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Thursday, 24 June, 1999, 13:42 GMT 14:42 UK
Cloning - where will it end?
Cloning may soon be at the centre of medicine
Cloning may soon be at the centre of medicine
By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

There are few technologies that raise such passions as cloning. Perhaps only nuclear power and GM foods are similar. But neither holds as much fear as that of manipulating the very nature of life.

At the moment the cloning of human cells is banned in the UK. After more debate, the government may change this allowing cloned human cells and embryos to be created for research purposes as long as they are destroyed after 14 days.

A human stem cell - certain to be cloned
A human stem cell - certain to be cloned
Critics say that it would be a slippery slope and that it is only a matter of time before a cloned baby is born.

Such an argument is not logical. It is misleading to say that just because a thing can be done it will be done.

There are many things that are possible that a civilised society does not allow. Almost all advanced technology can be used for ill yet it rarely is.

Others will do it

Another spurious argument is that we should not carry out this research because others will. There are other countries, it is claimed, where the regulations regarding genetic research are poor. They will do what is banned here.

But just because a renegade research team in an unregulated country may attempt to clone a human is no reason to stop such research here and deny us all the possible benefits.

There are many medical and scientific benefits to be had from therapeutic cloning. We could have replacement tissues and organs that perfectly match the recipient because they were cloned from their own cells.

In fact, it is not to fanciful to suggest that in a few decades the cloning of human tissue will be the very centre of the treatment for most of the serious diseases that afflict us.

Scientist's against it

Talking to the scientists involved in research into cloning and you will find that most of them, with the exception of a few well publicised mavericks who frankly stand no chance of achieving their aims, are vehemently against cloning live humans.

Not only are they against it ethically they also say that with today's technology it could not be done.

To produce Dolly, the first mammal cloned from an adult, involved over 250 failures many of which involved severe abnormalities.

With our current understanding producing a human clone would involve great human suffering for a questionable end. It would be a horrific experiment.

But all of this is not to say that we will not have human clones someday. The technology is bound to get better.

"Where will it all end?" is the cry. Twenty one years ago such questions were asked after the birth of Louise Brown, the world's first test-tube baby.

Where it ended can be seen in the smiles on the faces and the joy of the parents of tens of thousands of children that have been conceived via test-tube fertilisation.

Likewise our attitude to cloning may change when we can talk to the people whose lives have been saved by the medical use of the research.

See also:

05 May 99 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
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