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In this research paper, the deﬁnitions and technological achievements for human cloning will be brieﬂy discussed. The main part will concentrate on ethical questions arising from these technologies, and ﬁnally, the present situation with global legal regulation of the issue will be described.
There are numerous deﬁnitions of “human cloning” and related terms like “reproductive cloning” and “therapeutic (or research) cloning,” which often reﬂect the values and preferences connected with ongoing discussions at this ﬁeld.
According to Maimets and Lõuk (2014), human reproductive cloning describes the creation of a human embryo from nuclear DNA sequence of an existing human being in order to implant it into a womb, leading eventually to the birth of an identical human being. The meaning of the word “identical” here is different from that in cloning plants or DNA and is even not scientiﬁcally entirely correct. UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (IBC) has indicated that:
… it is clear to scientists that “cloning” in the sense of producing identical human beings is impossible because of differences in developmental and environmental conditions, epigenetic modiﬁcations of the DNA involved, etc. (IBC 2009)
To get an “identical organism,” one has to copy all the developmental processes involved, in addition to the DNA resource. The long development time of mammals in the mother organism before birth, when many microand macroenvironmental effects not directly caused by its own DNA sequence inﬂuence the future “outcome,” creates a substantial difference between processes of cloning plants and “cloning” mammals. Even monozygous twins are not entirely identical, although they share the same DNA sequence and have passed through a very similar pre-birth developmental environment. The UNESCO International Bioethics Committee (IBC) has therefore concluded in its Report on Human Cloning and International Governance (IBC 2009) that:
The use of the term “clone” is therefore scientiﬁcally and etymologically misleading; it overlooks the differences that would appear between a person and his genetically identical “clone”. The importance of epigenetic factors in this respect must be stressed. (IBC 2009)
However, by now the term “human reproductive cloning” has been deeply engrained in global discourse and already features in a number of national legislations and international documents and should therefore be kept in use, at least for the time being. Therefore, the IBC has concluded:
Nonetheless, it has been recognised that the term “cloning” should not be abandoned since this term is already used in a number of national legislations and international guidelines that are currently in effect. (IBC 2009)
Accordingly, the term “human reproductive cloning” should be used as deﬁned by Maimets and Lõuk (2014), which, in addition to technical aspects (creating an embryo), also includes its implantation and the intention to achieve a birth of a new human being.
Many authors also use the term “human therapeutic cloning” or, synonymously, “research cloning.” This deﬁnition has remained rather vague and unclear. It seems that instead of clearly deﬁning it, the term has been used to distinguish “good” from “bad” cloning. It therefore has created a lot of confusion in ethical and legal debates and, as has been noted by the IBC:
The terminology used in the bioethical debates is misleading and does not adequately describe the technical procedures used (or potentially to be used) today. (IBC 2009)
More speciﬁcally, it adds that:
While “reproductive” is a term that clearly indicates the ultimate intention of the procedure, the term “therapeutic” fails to clearly deﬁne the purpose of the procedure.. . This confusion stems primarily from the differences in the status attributed to the human embryo in different cultures and societies. (IBC 2009)
Several authors synonymize “therapeutic cloning” with SCNT (see below). Others use this term for any techniques of cloning, which do not lead to a birth of new human being. Because of this lack of clear deﬁnition, the term “therapeutic cloning” is avoided further in the present research paper.
Technologies For Human Cloning
Although several technologies suitable for mammalian cloning, for example, embryo splitting or tetraploid complementation in combination with pluripotent stem cells (see Maimets and Lõuk 2014), can be theoretically used also for cloning human beings, most of the research – and ethical debates around it – have been recently concentrated around using a technology called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is a technique for creating a clonal embryo, using an egg cell with a donor nucleus. The nucleus (which contains the organism’s DNA, except mitochondrial DNA) of a somatic cell is removed and the rest of the cell discarded. At the same time, the nucleus of an egg cell is removed. The nucleus of the somatic cell is then injected into the enucleated egg cell. Alternatively, the entire donor cell may be fused (using electrical current or certain chemicals) with the enucleated egg cell. After being inserted into the egg, the somatic cell nucleus is reprogrammed by the egg cell. The egg, now containing the nucleus of a somatic cell, is stimulated to divide. After mitotic divisions in culture, this single cell forms a blastocyst with almost identical DNA to the original organism. The difference from the original organism remains in the content of mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are cellular organelles located in cell cytoplasm and carrying their own DNA. Hence, mitochondrial DNA in the new organism comes not from a donor of the nucleus but from the enucleated egg cell. The technique of transferring a nucleus from a somatic cell into an egg was used to produce Dolly the sheep in 1997. The same technique has later been successfully used to clone many animals. The ﬁrst SCNT procedure of humans was reported some years ago, although it needed triploid chromosomes (two sets from donor nucleus and one from oocyte) to fully develop into blastocyst and pluripotent ES cells (Noggle et al. 2011).
