Wednesday, December 2

Advantages and Disadvantages of Human Cloning

The advent of biotechnology has brought with it revolutionary and destructive discoveries equally. One of the more controversial subjects of this technology is cloning. Cloning is a process of taking genetic matter from one organism and creating an identical copy of it artificially. This has been extensively studied, discussed, debated. Hence, it is no surprise that the possibility of human cloning is even more controversial. So, let us look at the arguments that prevail on both sides for a valid opinion.

WHAT IS CLONING?

The word “clone” is derived from the Greek word klōn meaning ‘twig’. It was first coined by an American plant physicist, Mr. Herbert J. Webber to describe the process of creating a new plant with a twig. Cloning has come to mean any artificial, identical genetic copy of an existing life form. In other words, it is the process of producing genetically identical copies of a biological entity. The copied material refers to the clone. In biology, two or more organisms are clones of each other if they are anatomically, morphologically and genetically identical.

WHAT IS HUMAN CLONING?

Theoretically, human cloning is the reproduction of a new, developing human to be identical to the cloned subject. It is to create a genome or genetic material which is a near-identical copy of its parents or ‘progenitor’ cell. Colloquially, human cloning describes the reproduction of human cells and tissues. But till now there is no evidence to show that a human embryo has been successfully cloned.

TYPES OF HUMAN CLONING

Gene Cloning/ DNA Cloning

Gene or DNA cloning is the process of inserting a gene from an organism into a genetic vector (such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, etc.). This gene is separated from its chromosomal DNA. DNA cloning produces the copies of genes or DNA segments.

Reproductive Cloning

Reproductive cloning is the process of transferring asexual cells into an egg after its DNA is removed. Once the embryo is developed, it is placed into the recipient uterus. This results in a cloned individual identical to the genetic donor. But Article 11 of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration of Human Genome and Human Rights (1997) states that ‘practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted’.

Therapeutic Cloning/ Embryonic Cloning

Therapeutic cloning is used to study human development and to treat diseases by harvesting stem cells. The culture of cells procured is used for human research and the advancement of regenerative cells. The stem cells are taken after the egg divides after four or five days. This extraction of the stem cells destroys the embryo. As a result, this process of destruction of the embryos has created a lot of ethical concerns.

BRIEF HISTORY 

In 1963, J.B.Haldane, a British-Indian scientist, was the first to propose the idea of human cloning. Other eminent scholars and scientists like the geneticist Joshua Lederberg and Nobel Laureate, James D. Watson also advocated the concept from both sides.

The idea of human cloning gained more traction after the successful cloning of a sheep named Dolly in 1996 by a process called somatic cell nuclear transplant (SCNT). In 1998, the first hybrid human clone was created by inserting a nucleus from a man’s leg into a cow’s egg. But the embryo did not survive for more than 12 days. In 2004, a South Korean professor, Hwang woo-suk, claimed he had harvested embryonic stem cells from a cloned human blastocyst. But this was a fabricated story. The first report of embryonic stem cells created using SCNT by a group of scientists surfaced in 2013. And the first-ever cloning of primates with somatic cell nuclear transplant (SCNT) was in 2018. But to date, about 70 countries have banned human cloning.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Human Cloning
A sheep named Dolly was the first cloned mammal with the process of nuclear transfer

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ADVANTAGES OF HUMAN CLONING

Medical Advancement

The biggest advantage of human cloning is the scope for medical advancement. The study of human cloning has also advanced our understanding of the developmental biology of humans as well as human embryo development. This helps us better understand human evolution and to potentially provide solutions to various developmental diseases. The process of therapeutic cloning offers the potential to treat patients with a disease or injury. It could also be possible to share genetic material that could help prevent or cure diseases that harm a person’s life. Researchers can use the versatile stem cells to overcome chronic degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and the likes. Moreover, it could also be used to replicate natural resistance to viral epidemics like HIV/AIDS, and the very recent coronavirus.

Organ Harvesting

Cells produced with the somatic cell nuclear transplant (SCNT) are useful to identify the cause of a disease. This could eventually be used for stem cell therapy to prevent the disease. Transplantation of bone marrow is one such form of stem cell therapy. Human cloning could be used in regenerative medicine. It deals with replacing or regenerating human or animal cells, tissues or organs. If successful, it could be used for autologous transplantation (obtained from the same individual) which would reduce the risk of rejection of the organ transplant by the recipient. Moreover, this could effectively eliminate the organ transplant waiting lists.

Elimination of Birth Defects

Human cloning helps with the reversal of severe birth defects identified in the womb itself. After the identification of the defect, a clone can be created with the tissue of the fetus. The genes of the embryos can be then manipulated to remove the birth defect and to give them the opportunity for a better life.

Solution to Infertility

A benefit of reproductive cloning is that individuals who are infertile or cannot reproduce naturally have the opportunity of childbearing. Doctors could take the genetic material of the parents and infuse it in the embryo outside of the womb and grow it in a laboratory. It can also help to identify the various treatment methods of infertility.

DISADVANTAGES OF HUMAN CLONING

Development of New Illnesses

One of the biggest disadvantages of human cloning is the development of new illnesses because of it. Being a niche technology, there is a higher risk of mutations or developmental abnormalities through genes. It could also pose as long term complications. Additionally, there is a higher risk of trafficking of organs and tissues harvested with the help of human cloning.

Illegal in Various Countries

Many countries have prohibited human cloning. While some countries like Argentina, Australia, Poland, etc. have enacted specific legislation to prohibit or ban human cloning; other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have restrictive legislation to monitor certain kinds of testing done for research purposes. India is another example that does not have specific legislation for human cloning but has guidelines to prohibit human cloning or reproductive cloning. In addition, there is a very real possibility of exploitation of women for the manufacturing of cloned embryos.

Religious Implications

Various religious groups have expressed their concerns over human cloning. Some believe that human cloning interferes with God’s role in creation. And some also have objections to the destruction of embryos in the process of therapeutic cloning.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Human Cloning

Ethical Issues

Human cloning raises the issue of individuality, the relationship between generations, the difference between procreation and manufacture, and the sanctity of having children. Human cloning violates the principle of consent which is one of the main principles of bioethics. Therefore, experimenting on humans is inhumane and unethical.

In conclusion, as American philosopher, John Dewey says situations into which change and the unexpected enter are a challenge to intelligence to create new principles. Therefore, the debate over the morality of human cloning will continue for years to come and only time will tell which way the argument sways.

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Pros and Cons of Human Cloning

PROS

CONS

Medical Advancement

Development of New Illnesses

Organ Harvesting

Illegal in Various Countries

Elimination of Birth Defects

Religious Implications

Solution to Infertility

Ethical Issues