Ethics, public opinion
Therapeutic Cloning is also called biomedical cloning, and
research cloning. It involves the process of somatic cell nuclear
transfer in which the nucleus of a cell from a human patient's body is
injected into a human ovum which has had its nucleus removed. The goal of
therapeutic cloning is to develop organs for transplant that have an
identical DNA structure to the organ recipient. It does not involve the
attempt to create a newborn.
Ethics become a concern because of the source of the stem cells.
Stem cells could be obtained from many sources. Three are:
||Embryos created during infertility treatment. These are sometimes called
"spare embryos." They are usually frozen at a very low
temperature in the event that they are needed in the future to attempt
another a pregnancy.
||Embryos created for the purpose in the laboratory by manually fertilizing
an ovum with donated sperm.
||From the germ cells or organs of an aborted fetus. These "appear
to be limited in the type of tissue they can be developed into."
Unfortunately, organs grown from stem cells from one of these sources would
have foreign DNA that did not match the DNA of the organ recipient. The
recipient would have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their life and
could suffer organ rejection at any time.
There are four other sources that would produce organs that are perfectly
matched to the recipient's DNA. They would presumably prevent organ rejection:
||Via cell nuclear replacement. The nucleus in an
ovum is removed and replaced by the nucleus from an adult cell from the
||From bone marrow and some other adult tissues. These are expected to have
||From "mature adult tissue cells reprogrammed to behave like stem
cells." This mechanism is purely speculative at this time.
||From umbilical cord blood collected at the person's birth. This would require cord
blood to be collected when a person is born and stored for possible future
Embryos appear to be the only source of stem cells that would have wide
potential in therapeutic cloning. The remaining three sources appear to have limited flexibility and
No societal consensus exists about the ethics
of destroying a human embryo in order to collect stem cells.
||Some conservative Christians and
others believe that human personhood starts at
conception. Somatic cell
nuclear transfer is similar to a conventional conception process in that
both produce a pre-embryo. Thus, they believe that the pre-embryo produced is a human
person. Therapeutic cloning requires the murder of this human person in
order to extract its stem cells.
To prove that this pre-embryo is a human being, they suggest that one needs only to
implant it in a woman's uterus. It would then have about one chance in
four of developing into a fetus. If it is lucky, then nine months later,
it would have developed into a newborn.
They find a therapeutic cloning laboratory to be the ethical
equivalent to the Nazi death camps at Belsen or Auschwitz. They
believe that it is
immoral to kill one person in order to save or extend the life of
||"...some argue that the embryo requires and deserves no
particular moral attention whatsoever." 1 They
believe that an embryo is simply a collection of cells containing DNA,
not much different from skin cells that each person sheds by the
millions daily. It is not a human being, not a person. It is composed
of a few cells with no internal organs, arms, legs, sensory organs,
brain, self-awareness, awareness of its environment, memory, thoughts,
etc. It may eventually become a person, but only
if allowed to mature in a woman's uterus. They believe that human personhood comes later in
gestation, perhaps when the fetus "looks like" a
human, or when its brain develops to the point where it becomes
conscious of itself, or at birth.
||"Others accept the special status of an embryo as a
potential human being, yet argue that the respect due to the embryo
increases as it develops and that this respect, in the early stages in
particular, may properly be weighed against the potential benefits
arising from the proposed research." 1
The Family Research Council (FRC), a Fundamentalist Christian agency,
attacked Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in their 2002-APR-30 newsletter. Known for
his strong pro-life positions, he had announced his support for therapeutic
cloning. Hatch said: "I strongly believe that a critical part of being
pro-life is to support measures that help the living." 2 They correctly reported that he wholeheartedly condemns "any attempt
to clone a baby for reproductive purposes." However, they incorrectly
interpret his position, saying that "For Hatch, location determines
personhood. His view is that an embryo isn't a human being as long as it's in a
petri dish." 3
||In therapeutic cloning, the pre-embryo is not allowed to develop to
the embryo stage
||Location of the pre-embryo is immaterial. How the pre-embryo was
created, and what is to be done to the pre-embryo are the key factors.
There appears to be no hope of reaching a consensus on the ethics of
harvesting stem cells from pre-embryos. Even within Christianity,
Judaism, and other religions, a range of beliefs
exists about at what stage of development a fertilized ovum becomes a human person.
Those who would like to see therapeutic cloning research continue would like
to see it legalized in all countries. This is not going to happen, because the
opposition by some pro-life groups in some countries will prevent enabling
legislation from being passed. Many pro-lifers would like to see therapeutic
cloning criminalized in all countries. This is not going to happen either,
because those pro-life groups in some countries which are opposed to therapeutic
cloning will not be able to stop enabling legislation. Britain has laws in place
that allow this form of cloning. Canada is about to have such legislation. It
appears that opposition by some pro-life groups will not prevent therapeutic
cloning; it will only determine where in the world it is done.
This essay continues below.
Public opinion about therapeutic cloning:
Opinion Research Corporation International conducted a public opinion poll on
behalf of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR).
CAMR is comprised of American patient groups, universities,
and scientific societies. It has spearheaded the political campaign to opposing a ban on therapeutic cloning. The poll asked
the opinion of 1,012 adult Americans on 2003-MAR-6.
Among those sampled, 67% favor the continuation of therapeutic cloning research.
Detailed results were:
||55% want Congress to ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic
||30% want a ban on therapeutic and reproductive cloning.
||12% want no ban on either form of cloning.
||3% were undecided.
President of CAMR, said: ''Once again, the American public has spoken and
supports research using therapeutic cloning to continue. Legislation put forth
by Senator Hatch
and his colleagues much more accurately reflects what
the public wants, as opposed to the alternative proposed by Senator Brownback."
Results are essentially unchanged from a similar poll conducted in 2002-APR.
This is surprising to some observers. They had believed that the flurry of
hoaxes regarding reproductive cloning would confuse the American population so
that they would confuse therapeutic cloning with reproductive cloning, and thus
oppose both. 4
Related essay on this website:
"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.
Julie Rovner, " 'Therapeutic' Cloning Wins Key Ally in U.S. Senate,"
Reuters, 2002-APR-30, at:
"Down the Hatch: Sen. abandons anti-cloning platform," Family
Research Council newsletter, 2002-APR-30.
- 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:
Copyright © 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally published: 2000-AUG-17
Last updated 2003-MAR-25
Author: B. A. Robinson