In May 2013, ﬁrst successful reprogramming of human somatic cells into pluripotent embryonic stem cells was reported (Tachibana et al. 2013). The researchers took nuclei from human fetal and infant ﬁbroblasts and injected them into enucleated oocytes. After development into blastocysts, ESC lines were derived. The ESC lines displayed normal karyotypes, and their gene expression and differentiation proﬁles were similar to conventional embryo-derived ESCs.
Recently, two teams have replicated Mitalipov’s results and further demonstrated the effectiveness of creating SCNT cells from adults. The embryonic stem cells were derived from 35to 75-year-old men (Chung et al. 2014) and a 32-year-old woman with type 1 diabetes (Yamada et al. 2014). In the latter case, the ES cells were developed into insulin-producing cells, which are missing in people with the disease.
The creation of human SCNT blastocysts and respective ESC lines is not equal to human reproductive cloning: the embryos were not implanted into a womb, and the purpose of the procedure was not the birth of an identical human being (see Introduction above). Such custom-made embryos can be used to investigate complex human diseases and infertility and eventually to create genetically matched replacement tissues for people who lose organs to disease or degeneration. Mitalipov’s group has, for example, indicated the possible use of the procedure to eliminate mutated mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which can cause several devastating diseases (see Fulka et al. 2013 and Bibliography : therein). It has been demonstrated that the transfer of pronuclei or mitotic spindles isolated from the cytoplasm containing mutated mtDNA into healthy cytoplasts can create healthy blastocysts. So, maternal chromosomes from a faulty egg can be transferred into a healthy egg from which the chromosomes have been removed. The resulting egg is then fertilized with a partner’s sperm. Women carrying mitochondrial diseases could bear genetically related children in this way, without passing on defective mitochondria. This brings along a new situation, where children will have three genetic “parents”: the mother who donates the egg nucleus, the father who donates the sperm nucleus, and another woman who donates the mitochondrial DNA.
The issue of how human cloning is viewed has implications not only for the clone or for the person being cloned but also for relevant areas of the society (e.g., religious authority as the primary source of moral truth). For truly global bioethics, one should keep in mind on the one hand the shared principles and values, e.g., the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights by UNESCO, and on the other hand localized ethics, how the norms are articulated in a speciﬁc (cultural) context.
In order to form an opinion regarding the ethical acceptability of human cloning, one needs to form an opinion about who has moral standing. With the most common cloning technique, SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer), the destruction of an existing embryo is unavoidable. This introduces an additional question – when does human life start? Depending on how one answers this question (e.g., at conception, at birth, when ensoulment takes place), the obligations in treating a human embryo differ as well, varying from being equalized with a human being to being regarded as not differing from other human cells.
Since the development of induced pluripotent stem cells, the issue has been broadened to the level of the cell, and one could say that the debate has become even more blurred. Several scholars have already pointed out that this does not mean the ethical issues will be resolved. On the contrary, the signiﬁcance of the embryo as the starting point of human life and its moral relevance will be even more threatened now, at a time when any cell can be programmed to the embryonic state (e.g., Chan and Harris 2008). For example, Holm argues that the line should be drawn between embryonic stem cells (artiﬁcially derived from an embryo) and the cells naturally inside a blastocyst (2008). According to his position, it is important to understand that embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos and they are not embryo cells. Baertschi and Mauron claim that moral status must reﬂect not only intrinsic properties but also extrinsic and relational ones. The authors want to avoid the possible argument that all somatic cells are potential persons (2010).
Therefore they adhere to the view that the moral status of a cell emerges only when a cell induced (reversed) to its pluripotency (or totipotency) is placed into the uterus.
What about the possible beneﬁts and harms of human reproductive cloning? According to Article 4 of the UNESCO bioethics declaration, “in applying and advancing scientiﬁc knowledge, medical practice and associated technologies, direct and indirect beneﬁts to patients, research participants and other affected individuals should be maximized and possible harm to such individuals should be minimized.”
The possible beneﬁts of human cloning can be seen both at the individual level and at the societal level, mostly at the ﬁrst.
