A n American cloning company associated with the Raelian religious sect has announced the birth of a human clone. We will have to wait until the results of tests to see whether the baby girl really is a clone, but the company says that another four baby clones are scheduled to be born in the next couple of months. An Italian fertility specialist has also announced a human clone pregnancy, and this baby’s birth is due shortly, too. The human race may have entered the age of cloning — in which two parents are no longer necessary for childbirth.
Six years have passed since the birth of the first mammal clone, a lamb called Dolly. There have been successes with sheep and mice, so speculation has been mounting that experiments with human beings would be successful, too.
Human cloning has been repeatedly depicted in many science-fiction novels, movies and comics as a frightening aspect of a future state-controlled society. Now reproductive medicine and life science have progressed so rapidly that authors’ fantasies appear to be approaching reality.
However, there are many ethical and safety problems related to human cloning, the artificial reproduction of humans with the same genes. Human beings are not objects or tools. Creating human beings according to one’s personal liking and desires is a violation of human dignity. It is also a threat to society. We should prevent this experimentation with the manipulation of life from running away from us. Human cloning must not be allowed to become a business.
In Japan, a law to strictly prohibit acts related to human cloning was passed in 2001. Punitive legislation is becoming more widespread in Europe, although there are still countries without regulations and legislation against human cloning has its limits. In 1997, when the world first began speculating about the possibility of applying cloning technology to human beings after the birth of Dolly, eight major industrial nations agreed to a ban on human cloning at a summit in Denver.
In view of the current of international opinion, there is an urgent need for a convention that prohibits specific acts of cloning. Negotiations on such a convention began in the United Nations in 2002, but the talks have run into difficulty as views differ over how far such a ban should go. In the meantime, reality is marching ahead, increasing the risks of a fait accompli.
Since cloning technology could become the basis of regenerative medicine for organ transplants, care must be taken not to close the door on basic stem cell research. An agreement, though, could surely be reached quickly if a cloning ban were limited to procedures involving the return to a woman’s body of an egg developed by cloning technology.
For starters, the Japanese government should work to establish a convention banning human cloning along these basic lines. The recent claims of cloned births and pregnancies make it clear that these negotiations must be accelerated.
Even with the establishment of laws and a convention, attempts at human cloning will not disappear altogether. People will always try to wriggle through the regulations, and it will be difficult to prevent all violations. Any researcher who is skilled in the manipulation of eggs and cells can put clone technology to use anywhere, anytime. Such cloning does not require expensive equipment or a large budget.
Moreover, fertility treatments involving in-vitro fertilization of human eggs and sperm are widespread around the world. It would be quite easy for an obstetrics and gynecology clinic to go ahead with human cloning without anyone noticing. Herein lies the simple danger of reproductive technology. In particular, as suggested by the recent news reports, it would be difficult to expose a woman who had a clone egg made from her own skin cell and then gave birth to her own “double,” as the act would not directly affect other people.
In the United States, it is possible to choose various forms of fertility treatment, including the use of surrogate mothers. From the viewpoint of individual independence and supposed benefits, there are sure to be arguments in favor of allowing human cloning. It is important, therefore, to continue discussions on the ethical side and to deepen the consensus in the international community regarding human cloning. That will be the best way to curb human cloning in the future.
The safety of clone technology has not been proved. There is concern about whether a cloned baby will remain healthy as it grows. Data on this question must be made available to all impartial third-party researchers.
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