA. What is involved in somatic cell
nuclear transfer is to:
- Take a woman's ovum, and remove its DNA. This converts it to a form of
human life into what is basically a factory for creating a pre-embryo.
- Remove the DNA from a cell taken from a human, and inserting it into
- Giving the resulting ovum an electrical shock to start up its embryo
making operation. In a small percentage of cases, a pre-embryo will be
- The pre-embryo is allowed to develop and produce many stem cells. So
far, the procedure is identical to that used in adult DNA cloning.
However, the pre-embryo is not implanted in a woman's womb in order to try
to produce a pregnancy.
- Stem cells are removed from the pre-embryo;
this results in its death.
- The stem cells would be encouraged to grow into whatever tissue or organ
is needed to treat the patient. Stem cells
are a unique form of human cell that can theoretically develop into many
organs or body parts the body.
- The tissue or organ would be transplanted into the patient. 4
An important factor to remember is that:
|The original seed cell is a form of human life; it contains human
DNA, whether it comes from a skin scraping or is extracted from the
inside of a person's mouth.|
|The original ovum is a form of human life; it contains human DNA.|
|The pre-embryo that is produced is a form of human life; it contains
So, there is a continuity of human life from a surplus cell which a human
produces by the millions each day, to the pre-embryo.
Theoretically, these stem cells can be used to develop into replacement organs (heart,
liver, pancreas, skin, etc) Therapeutic cloning has not yet been accomplished in
the laboratory or clinic.
Future experiments may not succeed. There were four main hurdles to overcome:
|Stem cells have to be "successfully isolated and grown in the
laboratory." This has already been accomplished |
|They have to be encouraged to "turn into specific cell
types." This has been done for most of the 220 cell types
in the human body.|
|They have to be proven usable in treating patients with diseases,
injuries, or disorders. |
|The transplanted tissue must develop normally and must not represent
significant "risks to the patient." 4|
If scientists are successful, it would probably take many years of research
before the first useful results will be obtained.
What are its possible benefits?
If therapeutic cloning using embryos is successful, then perfectly matched,
replacement organs could become freely available to sick and dying people. That
would save countless numbers of lives, and increase the quality of life of
countless others. Three possible examples of therapeutic cloning "might
include the use of insulin-secreting cells for diabetes; nerve cells in stroke
or Parkinson’s disease; or liver cells to repair a damaged organ." 4 There
would probably also be side benefits resulting from the research. "Further
advances in understanding of how organs regenerate would increase the range of
possible treatments that could be considered." 4
In the United States during 1998, "More than 50 disease advocates and scientific societies,
representing such concerns as diabetes, blindness, Parkinson's disease, glaucoma, AIDS,
Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, stroke, lymphoma, infertility and cancer--as well as
professional groups that focus on such issues as cell biology, aging, microbiology,
ophthalmology, cardiology, pediatrics and reproductive medicine--recently sent a letter to
members of Congress urging them to support federal funding for...[stem cell] research."
This procedure would have a number of advantages, when compared to
regular organ transplant donated by a second person:
|There would be presumably be no danger of rejection of the transplant because the
organ's DNA would match the patient's DNA exactly. |
|For transplants involving kidney (or theoretically any other organ
that is duplicated in the body), another individual would not have to
experience pain, inconvenience, and potentially shortened life span in
order to donate the organ.|
|The patient would not have to wait until an unrelated donor dies to obtain a
transplant. A new organ could be grown for them as needed.|
|The patient would not have to make-do with a replacement organ that
is old and may have reduced functionality; a brand-new organ would be
grown specifically for them.|
|The procedure would save lives which would otherwise be lost waiting
for a transplant that did not come in time.|
|The potential exists to cure, or at least treat, certain diseases and disorders that
cannot be effectively handled today.|
What are the problems of therapeutic cloning:
Before therapeutic cloning can become generally available to cure heart
disease, diabetes, paralysis, etc., a number of hurdles have to be overcome:
|Developing cures: Methods have to be developed that will cure
or treat diseases with embryonic stem cells. This looks promising.
Research with adult stem cells, which has been underway for many years,
have shown great promise. Unfortunately, adult cells are limited in their
application. Research using therapeutic cloning is a new field, but it has
already shown that stem cells from embryos have much greater flexibility
than adult stem cells.|
|Is an embryo a human person? Pro-life supporters generally
believe that a human person comes into existence at conception. Some
believe that somatic cell nuclear transfer is sufficiently similar to
normal conception with an egg and spermatozoa that a human person also
comes into existence during therapeutic cloning. The process of extracting
stem cells involves killing the embryo. To many pro-lifers, this is
murder. They feel that murdering one person, the embryo, to cure another
person of paralysis, or diabetes, or heart disease, etc. can never be
justified. More details. Therapeutic
cloning research may well be limited to those countries, like China, the
UK, and perhaps Canada, where pro-life supporters are relatively few in
|Stability of stem cells: As of 2003-MAR, therapeutic cloning is
still in its early stages of development. Stem cells have sometimes
mutated, and thus been rejected by the recipient's body. In other cases,
at least with experiments on animals, they have produced tumors. It is
obvious that therapeutic cloning will not be feasible until these
deficiencies have been overcome.|
|Where would the eggs come from? At the present stage of somatic
cell nuclear transfer, Thomas Okarma, chief
executive of Geron Corporation -- a leading stem-cell research
establishment -- estimated that takes "100 eggs if you're lucky"
to produce a useable stem cell line. 6 This means that
if a cure for diabetes involving therapeutic cloning is found, it would
take 1.5 billion eggs to cure the 15 million Americans who have diabetes.
Until the production of stem cells becomes more efficient, very few cures
could be made for economic reasons. Even if and when techniques are found
to reliably produce one custom stem cell line for each egg harvested from
a woman, 15 million eggs would be required to completely wipe out
diabetes. Extracting eggs from women is "painful, costly and unreliable."
7 Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian
group, cited an unknown expert who has said that the process of harvesting
eggs would seriously injure about one percent of all female donors.
8 We have been unable to determine what form this injury
might take. Assuming two dozen eggs per woman, this would still require
over a half million women willing to donate eggs and run the risk of some
type of injury. Therapeutic cloning will probably only become generally
useful when a method is found to use non-human eggs as source material.
Research is underway to use rabbit eggs. During the process, "the
embryo will lose all traces of its rabbit origin." 7
Related essay on this website:
- Julie Kimbrough, "New Poll Shows More Than Two
Thirds of Americans Support Therapeutic Cloning Research to Produce Stem Cells,"
Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, at:
- Pope John Paul II, "Address to International Congress
on Transplants," 2000-AUG-29, at: http://www.cin.org/pope/organ-transplant-cloning.html
- Julie Rovner, " 'Therapeutic' Cloning Wins Key Ally in U.S. Senate,"
Reuters, 2002-APR-30, at:
- "A report from the chief medical officer's expert group reviewing
the potential of developments in stem cell research and cell nuclear
replacement to benefit human health," Department of Health (UK),
The report is available as an executive summary or as full report in PDF
format. You can obtain a free software to read PDF files from Adobe.
- "Comment: Stem Cell Research," Mary Woodard Lasker
Charitable Trust, at:
- Cited in "Testimony of James Kelly before the House Government Reform
Committee (Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources)"
on 2002-MAY-15, at:
- Charles C. Mann, "The First Cloning Superpower: Inside China's race to
become the clone capital of the world," at:
- Stuart Shepard, "Cloning Research Found to Hurt Women," Focus on the
Family, 2003-MAR-28, at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2005, by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally published: 2000-AUG-17
Last updated 2005-OCT-29
Author: B. A. Robinson