Regardless of one’s feelings about cloning, it is important to understand its history and potential uses before making rash judgments and unsubstantiated claims like “I oppose cloning because it is silly.” As members of a community that places values on a liberal education it is up to each of us to think critically about current events and be able to participate in an informed discussion. I am certainly not claiming to be an expert on the topic of cloning but I have read much of the primary literature, and would encourage anyone with doubts to do the same.
Scientists have been cloning non-mammalian animals since the 1950s but it was not until the highly publicized birth of a sheep named Dolly in 1996 that the world took notice. Dolly was significant because she was the first large mammal to be cloned with a nucleus from an adult cell and survive.
There has since been a lot of press that Dolly is aging faster than a normal sheep. The question of rapid aging in clones seems to be the only associated problem if you get all of your information from the news.
Further studies in both sheep and cows seem to indicate that it is not as big a problem as the media would lead us to think. There is however, a problem called Large Offspring Syndrome which results in abnormalities such as widely varying birth weights and extended gestation.
Symptoms may also include breathing difficulties, reluctance to suckle, sudden death, abnormalities of organs, and cerebellar dysplasia, as well as skeletal and facial malformations, pulmonary hypertension, heart and vascular problems, abnormal placentas, and abnormal growth. Large Offspring Syndrome, while potentially a much larger problem than rapid aging, is never discussed in the popular media.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to cloning is its low success rate. Dolly was the only embryo to survive out of 434; do the math. Although the success rates have improved slightly, they are still very low.
The low success rate brings me to this question: did ClonAid actually produce the first human clone? I recently watched an interview with the vice president of ClonAid in which he stated that before “Eve” there were no failed attempts resulting in abnormalities and that none of the embryos that were created were aborted.
With even a cursory understanding of the problems associated with cloning, one would have to conclude that it is unlikely that ClonAid has produced the first human clone, and unless genetic analysis from a credible unbiased source proves otherwise, it is difficult to believe that Clone Baby Eve exists.
Finally, cloning is not silly. Not all cloning is intended to produce a genetically identical child. Therapeutic cloning has the potential to save countless lives. Pigs genetically engineered to produce organs that will not be rejected by humans could one day eliminate the waiting list for organ transplants.
We are, perhaps, on the verge of being able to responsibly clone for reproductive purposes. With that ability comes great responsibility to carefully think through which applications are valid uses of cloning technology. Intent must be the yardstick by which we measure the validity of cloning, and, secondly, the benefits of cloning in each situation must be taken into account.
If we are to learn anything from a critical reading of Frankenstein, we should learn that social discussions of intent and follow through are important. If we use cloning as a mode of reproduction, we need to do so responsibly, and only after we have learned how to produce healthy cloned individuals in animal models.
Don’t dismiss cloning as silly simply because a few crazy individuals make an unsubstantiated claim about producing the first human clone. Put a little extra effort into it so that you can carry out an informed discussion about cloning.