Vol. 12, No. 2 March-April 2001
The Complete Guide to Cloning
With recent cover stories in TIME magazine and the New York Times Magazine, a segment on "60 Minutes," a hearing before a congressional subcommittee and a spate of recent newspaper articles, human cloning has again captured the limelight. If the important facts were known, there would be a public outcry to ban all research involving human cloning. Regrettably, journalists–and, tragically, many legislators–are being distracted by the brash claims of a few disreputable-looking characters. They seem blind to the insidious and very real evil now occurring in research labs in the U.S. and other countries. And, what is perhaps more shocking, the ongoing research which involves the manipulation and killing of untold numbers of human embryos enjoys the enthusiastic support of many in the academic, scientific and bioethics communities.
Before looking at the state of the art in cloning, the moral implications of the research and the law, here's a "who's who" in the world of human cloning.
The Cult and the Cranks
Top honors go to Raėl, founder of the religion known as the Raelian Movement and head of the for-profit Bahamian corporation Valiant Ventures, Ltd.
Valiant Ventures offers the following services:
CLONAID® human cloning service for $200,000 U.S.; INSURACLONE®, retrieval and cryogenic storage of your own or a loved one's cells for a future "repair kit," for "a lifetime"at only $50,000 U.S.; CLONAPET® "the cloning of pets to wealthy individuals who wish to see their lost pet be brought back to life" (emphasis added), price not stated; and OVULAID® which will give you donor eggs, photos of, and even a personal visit with, prospective egg suppliers to better exercise your "right to choose the appearance of your future baby," all for as little as $5,000 and up, plus transplantation fee.
To put these services in context, the Raelian Movement "claims that life on earth was created scientifically in laboratories by extraterrestrials whose name (ELOHIM) is found in the Hebrew Bible and was mistranslated by the word 'God,' and also "claims that Jesus' resurrection was, in fact, a cloning performed by the ELOHIM" (www.clonaid. com/english/pages/home.html).
Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D. (physical and molecular chemistry) is the scientific director of CLONAID, and a visiting assistant professor of chemistry at Hamilton College, N.Y. She confidently describes CLONAID's current project to produce the clone of a child who died at ten months of age following surgery.
It is tempting to dismiss the Raelian/CLONAID leaders as "kooks, cranks, cultists" and/or "con-men," in the words of
Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics. But the Raelians–claiming over 55,000 followers in 84 countries–already have solved two of the main obstacles to cloning humans–available wombs and large supplies of donated eggs. Young female devotees of Raėl appear eager to contribute eggs and serve as surrogate mothers to the cloned embryos. And, as with other cloning operations, there is no lack of wealthy, gullible clients wishing to clone themselves, a deceased child, pet or even a terminally-ill mother. (Gibbs, "Baby It's You! And You, and You...," TIME, Feb.19, 2001)
Flamboyant, Cypriot-born American Panayiotis ("Panos") Zavos, Ed.S, Ph.D. is founder, director and "chief andrologist" of the Andrology Institute of America. Zavos recently quit his paying job at the University of Kentucky to team up with Severino Antinori, M.D. of Italy to form the International Cloning Consortium. Zavos frequently compares himself to pioneers like Columbus and Neil Armstrong, adding: "Whether we like it or not, we will have cloned individuals in the very near future" because "the genie is out of the bottle" ("60 Minutes," March 11, 2001).
Antinori boasts of having made millions of dollars operating three infertility clinics in Italy. He is best known for using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to aid a 62-year-old woman in bringing a baby to birth. Facing opposition from the Holy See, the Italian Medical Association, and the Italian Senate (which recently voted 385-3 to approve the European Union's Oviedo convention on bioethics and its protocol prohibiting human cloning), Antinori remains defiant: "It seems," he sniffed, "we have returned to the old times of the Inquisition" (www.zenit.org/english, on-line archive, March 23, 2001). Like Zavos, he has been quoted as stating: "Religion must never get in the way of science" (Special Report on the 9th March 2001 Conference on Therapeutic Human Cloning, at www.humancloning.org/update 1003.htm). Zavos and Antinori expect to produce the first cloned, live-born human baby within the next year (UPI, "Italian doc says he will clone human," January 26, 2001).
