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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 15:48 GMT
Questions a cloned child might ask
By Giles Wilson
BBC News Online Magazine

The claim that a cloned human embryo has been implanted in a womb of a 32-year-old woman has enraged scientists and ethicists.

The chances of the team behind the bid having a successful outcome, that is a healthy baby, are rated by experts as ranging from highly remote to non-existent. But if a baby were born, how long would it be before it started asking the sort of awkward questions all children do?

What sort of answers could they expect? (Your suggestions for further answers, or indeed tricky questions, are welcomed.)

Mummy, where do babies come from?
A tough one at the best of times. At least a cloned child could be told of its origins without reference to sexual organs, which might make it easier for particularly bashful parents. But cloning is a very complicated process to grasp: the theory is that a human egg is hollowed out, and then implanted with genetic material from another cell (in the current example a skin cell) from another human, either male or female. Theoretically the woman supplying the egg could supply the genetic material as well. It is then given an electrical jolt which is designed to start the dividing process. Few adults could claim to understand the process fully, so explaining it to a child without making them feel like a freak of nature could be a tall order.

Risks for the mother include fears of an abnormal placenta
Why don't I look anything like daddy?
A typical child might understand that he or she owes some characteristics to different parts of the family. The rise of IVF, and even surrogacy, has meant parents must already be finding ways of explaining complicated situations. But the possibility of the donated genetic material also coming from the woman whose egg is used, or indeed from another family member, add a layer of complexity.

Mum, is granny your mum?
The person the child calls "granny" might technically be the donor of the egg or the cell, and thus actually a biological parent of the cloned baby, even if it is their daughter who carries the child. (There have already been cases, particularly with surrogacy, where an egg has been supplied by an infertile woman's mother.) The permutations of egg donor/cell donor/birth mother/adults-supplying-upbringing are mind boggling, and give rise to seemingly impossible situations where a child is his own father's "father" (i.e. he is cloned using a cell taken from the father of the man who brings him up).

Did you like the same things as I do when you were my age?
One thing which seems clear is that even cloned people would have individual characteristics - just as identical twins can have quite distinct personalities and tastes. And personality has a huge amount to do with a child's environment as well as their genes.

Scientists believe the biological make-up of the eggs of primates, including humans, makes cloning almost impossible

Will I ever be an old person like granddad or grandma?
One area of particular uncertainty is how old a clone is when it's born. Is it "new", or might it take on some of the age of the being it was cloned from, in which case a new born baby could have the cells of a 30-year-old. Aside from this, there is a huge percentage of birth defects with any embryo which develops enough to be born - Dolly the sheep was the only success in 247 pregnancies. But even for those that have survived, life expectancy is a big uncertainty.

Did you know when you were pregnant that I would be all right?
With the current level of knowledge, no mother could honestly answer yes to this question. Those cloned animals which have been born have had problems with their livers, their hearts, their lungs, their heads, their immune systems, and may have had other hidden problems with their genes. Going through with a pregnancy of a cloned baby would be dangerous in the extreme for the baby, and could also pose dangers for the woman carrying the baby.

Am I against the law?
The cloned child itself would not be against the law, but the process by which a human might be cloned would definitely be illegal in the UK, and many other countries where genetic experimentation is subject to tough restriction. There are however plenty of places around the world which do not have any restrictions in place.

To embark on human cloning at this stage... just seems to me quite astoundingly irresponsible
Professor Richard Gardner, Royal Society

Why do children at school call me Frankenstein?
There is no doubt that the first person to be cloned would become a world-wide celebrity if their identity was ever known. (The Raelian cult claimed to have overseen the birth of five cloned babies but has refused to provide any evidence, they say because it could identify the parents.) If human cloning ever became a normal procedure, and the cloned children were identified, there can be no guarantee that society would accept them. There is, however, no evidence that test tube babies are regarded any differently from naturally conceived children. And society's values can change - Professor Steve Jones of the University of London points out that 50 years ago, "transplants of the cornea of the eye from a corpse to a blind person were not allowed on ethical grounds".

Why did you have me?
In some ways this might be an easier question to answer - it's simple and reassuring to tell a child that its parents wanted to have it so much that doctors gave them special help. It may become more difficult to answer if things go wrong with the child's health, but as far as the child is concerned it could be simple.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

You missed one ... "Mummy, would the world really be better off if I hadn't been born? The sensationalist media and all these religious people seem to think so."

By the way, I thought of a better answer to the Frankenstein question... "Children don't think like that. It is because they have been told so by their uneducated, prejudiced parents."
Colin Heyes, UK citizen in Germany

Am I like you or am I you? Is my brother/sister my brother/sister or am I their mum/dad?
A Willis, England

Daddy, do I have a soul?
Perry, UK

Daddy, when I'm 21, what will your feelings be when you see that I look like the woman you fell in love with?
John Elsen, UK

Why me?
Bee, UK

Daddy, Can I have a PlayStation? Kids are kids.
Jason , UK

Here's one that lot's of little girls have asked before - but never with the answer - yes, of course! "Mummy, will I look just like you when I grow up?"
L Brent, UK

If the donor wasn't from my family who can I marry with out it being incest?
Michael, UK

"Daddy, the police have found my DNA and my fingerprints in a murder scene other side of the world. Will I go to jail for a crime I didn't commit?"
Kevin, Scotland, UK

Did people in the olden days really think it was strange to be a clone?
Martin Volney, UK

Did the person they cloned me from keep asking lots of questions too?
Matthew, UK

My husband is adopted and our own children were conceived using donor sperm and IVF. The first thing I say to them when we have "where do babies come from" conversations is that we are a family because God gave us to each other to love and take care of. Then we explain that families are made in lots of different ways and tell them quite matter-of-factly how they were made alongside telling them how other members of our extended family came to have their children. The important thing is that children grow up with the information of how they were made from an early age and that this is presented to them in the context of the more important issue of what being a family means: being unconditionally loved; having individual sorrows and joys shared by the whole family; having a valued role to play in caring for and loving each other; taking delight in each other and giving thanks that we are a family.
Mother, London, England

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