Cloning Debate

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Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.

Every human being at one time or another is faced with this situation. Children whose mothers tell them not to eat sweets between meals face a choice when mom is out of the room and there are fresh cookies sitting on the countertop. In that nanosecond while the child decides what to do, he or she considers what the consequences are of being caught, what the consequences are of violating the parent’s trust, and whether the possible consequences are worth that fleeting sweet sensation.

We face these choices every day, and they vary in the degree of their impact. They can affect the life of a single person or the path of an entire society.

Our society and our planet come closer every day to having to make some very difficult decisions about whether cloning of human beings should be allowed. On Friday, a National Academy of Sciences panel said cloning human beings for the purpose of creating a child is medically unsafe and should be banned. The scientists also suggested that the proposed ban on human cloning should be reviewed every five years. Reconsideration of the ban should occur, the panel recommends, only if a new scientific review indicates that the procedures are likely to be safe and effective, and if a broad national dialogue on societal, religious and ethical issues suggests that reconsideration is warranted.

The debate comes closer to reality as Congress debates a cloning ban. The House of Representatives last year passed a bill which would outlaw cloning for both reproductive and therapeutic purposes, and President Bush supports the bill. While the Senate agrees with the ban on reproductive cloning, there is sentiment in that chamber to permit cloning human embryos for therapeutic and research purposes. That would fly in the face of the House bill.

The therapeutic cloning procedure does not create completely formed human beings, but rather early-stage embryos from which stem cells can be harvested.

Also known as “master” cells, stem cells have the potential to develop into any kind of tissue — bone, blood, nerve, muscle, etc. Scientists therefore believe they may be able to use stem cells to grow any type of tissue needed for transplant. Since the new tissue would be genetically identical to the donor, it theoretically would not be rejected after implantation.

Sounds like a great idea, huh? Not if you believe that life begins at conception, it doesn’t. If you think the abortion issue has divided the nation in the past few decades, just wait until scientists and doctors have the ability to safely recreate human life from the cells of already living humans.

That ability doesn’t exist yet. Data on the reproductive cloning of animals show that only a small percentage of attempts are successful, many of the clones die during all stages of gestation, newborn clones often are abnormal or die, and the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother.

Remember Dolly the ewe, the first successful mammal clone that created such a stir a few years back? Bet you didn’t know it took the scientific team 227 attempts before they got it right with Dolly. What happened to the 226 unsuccessful clones? How much did they suffer? How mutated were they? This is the type of question which would inflame animal rights organizations. It will inflame all mankind if and when full human cloning is ever medically viable.

We’re not ready as a nation or a world to clone. The theological debates will dwarf even the ethical differences of opinion. Even when we are scientifically ready, and it will happen at some point in the future, it is highly questionable whether we should. Science is within reach of the proverbial sweet treat, and it will ultimately be up to lawmakers to decide how much, if any, to allow.

Mr. Tom Mitsoff is a daily newspaper editor and syndicated editorial columnist. His web address is http://www.tommitsoff.com.

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