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Human Cloning Debate and Life Issues

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Human Cloning Debate and Life Issues

The use of cloning to produce "Dolly" the sheep has prompted a public debate about cloning humans. This issue has quickly become linked with the issues of abortion and embryo research.

What is cloning?

Cloning is a way of producing a genetic twin of an organism, without sexual reproduction. The method used to produce Dolly the sheep is called "somatic cell nuclear transfer": the nucleus of a body cell ("somatic cell") is transferred into an unfertilized egg whose nucleus has been removed or rendered inactive. A tiny electric pulse may then stimulate development of the resulting embryo, which is an almost exact genetic twin of the creature that supplied the nucleus. It may be technically possible to use this procedure to reproduce human beings.

What does cloning have to do with embryo research?

A great deal. Cloning a human being or other large organism begins by artificially producing an embryo of that species. To produce one live sheep, "Dolly," scientists created 277 sheep embryos; 276 died or were discarded. Experiments in human cloning would involve the creation and destruction of human embryos on a massive scale.

Didn't the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) propose a ban on cloning?

Not really. It proposed a five-year moratorium on use of cloning to produce a "child," meaning a live-born child. This would allow unlimited cloning to produce human embryos, so long as the embryos were then destroyed. Such experiments could be used to refine the procedure and test its likelihood of causing birth defects. After years of destructive experiments, the ban on allowing live birth could be reconsidered. So NBAC's proposal is not a ban on cloning but a permission slip for experimenting on embryos and a mandate for destroying them. This approach is reflected in S. 1602, a bill introduced by Senators Kennedy and Feinstein to prohibit transferring a cloned human embryo to "a woman's uterus." Under S. 1602, researchers could clone embryos and experiment on them without limit; they would violate the law only if they failed to throw away the embryos afterwards.

What does human cloning have to do with abortion?

Quite a bit, because bills like S. 1602 would enforce a ban on "cloning a human being" by mandating the destruction of all cloned human embryos. This would mark the first time Congress has ever declared that human embryos are not humans and are worthy only of destruction.
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