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Elizabeth Cohen: Congressional hearings on human cloning

Elizabeth Cohen is a medical correspondent for CNN's Health and Medical Unit.

Q: Why hasn't Congress taken up the issue of banning human cloning earlier?

Cohen: They have taken up the issue before. There have been calls for banning of human cloning ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1997. It hasn't gone anywhere in the last four years, however, but now there are two groups that say they are ready to start cloning -- in fact, one group may have already started -- the Congress is feeling more pressure to actually come up with a ban.

U.S. lawmakers debate limits on human cloning  

Q: How close are these groups to succeeding?

Cohen: One of the groups, they call themselves the Raelians, told Congress in March that they were ready to start a human pregnancy that would lead to a human clone in April, two months ago. So it is possible there is a surrogate mother walking around, two months pregnant with the world's first human clone, but it's impossible to know if this group is serious. They won't tell us if they have a pregnancy, and said they were not going to tell the media anything until they have a healthy human baby clone. Some people think that the science of this group, the Raelians, isn't really serious. This group thinks that human beings were really created by alien scientists. Other people say that the science behind cloning isn't really all that complicated, it's pretty much the same as you would have done for Dolly, cows or mice, and if you could do it in animals you could do it in humans.

This isn't the first time Congress has addressed cloning:  

  • Cloning experts to tell House committee pros, cons  

  • House hearings turn skeptical eye on cloning  
    These organizations support human cloning efforts  

  • Clonaid  

  • Human Cloning Foundation  

  • Clone Rights United Front  
    How do scientists clone animals? Click here to find out  

    Q: What could the government do if a human is cloned before any legislation takes effect?

    Cohen: That's a good question. It's illegal in four states, but if someone in another state makes a clone before a federal ban was announced, it's unclear what would happen.

    Q: What are some of the objections to human cloning?

    Cohen: There are objections both on ethical and safety issues. Cloning, as one ethicist said, is kind of creepy. The thought that, as in the movies, you would go and create an army of clones, most people just don't like it. A recent Gallup survey showed that nine out of ten Americans think cloning of human beings is wrong, and there are also safety concerns that when they try to clone animals, sometimes it works as in the case of Dolly, but the vast majority of times the clones are born with terrible deformities. So many people say, how in the world can you do that to a human being, how can you run the risk that you are going to get a deformed child?

    Q: What do proponents say are the advantages of human cloning?

    Cohen: The group that says it wants to clone a human being, the Raelians, says the technology is there and we should do it. They are working with a family that lost a baby and they have some of that baby's genetic material. They say if we can do it, why not give this family back their child?

    Q: Do you have any final thoughts?

    Cohen: One thing that I've always found interesting is that despite all of the concerns about creating armies of clones, people do not always understand what cloning is. Cloning is not creating a replica of a human being in that human being's current state. For example, if you cloned a 50 year old person, you don't get a fifty year old person, you get a baby who is a genetic clone and in fifty years will look like that person, but they are always going to be 50 years behind.

    In fact, we already have clones in the world. We have genetically identical twins that are really clones. So in a way we are scared of something that already exists. It's interesting how people look at the issue: people don't know the safety issues on top of that, which is that cloning often leads to deformed offspring.

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