Human Cloning Pros and Cons: Should Human Cloning Be Legal?

The question of whether cloning humans should be legal or not is a very loaded one. Perhaps even personal, depending on one’s moral stance on the subject. And given that the answer is so closely related to one’s perspective, it is impossible to address this question in a way that satisfies everyone.

Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996, the first mammal that was cloned from an adult somatic cell via a process called nuclear transfer, the prospect of cloning humans has made its way into the forefront of our brains at rapid speeds. And it has stayed there ever since.

But perhaps another reason why answering the initial question surrounding the legality of cloning humans is difficult is because there are so many forms of cloning, which in and of itself gives rise to much confusion. Cloning basically means different things to different people. The dictionary definition of “to clone” is “to make an identical copy of something.” In terms of genetics, this term becomes “to make a genetic copy of another organism.”

To most people, the definition of cloning is one of “reproductive cloning” that refers to the process of producing cloned embryos(possibly even human embryos) that is an exact duplicate copy of an adult animal. If you ask scientists or ethicists, however, that definition is much different and refers to non-reproductive (or nuclear transplantation) or therapeutic (or research) cloning. In other words, to them, the process of cloning largely refers to using genetic material of a single organism to create an embryo that is never to become anything more than a clump of cells and that is never to be implanted into a woman.

While reproductive cloning is largely opposed and scientists are probably not going to run out and start cloning human beings and identical twins just yet—nearly every poll shows a majority strongly oppose it—cloning for research purposes does not have quite the bad rep and is not as opposed.

The original question is difficult to answer, but the process of cloning is not difficult to describe. We all use the word clone a lot, but few of us actually know how a clone is made. Just how is a clone created? It is straightforward, one takes the genetic material from the adult animal that is to be cloned and puts it into an unfertilized egg of the female. In other words, the DNA from the animal that is to be copied is placed into the nucleus of an unfertilized female egg after its DNA has been removed. Next, a small electric current is passed through the recipient’s cell so that it fuses with the donor DNA. This is then mixed with several chemicals that create an environment that will make the egg believe that it has been fertilized. This procedure is successful if the egg begins to divide and its faith is determined by the genetic material of the donor that is inside it. In order for this material to actually become a baby, it would have to be placed into a woman’s womb. Otherwise, it is just a mass of dividing cells or a fetus.

And while this seems largely straightforward

And while this seems largely straightforward—mix one thing with another, add a few other ingredients and the end result is a cloned product—very few cloned organisms actually survive. In other words, actual cloning is very difficult and it has not been easy to determine why that is actually the case. There are some speculations and the theory of reprogramming has often been mentioned as being one of the major reasons behind the low success rate of cloning.

So, what is reprogramming? Let’s talk about sexual reproduction. The egg and sperm come together for one special function: combining the DNA from two individuals and forming a third unique person. No other cells in the body have this function. The egg and sperm have the “starter pack” that enables them to smoothly come together and make sure a mass of cells divides further and culminates in a human.

Cloning is nothing like sexual reproduction. The process essentially takes one of the 200 different cells in the body, each with its own unique function, and forces it to assume the intricate role of an egg or a sperm. This very process is called reprogramming. In other words, a cell that is otherwise involved in the production of the liver is suddenly forced to assume the functions of an egg or a sperm. What this means is that the process of cloning reprograms it into an entirely different cell. It is largely suspected that this is the reason why many clone embryos do not develop properly and die either before or shortly before birth. This is also one of the explanations why some clone animals do not immediately show signs of issues that only manifest themselves later in life such as cardiac or respiratory problems.

To switch gears a bit, a discussion of cloning ought to touch a bit on stem cells as well. Just as you thought that you understood cloning, the mention of stem cells makes things that much more confusing.

Embryonic stem cells are cells that are only found in embryos very early on. They form in the embryo at the age of five days. By virtue of being found very early on, they have not had their faith determined for them yet and thus have a blank slate. This means that they can become anything, which is why they have been considered the “universal cells.” What makes these cells so useful is that they are practical for disease situations as well as scenarios in which defective or damaged cells can be replaced. In case of a disease, the sick cells can be replaced with the stem cells that can assume the original role and become the healthy cells the body needs.

However, this is not straightforward either, as there is always the possibility of the boy rejecting the stem cells on the basis of it being a foreign intruder.

Ultimately, the question of whether humans should be clone or not is not easy to answer. There are pros to cloning cells and there are cons as well as obstacles to cloning entire organisms. The right answer is yet to reveal itself.

Laura Day