Randolfe Wicker is founder of Clone Rights United Front (www.clonerights.com) and director of the Human Cloning Foundation (www.humancloning.org), both organi-zations headquartered in a corner of his lighting shop in Greenwich Village. He says he "is planning to have some of his skin cells stored for future cloning. 'If I'm not cloned before I die, my estate will be set up so that I can be cloned after' ... admitting, however, that he hasn't found a lawyer wiling to help. 'It's hard to write a will with all these uncertainties,' he concedes. 'A lot of lawyers will look at me crazy.'"
"As a gay man," reports TIME magazine, "Wicker has long been frustrated that he cannot readily have children of his own; as he gets older, his desire to reproduce grows stronger. He knows that a clone would not be a photocopy of him but talks about the traits the boy might possess: 'He will like the color blue, Middle Eastern food and romantic Spanish music that's out of fashion.' And then he hints at the heart of his motive. 'I can thumb my nose at Mr. Death and say, 'You might get me, but you're not going to get all of me,' he says. 'The special formula that is me will live on into another lifetime. It's a partial triumph over death. I would leave my imprint not in sand but in cement'" (TIME, Feb. 19, 2001, on-line at www.time.com/health/article/ 0,8599,98998-1,00.html).
Wicker's March 28 testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations revealed his contempt for numerous parties, including: the "fraudulent" Raelians; those who oppose human cloning to produce babies while supporting the same technology used in research; those who "equate declarations by a group of space-cadet wackos about their 'secret lab' where they are claiming that they are actually cloning a human being to the professional, responsible, cautious attempt to perfect cloning technology by two of the world's most renowned and experienced fertility doctors" [referring to Antinori and Zavos who is not an M.D., but an "andrologist"]; and, specifically, Arthur Caplan, "whose voice has so crowded out other voices within bioethics that he is recognized as an American secular Pope." Caplan earned his ire when quoted in TIME saying, "anybody who clones somebody today should be arrested" due to the great number of failures, deformities, miscarriages, etc.
The Academic Advocates
Princeton biology professor Lee M. Silver has written a paean to cloning, Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World (Avon Books, 1998). Randolfe Wicker spares no praise for the book, believing "it may ultimately prove to be the greatest book of the Twentieth Century. Its vision of accelerated human evolution is cool, prophetic and reasoned. If, as Professor Silver foresees, future generations are not only enhanced by the manipulation of human genes–but acquire new abilities such as night vision and sonar capacities through enrichment with genes gotten from other species [anyone else thinking of "The Fly" and "Dracula" about now?], with the passing years he will be recognized as this century's Nostradamus" (www.clonerights.com/ new_page_1.htm ).
Gregory Pence, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, is the author of Who's Afraid of Human Cloning? (Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 1998). Here he attempts to refute the "irrationalities" about cloning humans. In testimony before the House subcommittee, Dr. Pence applauds cloning as "a new way to create a family" and "a new way of avoiding hereditary genetic disease." Pence claims that, like "test tube babies" whose creation was once opposed, cloned babies will not be seen as "'commodities' or 'products.' Instead, and because of the effort and cost that the parents endure, these children are very, very loved.'" Pence wants research to continue in cloning human embryos for reproduction until the technique is safe enough to ensure implanted embryos will be born with no greater risk of deformity than is the case with sexual reproduction.
Signatories of the "Declaration in Defence of Cloning and the Integrity of Scientific Research." The Declaration concludes: "The potential benefits of cloning may be so immense that it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning. We call for continued, responsible development of cloning technologies, and for a broad-based commitment to ensuring that traditionalist and obscurantist views do not irrelevantly obstruct beneficial scientific developments. The signers of the Declaration are Humanist Laureates of the International Academy of Humanism" (www.rael.org/int/english/ evidence/evidence/body_science6.html). Among the 31 signers are the following "laureates": Pieter Admiraal, the Netherlands' top euthanizer; Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix and supporter of infanticide; Richard Dawkins, an Oxford professor who believes that humans are just temporary containers for their genes; Antony Flew, professor emeritus of philosophy, Reading University and a major critic of religion generally; Paul Kurtz, professor emeritus of philosophy, SUNY at Buffalo and a prominent atheist philosopher; and Gerald Larue, professor emeritus of archeology and biblical studies and former president of the euthanasia-promoting Hemlock Society; and Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus of sociobiology at Harvard. About two dozen renowned universities have employed or continue to employ the misguided signatories.
Researchers in "therapeutic" human cloning
This category is legion, but publicity-shy, fearing the backlash that would occur if average people of normal sensibilities knew what they were up to. They personally, or their institutions, are involved in research in which human embryos are created by cloning, then destroyed or discarded.
