NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Ethics And Technology Of Cloning

December 17, 1998

The science of cloning is moving so rapidly, according to experts, that the ethical debate surrounding the procedures is about to be left in the dust. Full-scale human cloning is no longer a question of if, but when.

Yesterday, researchers at a South Korean hospital claimed they had combined an egg and a cell from a single donor to produce the first stages of a human embryo. The four-cell embryo, which theoretically could have grown into an identical replica of the woman donor, was not implanted in a woman and the experiment was halted.

Here is a chronology of how swiftly events are moving in the science of cloning:

  • In February of 1997, researchers in Scotland announced the successful closing of the now-famous sheep, Dolly.
  • Only a few months later, a national ethics commission recommended to President Clinton a three- to five-year moratorium on human cloning research, arguing that nothing would be lost by such a ban, since it would most likely take at least that long to know whether cloning could succeed -- a prediction that seems to have been proved wrong.
  • The ban was not approved, and in July 1998 a University of Hawaii team produced 22 mice -- seven of which were clones of clones from the cells of a single mouse.
  • Only eight days ago, a Japanese team cloned eight calves -- four of which died at birth -- from a single cow.

Until Dolly the lamb was born, it was a scientific truism that the cloning of adults was a biological impossibility. No longer.

The South Korean experiment was halted due to fear of ethical repercussions -- not because the researchers lacked the technology.

Sources: Sheryl WuDunn, "South Korean Scientists Say They Cloned a Human Cell," and Gina Kolata, "Speed of Cloning Advances Surprises U.S. Ethics Panel," both in the New York Times, December 17, 1998.


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