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THERAPEUTIC CLONING:

Ethics, public opinion

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Terminology:

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.

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Ethical considerations:

Ethics become a concern because of the source of the stem cells.

Stem cells could be obtained from many sources. Three are:

bulletEmbryos 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.
bulletEmbryos created for the purpose in the laboratory by manually fertilizing an ovum with donated sperm.
bulletFrom 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:

bulletVia cell nuclear replacement. The nucleus in an ovum is removed and replaced by the nucleus from an adult cell from the patient.
bulletFrom bone marrow and some other adult tissues. These are expected to have limited usefulness.
bulletFrom "mature adult tissue cells reprogrammed to behave like stem cells." This mechanism is purely speculative at this time.
bulletFrom 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 use.

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 usefulness.

No societal consensus exists about the ethics of destroying a human embryo in order to collect stem cells.

bulletSome 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 another.
bullet"...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. 
bullet"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

bulletIn therapeutic cloning, the pre-embryo is not allowed to develop to the embryo stage
bulletLocation 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.

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Sponsored link:

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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:

bullet55% want Congress to ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning.
bullet30% want a ban on therapeutic and reproductive cloning.
bullet12% want no ban on either form of cloning.
bullet3% were undecided.

Michael Manganiello, 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 [(R-KS)] and his colleagues much more accurately reflects what the public wants, as opposed to the alternative proposed by Senator Brownback." (R-UT)

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

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Related essay on this website:

bulletMenu: Cloning - all aspects 
bulletStem cell research

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References:

  1. "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), at: http://www.doh.gov.uk/cegc/stemcellreport.htm 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.
  2. Julie Rovner, " 'Therapeutic' Cloning Wins Key Ally in U.S. Senate," Reuters, 2002-APR-30, at:  http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?
  3. "Down the Hatch: Sen. abandons anti-cloning platform," Family Research Council newsletter, 2002-APR-30.
  4. 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: http://www.boston.com/

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Copyright 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2000-AUG-17

Last updated 2003-MAR-25
Author: B. A. Robinson

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