Michael D. West, Ph.D., president and CEO of Advanced Cell Technology, Worcester, Mass. whose Website boasts: "ACT's research team was the first to develop a successful method for producing human embryonic stem cells through nuclear transfer techniques by fusing a human somatic cell with a bovine egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed. ... The goal of the human stem cell research is to develop cells and tissues that are fully compatible with a patient's own immune system" (http://www.advancedcell.com/profile.asp).
Thomas B. Okarma, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Geron Corporation, Menlo Park, California. At www.geron. com, the company describes its research using "human pluripotent stem cells" (hPSCs), that is stem cells derived by killing live human embryos, and nuclear transfer, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer or cloning. This U.S. biotechnology firm recently bought the Roslin Institute (the Scottish firm that produced "Dolly" the sheep) to merge the Scots' cloning expertise with Geron's know-how in human embryonic stem cells.
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) which "represents more than 950 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 states and 33 other nations" (March 28 testimony of Thomas Okarma). A partial member listing (not updated since late 1998) can be found at http://bio.worldweb.net. Not all, of course, are involved in human cloning/stem cell technologies. But BIO's official congressional testimony was presented by Dr. Okarma of Geron, which is very much involved in cloning.
Dr. Peter Mountford, CEO of Stem Cell Sciences (Australia). In collaboration with Biotransplant (Charles-town, Mass.), Stem Cell Sciences fused the nucleus of a human somatic cell from a fetus and an enucleated pig's egg and grew two embryos from them to the 32-cell stage. The researchers suggest the embryos could have grown further, in a pig's or a human mother's womb. This research came to light only after they filed a patent application with the European Patent Office. (A Sunday-Times (U.K.) report is posted at www.purefood.org/patent/pighuman.cfm.)
What does Cloning have to do with Stem Cell Research?
Cloning is a way of producing a genetically identical organism without sexual reproduction. The method commonly employed is called "somatic cell nuclear transfer." The nucleus of a body cell ("somatic cell," in contrast to a sperm or egg cell) is transferred into an unfertilized egg whose nucleus has been removed or made inactive. An electric pulse is used to stimulate development of the resulting embryo.
There are several sources of embryos for human embryonic stem cell research: "left over" embryos from IVF clinics, embryos newly created for research by IVF (combining a human egg and sperm in a petri dish), and embryos newly created by cloning--combining the nucleus of a human somatic cell with the enucleated egg of a cow or pig or human.
Proponents of these experiments have come up with ingenious marketing terms to distinguish their work from that of the Raelians et al. When the resulting embryo is transferred into the womb of a mother, as with IVF technology, and carried to birth, they call this "reproductive" cloning. When the embryo is created in order to be killed for his or her stem cells after developing for 5-7 days, they call this "therapeutic" cloning. The stem cells may be transplanted directly into the cell donor's body, or they may first be tweaked with growth factor or other substances to cause them to differentiate in vitro and grow into the type of tissue desired. These terms guide and distort the moral debate. Restricting the term "reproductive" cloning to cases of live birth obscures the fact that one "reproduces" whenever one creates a new human life, even by a bizarre laboratory procedure. "Therapeutic" cloning is really just the opposite, because it involves nontherapeutic experiments on a defenseless human being–that is, experiments that harm and kill that human solely for the benefit of others.
Why Biotech Firms are Involved in Human Cloning
Some companies want to clone embryos so they can perfect the procedure and eventually produce live-born children by cloning. The procedure could then be offered to infertile couples, people who want to copy themselves, etc. Other researchers are more interested in the cloned embryos themselves. The ability to produce large numbers of identical embryos by cloning may make it easier, for example, to test the effect of different stimuli or toxic drugs on human development. Cloning could produce an unlimited supply of human "guinea pigs" for controlled experiments, dissection to produce cell lines, and so on. Others, of course, clone human embryos solely to harvest their stem cells for research into treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes or spinal cord injury. They call this "therapeutic cloning" because they hope treatments will eventually come from this–and they want to avoid the fact that here and now it involves a lot of killing. They also downplay the fact that the most promising advances in stem cell research today use stem cells from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood and placentas–not from killing embryos. (See the latest news on these advances at www.stemcellresearch.org.)
