GA 6 – Legal Committee
Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings
In February of 1997, the world was introduced to a new scientific breakthrough:
Ian Wilmut and the staff of the Roslin Institute announced that they had
successfully cloned a sheep, Dolly. Some people are shocked that science
has progressed to the point where it is possible to create a clone, and
others are looking at the advantages that this technology will offer the
scientific world. One of the major issues that originated with this breakthrough
is the question of whether or not to allow human cloning. Many people
and nations are currently discussing the best way to proceed with this
Clones exist naturally today in the form of identical twins. Clones are
defined as genetically identical individuals. The process that creates
identical twins originates with the fertilized cell dividing. After the
first division, the cell splits into two, and both parts continue to divide
and grow separately. However, when human cloning is discussed, it is generally
in reference to nuclear transfer cloning. Nuclear transfer cloning is
where the controversy arises. This process allows scientists to copy an
existing human being. During this procedure, DNA is removed from the nucleus
of an unfertilized egg and is replaced with the DNA of an adult cell.
If the process is successful then the egg begins dividing and eventually
produces and exact replica of the donor. It was this process that led
to the successful cloning of Dolly.
The international community is discussing two main applications for human
cloning. The first is reproductive cloning: the use of nuclear transfer
to reproduce a human being. This type of cloning is highly contested and
has come up against strong opposition. Some of the major arguments brought
up against reproductive cloning are based in ethics. The common view is
that reproductive cloning will diminish the value of individuality in
humans: when scientists create an exact replica of a human being, that
person is no longer an individual. Cloning humans also decreases the natural
diversity in our population. Every individual in the world is unique;
and by cloning an existing individual, this would be lost. Much of the
opposition is based on the belief that it is wrong to destroy the individuality
and diversity in the population by intentionally creating a replica of
an existing human being.
The second type of cloning is therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning
uses the methods of nuclear transfer to develop medical treatments. It
uses cloned cells to create tissue, organs, and others to replace those
that have been destroyed. The international community has granted this
type of cloning more support than it has to reproductive cloning. However,
there is still a lot of debate about the advantages and disadvantages
of therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning offers the possibility of
finding ways to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s,
diabetes and many others. There is a very large incentive for scientists
and nations to explore this type of cloning. Some groups feel it is unethical
not to use this technology to search for medical advances. One of the
largest groups opposing this therapeutic cloning is also opposed to stem
cell research. Stem cell research is an integral part of therapeutic cloning.
Stem cells are cells that can become any cell in the body with the proper
stimulation. They are found in bone marrow as well as in embryos. The
stem cells that are found in embryos are very desirable because they have
the potential to grow into youthful cells, cells taken from adults turn
into older cells. One of the largest problems that people have with stem
cell research is creating an embryo in order to harvest stem cells. Many
groups see this as degrading for humans. Many groups consider a human
life to begin with conception, and when the cells are taken from the embryos
this is considered destroying a life. Anti-abortion groups are strongly
opposed to therapeutic cloning because they believe that gaining stem
cells from embryos is killing a human.
The international community has already taken action dealing with cloning.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),
has already started to consider this matter. The International Bioethics
Committee, a sub-committee of UNESCO, looked at the issue of cloning.
The committee reflects on research in biology and genetics and the applications
of this research. On November 11, 1997, the Universal Declaration on the
Human Genome and Human Rights was adopted by the 29th Session of the General
Conference of UNESCO. This is an international agreement dealing with
the human genome, under which cloning is an issue. (Issues dealing with
the human genome are issues relating to genetics and DNA.) This declaration
“…affirms the primacy of respect for human rights over research
in biology, genetics and medicine.” The UN itself has also started
to deal with cloning. The legal committee has created an ad-hoc committee
to look into the issue of human reproductive cloning. This committee was
designated to meet from February 25 to March 1 of 2002, and late in September.
France and Germany have also introduced a resolution against the reproductive
cloning of humans. These two countries are leading the opposition movement
within the UN.
Frederico Mayor, the Director-General of UNESCO said in a presentation
on human cloning, “We must safeguard human kind’s infinite
diversity, our biological and cultural unicity.” He acknowledges
the scientific achievements as great but believes cloning should not be
applied to humans. A draft resolution in the World Health Organization
states that “Cloning by means of somatic cell nucleus transfer for
the replication of human individuals is both ethically and biomedically
unacceptable and contrary to human dignity and integrity.” This
is a very common view found among most international organizations. Religious
communities all over the world also oppose cloning. The Pontifical Academy
for Life, in “Reflections on Cloning”, makes clear their view
that human cloning violates human rights. “At the level of human
rights, the possibility of human cloning represents a violation of the
two fundamental principles on which all human rights are based: the principle
of equality among human beings and the principle of non-discrimination.”
Back to Topics...
http://www.un.org - The
UN home page
- This site has good articles explaining the process of cloning.
- The homepage for UNESCO. Has good information about previous action
- The home page for the World Health Organization. Has looked at the issue
http://www.cnn.com - Home
page for CNN. Has articles on current events.
- Home page for the New York Times. Has articles on current events.