Here’s a new liver made just for you. And a heart. And a brain. And a…you?
By Nikola Petrov & Tahmid Tapan
Cloning is the process of producing genetically identical copies of a biological entity. The copied material is then called a clone. We’ve all seen countless examples of clones in the media, like the clones from Star Wars, and the replicants from Blade Runner, but how close are these to reality?
For starters, the ethics of cloning any human parts or wholes are highly debated to the point where nothing has really been done. All papers claiming to have produced a human clone have either been retracted, proven false, or provided no evidence to have done so. However, and that’s a big however, it is completely possible.
There are two types of organismal cloning being most often discussed; therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning seems to have just a little less ethical issues, because it produces stem cells from which tissues meant to replace injured or defunct tissues are made. In other words, all you’re actually making is a copy of an organ in the end. Reproductive cloning on the other hand, results in the production of the entire animal. This one immediately raises ethical concerns.
Having another living, breathing human with your same genetic information definitely goes against many religions and societal beliefs, along with principles of individual autonomy and identity. Not to mention, it’s just plain scary thinking that there’s someone out there who occupies your personal niche, if you will. So perhaps therapeutic cloning is the best option?
Before we decide anything let’s talk more about exactly what happens here. Therapeutic cloning is achieved by producing a cloned embryo and then harvesting its stem cells with the same DNA as the donor cell to then produce an organ or functional tissue. When the stem cells are harvested from the embryo, it is effectively destroyed. Thus, it’s basically the same as reproductive cloning, with the only difference in the final product. Although, destroying that embryo is another bioethical debate within itself.
A Daily Mail Article published in 2012 claimed that the World Health Organization has said that an organ is sold once an hour. The UN public health body then estimated 10,000 organs are traded every year, with the statistics growing evermore with a rise in black market transplants. In most countries, only around a third of the population are donors voluntarily, which means that thousands of patients end up on transplant lists every year. Many of these people die on the waiting list, and many others die without having ever made the waiting list. There’s also the added risk of rejection after implantation. Cloning can definitely solve these problems, albeit with its inherent ethical issues. “With great power comes great responsibility,” Uncle Ben once said in an issue of Spider-Man. If cloning ever does become commonplace, it would be an amazing thing, but there will be huge responsibilities put on the backs of society to not misuse it in any way.