Potential Applications of Human Cloning

In most cultures there would be huge ethical problems in making genetic copies of human beings—so-called reproductive cloning. Currently, this is ethically unacceptable because of the high incidence of congenital abnormalities in offspring derived from cloning by nuclear transfer. If there were no such problems—if cloned children would be as healthy as those produced naturally—one can concoct scenarios for which reproductive cloning might be ethically acceptable. The classic example is a couple whose baby dies within a day or two of birth due to an accident that also makes the mother incapable of reproducing due to damage to ovaries. One could theoretically take cells from the dead baby and clone them using a donated oocyte, which could then be transferred to the uterus (which is still functional) of the woman. The donor cells from the dead baby could also be frozen for later use, so timing would not be a problem.

Other (very improbable) scenarios could be envisioned that would make reproductive cloning ethically acceptable for most people. In any case, this technology for reproductive cloning of persons would likely work with a similar success rate as occurs in other species (extremely low, as of 2003). It is certainly possible that a century or more in the future this mode of reproduction will be used to some extent, and persons from that era may well consider our current collective thinking quaint. Since chromosomal genetic identity never results in phenotypic identity, one never recreates a person or animal, and even if phenotypic identity were possible, such individuals would still be individuals. Identical twins and triplets provide some guidance on potential problems. Such individuals usually lead fairly normal lives, and they are considerably more identical than manufactured clones will ever be.

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