The cloning of humans may soon be a reality. The recent announcement of a sheep and calf cloned using this technique has sparked much controversy in the modern world. The ethical, legal, and moral aspects of cloning must be addressed by governments quickly and its implications must be taken into careful consideration for the future of mankind in general.
On February 23, 1997, Ian Wilmut, a Scottish scientist, and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute announced the successful cloning of a sheep from a cell from the body of another sheep - without the aid of sexual reproduction. Dolly, the sheep produced, is “the creation of a new individual genetically identical to an existing mammal - a ‘delayed’ genetic twin.” This process was simply an extension of research in genetics that has been flourishing for several decades. For the past ten years, scientists have methodically cloned sheep and cows from embryo cells, but the cloning procedure used to generate Dolly was quite unique.
The technique used to produce this novel sheep involved the use of a single somatic cell. The cloning of Dolly was the first successful experiment using the nucleus of a somatic cell from an adult animal to clone an animal that matured to a fully developed state.
The basis of this experiment involved the obtaining of individual cells from the udder of an adult ewe. The cells were then cultured in a laboratory and allowed to multiply. Nutrients being fed to the cultured cells were then reduced in order to stop their growth. The lack of nutrients forced the cells into a state of dormancy, so that they became ready to stop acting like udder cells and began acting like embryo cells. The nucleus of the now dormant udder cells was then removed and transferred to unfertilized sheep egg cells, which had their original nucleus removed. The egg with the new nucleus was then implanted into a surrogate mother sheep, allowed to gestate and the result was a lamb, genetically identical to the original sheep. According to Dr. Wilmut, “the development clock of an adult udder cell was wound back, the nucleus shook off its identity and was biochemically reprogrammed to begin life all over again.” Though this procedure sounds relatively simple, Dolly was the only lamb born from 277 identical trials. The process of cloning animals is far from perfect at this time, but many questions regarding the implications of cloning have been raised.
The initial reaction by a large majority of the general public was one of fear, concern, and serious moral reservations about the likely use or misuse of cloning technology. While after careful consideration, some have viewed cloning as a way to gain a better understanding of animal cells in general and as a possible method of developing new cures for various diseases. It appears that most objections to human cloning “reflect the deeply held beliefs about the value of human individuality and personal autonomy, the meaning of family and the value of a child, respect for human life and the natural world, and the preservation of the integrity of the human species.”
Many misconceptions about the subject of cloning have also come to light. The American public has been exposed to countless science fiction movies and novels portraying cloning as a type of instant body cloning, where a full-grown identical person is accurately copied. The plots usually involve an “evil-twin” theme and end with the attempted mass destruction of the world. These science fiction tales have led numerous people to believe that cloning allows for the “instant” creation of a fully-grown adult from the cells of an individual. Many people also share the belief that there is a direct genetic relationship between the physical and psychological traits that makes up a person. According to a recent CNN poll, most Americans would like to see Michael Jordan cloned. They mistakenly believe that a clone of Jordan would also have his talent and unique personality. Though the clone may be a “copy” of Michael Jordan, there is no way of knowing if that person would have the drive, desire, or stamina to become one of the world’s greatest basketball players. It has been shown that “although genes provide the building blocks for each individual, it