TN-CBC Position on Cloning

July 20, 2006 • Posted in Stem Cell Research

The United Nations General Assembly in 2005 issued the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Cloning:  a Declaration which, passed by a near 3-1 majority, urges all nations to prohibit all forms of human cloning.

Human cloning is the asexual reproduction of human beings, and occurs in this manner:  the first requirement is a human egg, procured by no small procedure from a woman whose system has been stimulated with powerful medications to produce oocytes, or eggs.  Next, that egg’s nucleus is removed, and the nucleus from a somatic cell (a cell other than sperm or egg) is inserted into the enucleated egg.  Then a chemical or electrical stimulus is applied, and the cell begins to divide, forming an embryo.  This is somatic cell nuclear transfer, or “cloning.”

In the popular as well as scientific press, cloning has been artificially separated into two different types, so-called “reproductive” and “therapeutic.”  It is a common misunderstanding that only “reproductive” cloning produces humans, because it refers to cloned infants brought to birth.  This is simply not the case.  Both “reproductive” and “therapeutic” cloning produce humans, albeit in their tiniest forms:  human embryos.  Intellectual honesty demands that we not deny this.  Human embryos do not develop into some other life form, but are human, whatever their stage of development.  The term “therapeutic” is misleading as well, in that the “therapy” envisioned is not for the tiny human in the Petri dish, but rather, for someone else.  “Therapy” in the usual context does not include the eradication of the one who is the subject of the therapy!

Cloning embryonic humans to produce embryonic stem cells for theoretical therapies is not an appropriate enterprise in which we should engage.  To date, adult stem cells (those stem cells available from birth onward; these can be from the umbilical cord, the placenta, as well as the adult human) have been successfully utilized in a number of therapies, and more applications are forthcoming.  This research is vital, and poses no ethical dilemmas—unlike embryonic stem cell research, which poses ethical as well as moral concerns.  Since the Nuremburg trials, our medical system has insisted on informed consent for research subjects.  To our shame, those rules have not always been followed, and when that has happened, people have incurred significant injury and, sometimes, loss of life.  The Tuskeegee Syphilis study and the forced sterilizations of the eugenic era are ugly but potent reminders of the importance of informed consent.  Cloned embryos are incapable of granting consent for experimentation.

In 2005, the United Nations issued the U.N. Declaration on Human Cloning, which calls for the prohibition of all forms of human cloning by all nations.  To date, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Norway have banned cloning.  In fact, “therapeutic cloning” in countries as diverse as Canada, Germany, and France, merits a sentence of between 5 to 7 years of jail time.  Cloning has also been banned in a number of U.S. states:  Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia.   The ban on human cloning is supported by critical thinkers of conservative, environmental, and feminist descriptors, yet the state of Tennessee did not see fit to pass the bill to ban cloning when it had the opportunity in April, 2006.  It is the view of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture that Tennessee should revisit that decision.