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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 new capability.
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.”

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Resources - The UN home page - This site has good articles explaining the process of cloning. - The homepage for UNESCO. Has good information about previous action taken. - The home page for the World Health Organization. Has looked at the issue of cloning. - Home page for CNN. Has articles on current events. - Home page for the New York Times. Has articles on current events.

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