Does A Clone Have Human Rights?
When John F. Kennedy was brought into the emergency room after the assassination, a geneticist named Dr. Thor Bitterbaum swiped off some tissue and, with an unsuspecting woman named Millicent Ash as a surrogate mother, had secretly cloned the President. An industrialist named Gerard Kirsten Kelogg financed the scheme and adopted the boy, calling him Josh.
The above scenario is the plot of the grippingly tragic novel Joshua, Son of None by Nancy Freedman. Immortality has enchanted mankind for millennia, but cloning raises more questions than a game show. But any discussion would be pointless if strictly confined to abstract philosophical dilemmas without knowing the established facts, and here they are.
All human being started out as clones. The single cell from a fertilized egg divides exponentially until this cluster of genetically identical cells develop into an embryo. In simplest terms, a clone is a replica of a living organism having the same genetic blueprint.
Cloning is an inherent part of nature. One example is when an amoeba splits into 2 – then 4, 8, 16 etc. – genetic copies. A horticulturalist performs cloning almost everyday: cutting a twig from a plant and placing it in water until it grows roots so it can be transferred to soil. The word ‘clone’ comes from the Greek klon, meaning twig or offshoot.
The first cloned animal was born in July 1996 in Scotland. The world said “Hello Dolly!” to the sheep created by embryologist Ian Wilmut. The lamb was made flesh through nuclear transfer – the removal of the nucleus from an egg and replacing it with the nucleus of an adult cell. With the infusion of specific protein factors and a bit of genetic manipulation, the hybrid cell would divide like a natural embryo.
All creatures big and small were soon cloned. Some became even more famous than humans. Among them are the cat CC (for carbon copy) in 2001; the mule Idaho Gem in 2003; and the Afghan hound Snuppy (for Seoul National University puppy) in 2005.
One of the significant benefits of cloning is the perpetuation of the species. Just in case in they become totally extinct, duplicated were made of endangered animals like the gaur and the mouflon in 2001, and the gray wolf in 2007.
Another forward-looking aim of cloning is the replenishment of the food supply. A cloned bull in 1999 sparked pro-con debates about its milk, while China cloned a water buffalo in 2005 precisely for the purpose of improving its milk. As for meat, ViaGen, the biogenetics firm in Austin, Texas which created the mules, is breeding cloned prime grade-1 cows to get the best beef for the world’s juiciest, tastiest, most mouth-watering steaks.
Clone scan save lives. Five cloned piglets were born in 2000 to act as experimental organ donors to humans. A rabbit was cloned in 2002 to serve as a guide for the physiology of human diseases. Scientists in Iowa cloned a ferret to help them study respiratory illnesses.
But clones are not perfect. The cloned mules lost against naturally-bred ones in a race in 2005. More fundamentally, the survival rate is low, the mortality rate is high, and some of them showed physical abnormalities. As in most pioneering endeavors, the initial stages of this field are largely on a trial-and-error basis.
We are now beginning to understand a miniscule fraction of the miracle that is life. The defects in clones are caused by the irregular timing and pattern of their methyl molecules as these attach to their DNA during development. This explains why the first cloned goat in 2000 died of impaired lung formation.
Advanced aging of clones, on the other hand, was caused by their short telomeres – strains of DNA at the edge of chromosomes whole gradual decline in length serve as a cell’s biological clock – because clones are essentially copies of adult cells. This explains Dolly’s arthritis.
The good news is that a clone’s physical impairment is not hereditary. The offsprings of various cloned mammals and their regularly-bred mates are all healthy and normal, and even Dolly gave birth to five bouncing baby sheeps.
Therapeutic cloning offers exciting prospects in treating diseases. Here’s how it works: the nucleus of a human patient’s body cell containing his genetic material is transferred to a hollowed-out egg. The egg is then chemically activated, and a group of cells called blastocyst soon forms – from which embryonic stem cells can be harvested.
Speaking of stem cells, two relatively recent breakthroughs rocked the scientific world with the impact of a tank smashing into a hotel lobby. The joyful news is that embryonic stem cells can be now be propagated without embryos, eggs or ethical debates.
Two scientists using the same method – direct reprogramming – published their findings on the same day in Nov. 2007. The journal Cell featured Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and his work on cheek cells from a middle-aged woman; while Science featured James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin (the molecular biologist who first isolated the human embryonic stem cells in 1998) and his work on foreskin cells from a newborn baby.
With cells from a patient cultivated in a petri dish, they fused a set of four specific genes into the cells, using retro- and lentiviruses to penetrate the membranes. The cells began to act like embryonic stem cells, which could then be transplanted back into the patient.
As we have seen, cloning is not immoral per se. But is cloning animals immoral? The question should be, “Is a method aimed to help doctors treat diseases immoral?” Besides, God Himself gave man the authority and dominion over all creatures – including those that defy his dominion like sharks.
But what about cloning human beings? Before anyone enters the debate, we should ask, “Is it scientifically feasible to do it?”
The answer seems to be No “I think we cannot make human reproductive cloning safe,” according to Rudolf Jaenisch, a geneticist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “And it’s not a technological issue. It’s a biological barrier. The pattern of methylation of normal embryo cannot be created consistently in cloning.”
So it’s pointless to fret about cloned people. There are more pressing needs our scientists should tackle, like global warming. After all, how could those theoretical clones walk the earth if the whole planet is already submerged in water?
Photo courtesy of RulingCatsAndDogs.com. This story originally appeared in AllVoices.com (http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/3444256-does-a-clone-have-human-rights ).