At the individual level, the best known possible outcomes are relief to the problem of infertility, avoidance of transmitting diseases, the possibility to clone someone who had special meaning, and having organs and tissues necessary for transplantation.
Human cloning would make it possible for infertile persons or couples to have biologically related offspring. Typical situations are women producing no functional ova or men producing no sperm. iPS cells could also be used as a new solution for male fertility problems. Cloning could be also seen as a way to help to bring back a lost loved one, someone with special meaning.
Human cloning makes it possible to avoid certain mitochondrial diseases. Also, cloning is a possibility when one partner has a serious hereditary disease, and cloning provides an option in a situation when it is not acceptable to the future parents to involve genes from a third party.
Having “their own children,” without certain avoidable diseases, and regaining someone with special meaning could fulﬁll the needs and desires of couples, reduce their suffering, and promote well-being and happiness. On the other hand, it is a choice between biological ties and the child’s health and quality of life.
It should be noted that human cloning could be a solution to the problem of ﬁnding a donor with matching tissues or acceptable organs. This could also be seen as reducing one’s suffering and advancing well-being.
At the societal level, acceptance of human cloning would allow us to “bring back” persons of great talent, character, etc. The problem here lies in that it is not possible to know beforehand how similar the clones will be to the exceptional persons they are cloned from. It is debatable whether the mere possibility is enough to allow such thing or not.
The strongest argument used for human reproductive cloning is reproductive autonomy. The UNESCO declaration states: “the autonomy of persons to make decisions, while taking responsibility for those decisions and respecting the autonomy of others, is to be respected.”
In the human reproductive cloning debate, the right to reproductive autonomy denotes the right to use various artiﬁcial reproductive technologies, including cloning. The case for allowing certain means of reproduction is strongest when this particular possibility is the only one for the particular individuals to procreate at all. Philosophically speaking, it would be possible to argue for reproductive autonomy based on the works of the philosophers John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant.
However, it is not clear who has the right to reproduce. This question is now more relevant than ever, as iPS cell technology could soon make it possible for couples of the same sex to have offspring. Onora O’Neill (2002) argues that ideals of self-expression are not good starting points for reproduction issues, as this may lead to irresponsible decisions, if adequate and lasting care and support for the future child does not come ﬁrst. At the same time, it has been claimed that family life has changed and therefore the traditional model with two parents of opposite sexes and their own genetic offspring is outdated (see Takala 2005).
One could claim that issues regarding reproductive autonomy are overly dominated by Western bioethics (e.g., my own biological offspring, no genes from others, etc.). Regarding the views of other cultures, one could claim that the Buddhist perspective might also ﬁt in here with the view that intentions are relevant (e.g., non-harming, compassion). From the Buddhist perspective, being concerned about one’s health means regarding the person as a whole, not only the physical body and state of mind but also taking into account relationships (social, familial, work related, and also with the environment). In general, Buddhists have a neutral attitude toward cloning and taking into account that no harm is done to those involved, this method of human reproduction does not go against their basic value sets. So this method can be seen as a possibility to help infertile couples. If it does not cause pain to relevant parties and does not destroy life, human cloning could be acceptable (see more Schlieter 2004).
Also according to the Jewish tradition, it is possible to ﬁnd purposes for which one could regard human cloning as legitimate, these being an option for couples with infertility problems and creating genetically compatible tissues for transplantation (Breitowitz 2002).
Regarding human reproductive cloning, harms can also occur, both at the individual and the societal level. At the individual level, these are mainly the unacceptable risks to the clone and the “life in shadow” argument. At present, it has been claimed that human cloning procedures do not meet the ethical standards of safety and efﬁcacy. Another question is whether they ever will, as research on human subjects is needed to resolve safety issues, but this is considered to be unacceptable.
The “life in shadow” argument denotes situations where the parent of the clone will have a very clear idea of how the clone will develop based on the person who was cloned and the impact this will have to the clone. It could reach the extreme – everything the cloned person does is being compared to the “original,” so the clone does not have the possibility to live his/her own life and therefore he/she has constant psychological stress and is harmed. The name of the argument derives from the understanding that the clones are seen as shadows of the “originals.” Also knowing the choices made by an earlier “original” or twin may cause psychological stress due to acknowledging the lack of individual uniqueness and due to the already mentioned possible violation of the opportunity to have free self-determination. Linked to this is the concern about possible confused relationships and the idea that a responsible parent does not want any additional burdens put on their child/children.
At the societal level, the possible harms are connected with the effect on the gene pool, issues related to research ethics, the human dignity objection, and diminishing respect for human life.
