Should we be cloning around?
Breakthrough raises exciting
February 24, 1997
-- and scary -- possibilities
Web posted at: 3:45 p.m. EST
(CNN) -- The announcement that a team of British scientists
had successfully cloned an adult sheep has touched off a new
wave of discussion over the ethical implications of such a
The achievement announced Sunday by a team of scientists at
the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, marks the
first time anyone has successfully cloned an adult mammal.
"There are a number of genetic diseases for which there is no
cure ... and this will enable us to carry out research into
the causes of those diseases and perhaps develop method to
treat them," Dr. Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute said
following the announcement.
While some scientists hail the cloning as a major
breakthrough for research in agriculture, aging, medicine and
genetics, others worry what it may portend.
If sheep can be replicated, they ask, are humans far behind?
Suddenly the stuff of science fiction doesn't seem so
fanciful anymore as one considers the possibility of
dictators cloning themselves, dead geniuses brought back to
life, or beloved family pets resurrected.
Sheep, cattle, pigs ... what next?
At the center of the controversy is a cuddly 7-month-old lamb
named Dolly, an exact copy of a 6-year-old ewe born through a
process called "nuclear transplantation." Specifically, the
Roslin scientists put genes from the ewe into unfertilized
eggs then implanted them in other sheep.
Grahame Bulfield, director of the Roslin Institute, told CNN
Monday his team has previously cloned mammals at various
stages of development. What makes Dolly different, he said,
is that she was cloned not from sex cells, but from mature
mammal cells with no reproductive function. (272K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
"I expect in the fullness of time, we will be trying to do
the same experiments on cattle and pigs," he said.
What about humans? Maybe such experiments are under way in
other parts of the world, but not in Scotland. Due to ethical
concerns, Britain has banned human cloning, and research
using human embryos is strictly regulated.
CNN's Siobhan Darrow on the ethical implications of cloning
(196K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Such experiments are not banned in the United States,
although some American ethicists are calling for federal laws
prohibiting the practice and an immediate international
moratorium on human cloning.
"One of the prospects should not be, perhaps should never be,
the extension of this technique to human beings," said Carl
Felbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry
Organization, in an interview with CNN. "Now that it may be
possible we would say its should be prohibited if necessary
"We're going to be facing this issue with humans," said
Stephen Grebe, an associate professor of biology at American
University in Washington. "With that possibility open, I'm
concerned without adequate safeguards this will become a
reality. It may very well already be."
Don't go there, ethicists warn
But even if humans could be cloned, they would not
necessarily be identical, according to Grebe who noted that
human twins may appear to be exactly alike, but have distinct
personalities. (281K/25 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
While the prospects of cloning may open exciting
possibilities like the replication of an Albert Einstein or a
Mother Teresa, it brings with it some terrifying prospects.
"Do we want necessarily Einsteins and are we willing to
accept the costs of so-called bad copies?" Grebe asked. "What
about failed experiments? These are really horrific issues
and I think there's a moral chasm between the technological
ability at this point and the public understanding of the
purpose of this."
Felbaum is uncomfortable with such speculation. With regard
to cloning Einsteins, he said, "I would assert this is not a
line we want to cross. I would say this is not even a line we
want to approach." (247K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.
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