State of the Art in Cloning
Christians should readily understand why creating human embryos for research, subjecting them to risk, and then destroying them is morally wrong. Many Christians, how-ever, fail to see the wrong in creating a child for an infertile couple through IVF. Catholic teaching sees IVF as violating the integrity of marriage because new life issues from a laboratory procedure instead of from the loving union of husband and wife. But even believers who do not appreciate this truth object to IVF when they learn that for every embryo brought to birth, nine others end up discarded or destroyed. Many IVF clinics freeze embryos, experiment on them, or practice selective abortion ("reduction") when more embryos implant in the womb than expected.
The track record with cloning in animals is far worse. "Dolly's creators started with 277 reconstructed eggs. The 29 that appeared to develop normally were implanted in 13 sheep" (Ross, "The issue of human cloning is born," The Washington Times, Aug. 14, 2000). Only Dolly survived.
Rudolf Jaenishch, Ph.D., a professor of biology at M.I.T., summarized the extent of cloning failures in his March 28 House testimony:
- "To date, five mammalian species (sheep, mice, goats, cows and pigs) have been cloned, however, survival of the nuclear clones has been uniformly low. The great majority of clones ... die either at various stages of embryonic development, at birth, or soon after birth. Most newborn clones are overweight and have an increased and dysfunc-tional placenta. Those that survive the immediate perinatal period may die within days or weeks after birth with defects such as kidney or brain abnormalities, or with a defective immune system. Even apparently healthy adult clones may have subtle defects that cannot be recognized in the animal.
- "The most likely cause of abnormal clone development is faulty reprogramming of the genome. This may lead to abnormal gene expression of any of the 30,000 genes residing in the animal.
- "Faulty reprogramming does not lead to chromosomal or genetic alterations of the genome, so methods that are used in routine prenatal screening ... cannot detect these reprogramming errors. There are no methods available now or in the foreseeable future to assess whether the genome of a cloned embryo has been correctly reprogrammed.
- "The experience with animal cloning allows us to predict with a high degree of confidence that few cloned humans will survive to birth and of those, the majority will be abnormal." (For a more detailed discussion, see article by Jaenishch and Wilmut in Science, March 30, 2001.)
Of course, Dr. Zavos' cavalier attitude toward developing life is not the biggest threat here. To Dr. West, Dr. Okarma and others, the problem of a 99%+ death rate can be solved by making sure it rises to 100%–cloning human embryos only for research that will destroy them. In some circles today, that qualifies as ethically responsible science.
The Law on Cloning
Several years ago, when cloning was last in the headlines, President Clinton assured the American public that he was opposed to cloning humans and ordered a five-year moratorium, as recommended by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). But this moratorium was all talk and no substance. For one thing, it was voluntary. More importantly, it covered only the use of cloning to produce a "child," by which Clinton and NBAC meant live-
born child. Thus it still allows unlimited cloning to produce human embryos, so long as the embryos are then destroyed. Such experiments can be used to refine the procedure and test its likelihood of causing birth defects. After years of
destructive experiments, the ban on allowing live birth can be reconsidered. Instead of being a ban on cloning, the moratorium amounts to a permission slip for experimenting on embryos and a mandate for destroying them.
Some foreign countries have banned human cloning, but typically "reproductive" cloning only. Some states, like California and Rhode Island, have taken that approach, while newer laws in Michigan and Virginia offer a real ban on creating new human beings by cloning. A bill introduced in 1998 by Senators Kennedy and Feinstein to prohibit transferring a cloned human embryo to "a woman's uterus" would allow researchers to clone embryos and experiment on them without limit. The law would be violated only if they failed to throw away the embryos afterwards.
Pro-life Senators (Bond, Frist and Lott) introduced a well-crafted bill that would actually ban the use of cloning to produce human embryos, instead of banning live birth for embryos already produced by cloning. The bill died under intense lobbying pressure from the biotech industry and its supporters in academia. These groups confused the debate greatly with false claims that a true human cloning ban would cut off promising areas of research involving the production of animals other than humans, molecules, and cells and tissues other than human.
Now that Congress's interest in cloning has revived we can expect to see a renewed debate on what it means to "ban" human cloning. Will we try to prevent scientists from creating humans by cloning, or only try to kill the resulting clones?
is a publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
3211 Fourth Street, N.E.Washington, DC 20017-1194
Phone (202) 541-3070; Facsimile (202) 541-3054
Made possible through the generosity of
the Knights of Columbus
*The materials contained within are intended for use by the Catholic dioceses and organizations, and permission is not required for reproduction or use by them. All other uses must be authorized. For reprints, questions, or comments contact Susan E. Wills, at the above address.