According to the Universal Declaration on Human Genome and Human Rights, biological diversity is a fundamental part of human natural heritage. And this heritage needs to be protected.
Issues regarding research ethics also come up at the societal level. The question remains, who and how would one make sure that the process of cloning humans is safe and effective? Probably it will never meet the criteria of ethical standards for human subject research. The risks would be too big and on the other hand, in order to resolve safety issues, human experiments should be conducted, so it is a vicious circle. Also, one should not exclude the possibility that exploitation would accompany cloning experiments, e.g., taking advantage of poor or vulnerable groups, and it is feared that research on human reproductive cloning deprives necessary resources from other ﬁelds in medicine (e.g., research on HIV/AIDS).
Human Dignity Objection
The argument most often used against human reproductive cloning is the human dignity objection. Dignity is something that is given to humans by humans and also dignity could be interpreted to be inherent in God’s perception of us (Takala 2005). The notion of human dignity has been nurtured by the natural law tradition and developed through the social teachings of the Catholic Church, so it has been claimed that one should refer to Catholic social ethics when clarifying the concept (Haugen 2010). Making a genetic replicate of someone is considered to be a violation of the person’s dignity. Dignity could also be understood in the Kantian sense as a requirement for respect for persons, especially that people should not be exploited. The question is, does cloning lessen the worth of an individual, implying that by cloning, one obtains a made product? In Western bioethics, the notion of human dignity has raised much criticism (Macklin 2003), and one is being reminded that without conceptual clarity, there is a danger that the concept of human dignity would turn out to be a mere rhetorical slogan with no real content (e.g., Caulﬁeld and Brownsword 2006).
Similar to the human dignity argument is the “made, not created” one. This argument reminds us that there are cultures (e.g., Islamic) whose understanding is that the appropriate way of producing offspring is through proper union of sperm and ovum of a legally married couple. A clone would have the biological properties, but not the soul, and so would lack spiritual qualities (Sharmin et al. 2012).
To be a person means that there is a unique and unrepeatable individual, existing in and through relations to others. It has been claimed that by making humans using the method of cloning, they will have an inferior status because they have been made.
Legal Regulation Of Human Cloning
The following regulatory acts for international governance of human cloning are in existence today:
- Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (UNESCO 1997). Article 11 of the Declaration states that “Practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted. States and competent international organizations are invited to co-operate in identifying such practices and in taking, at national or international level, the measures necessary to ensure that the principles set out in this Declaration are respected.”
- Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (UNESCO 2005). Article 16 speciﬁes that “the impact of life sciences on future generations, including on their genetic constitution, should be given due regard.”
- United Nations Declaration on Cloning (2005). The declaration, adopted by the General Assembly, states that “Member States are called upon to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.”
- World Health Organization Resolutions WHA50.37 (1997) and WHA51.10 (1998). These resolutions, which, again, do not create obligations under international law, call to “foster continued and informed debate and take appropriate steps, including legal and juridical measures, to prohibit cloning for the purpose of replicating human individuals.”
In addition, numerous national and regional regulations are in force. The attempts to achieve wider international ban of human reproductive cloning have been so far unsuccessful (Maimets and Lõuk 2014).
The technological achievements have made it realistic that human reproductive cloning could be performed in the very near future. Attempts to reach wider global regulation of these practices have been unsuccessful so far. The differences in speciﬁc historical, cultural, and religious contexts indicate that ethical debates over the issue will continue in the foreseeable future.
- Baerschi, B., & Mauron, A. (2010). Moral status revisited: The challenge of reversed potency. Bioethics, 24, 96–103.
- Breitowitz, Y. (2002). What’s so bad about human cloning? Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 12, 325–341.
- Caulﬁeld, T., & Brownsword, R. (2006). Human dignity: A guide to policy making in the biotechnology era? Nature Reviews Genetics, 7, 72–76.
- Chan, S., & Harris, J. (2008). Adam’s ﬁbroblast? The (pluri)potential of iPCs. Journal of Medical Ethics, 34, 65–66.
- Chung, Y. G., Eum, J. H., Lee, J. E., Shim, S. H., Sepilian, V., Hong, S. W., Lee, Y., Treff, N. R., Choi, Y. H., Kimbrel, E. A., Dittman, R. E., Lanza, R., & Lee, D. R. (2014). Human somatic cell nuclear transfer using adult cells. Cell Stem Cell, 14, 777–780.
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- Haugen, H. M. (2010). Inclusive and relevant language: The use of the concepts of autonomy, dignity and vulnerability in different contexts. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 13, 203–213.
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