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An Overview of Cloning

By Mohymin Islam

From Brave New World to Star Wars, cloning has been a hallmark of science fiction. Now, as the prospect of cloning becomes more feasible - and in some cases, reality - the ethical concerns that many people have about this revolutionary technology must be addressed.

The word clone derives from the ancient greek word κλών, which is translated as “twig.” The word clone is derived from the process of propagation through which a branch cutting from a tree is grown into another tree. Scientifically, the process of cloning is defined as a process through which a genetically identical copy of an organism is created. The first demonstrations of cloning were carried out in 1885, when sea urchins were successfully cloned by separating embryo cells, through a process known as artificial embryo twinning. Further research would result in the cloning of vertebrates, and later mammals, as well as new cloning techniques such as nuclear transfer. Most notably, in 1996, researchers were able to clone an adult sheep by using the nucleus from a somatic cell, resulting in Dolly the sheep. The following year, primates were cloned through embryonic cell nuclear transfer, showing that humans too might be cloned.

The creation of Dolly was met with controversy, and the conversation almost immediately turned to the prospect of human cloning, though there are practical barriers to human cloning that do exist within other species. The first major barrier to cloning humans consists of the logistics of cloning. In order to begin cloning, scientists would need to gather thousands of human eggs, which in and of itself would be a difficult task. Even if such a task were achieved, researchers would need to find volunteers to carry the child to term. In addition, cloning has a very high rate of failure, and would result in unnecessary risk for both the surrogates and the clones. All of this is assuming that cloning a human being is legal in the first place. Following the creation of Dolly, many countries rushed to pass laws regulating research regarding human cloning. About thirty countries have banned human cloning altogether. Adding to the difficulty of cloning human beings is that there is no good reason to do so. Cloning humans is impractical, and there isn’t really an incentive to do so.

In addition to practical barriers to cloning, there are also major moral qualms concerning cloning. Most people agree that cloning humans is immoral, and as a result, cloning humans has never been attempted to the same extent that cloning animals has. In particular, the method of cloning known as nuclear transfer is seen as being immoral, according to an MIT article[1]. In addition, the high rate of cloning also makes the process immoral. Dolly, for example, was only one of 27 embryos out of 277 nuclear transfers to develop into a sheep. Given the misgivings that many people have about cloning humans, it is no wonder that such a thing has not yet happened.

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