On February 24, 1997 news broke globally that Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Scotland had successfully cloned the genetic material of an adult sheep and had created the infant Dolly. The discovery instantly caught the world’s attention because Dolly had only one parent; Dolly had been formed by transferring the genetic material of an adult female into one of its own embryos. This process, known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer”, refers to removal of genetic material from an adult cell and then implantation of that material into an embryo that has had it’s original genetic material removed. The only way to clone an existing animal uses the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer. The science used to create Dolly applies to any mammal, and “the arrival of Dolly made it clear that human beings would soon have to face the possibility of human cloning” (Nusbaum and Sunstein 11). Motivated by profit and fame, scientists around the nation have been researching how to apply somatic cell nuclear transfer technology to humans. In response to this research Congress has been trying to draft legislation that will make the genetic cloning of a human illegal. Unfortunately, because of imprecise wording based on a shallow Congressional understanding of genetics, a ban on human cloning would inadvertently ban essential medical research that utilizes essential genetic cloning technologies. The term “human cloning” refers to a great number of technologies of which only somatic cell nuclear transfer can produce a living human being. Rather than an improperly worded ban on human cloning entirely, only genetic cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer should be banned while funding for other beneficial genetic cloning techniques should be increased.
The reason why Dolly had been so special has to do with the original cells that she had been cloned from. The mammary cells that had their genetic material removed are referred to as somatic cells. Somatic cells serve a specific function only, like a liver cell or a brain cell. Totipotent cells, on the other hand, have not yet become specific cells. Totipotent cells, like the cells in a fertilized embryo, give rise to somatic cells as the totipotent cells continuously divide, thereby creating the different somatic cells that formulate a fetal human being. During Dolly’s creation, Ian Wilmut and his team first removed the genetic material from a somatic cell and from a totipotent embryonic cell, and then implanted the genetic material from the somatic cell into the empty totipotent cell. “The result is a totipotent embryo with the genetic information of the adult from which the somatic cell nucleus was taken. This is known as cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer” (Larry Craig online). In its human application, somatic cells would be removed from a living human, injected into an empty embryo, and then implanted into a woman’s uterus for gestation. During the gestation period, the genetic material from the somatic cell would spawn totipotent cells in the embryo and would begin creating the totipotent cells necessary for development. The scientific magic of the process consists of the development of totipotent cells from the genetic material of the somatic cells. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), located in the nucleus of all somatic cells, contains all of the necessary information to produce an entire human being. By isolating the DNA of a somatic cell during a somatic cell nuclear transfer; the DNA of an existing human directs the development of a fetal human being from the totipotent embryonic cells. Genetic cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer creates a clone of an existing human being through the transfer of genetic material and then implantation into a surrogate uterus.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning of a human will occur and become common in the future. Lee Silver, a biologist at Princeton University, believes that enough historical precedent exists to suggest such a trend. Citing American usage of reproductive technologies and for-profit clinics as examples, Silver suggests that the market incentive to develop and patent cloning technologies will result in the common cloning of humans in the future (Boyce online). Susan Root, the director of human genetics for the National Center for Genome Resources, also believes that “it’s going to happen” and that “society will have to deal with it” (Merzer online). Robert Wachbroit, a member of the Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy makes an observation supporting both Silver and Root’s arguments. He believes that the technologies for both transplantation and genetic engineering are progressing and that they will become acceptable. (Online) Acting now might offer politicians the choice to prevent the cloning of a human by somatic cell nuclear transfer. In the future such an action would have greater complications because human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer will have established itself and will have been done numerous times. Now might be the time to nip human cloning by this method in the bud.
Few, if any, reasons exist that can be used to argue for the cloning of a human by somatic cell nuclear transfer. Constance Morella, chairwoman of the Congressional Subcommittee on Technology, correctly observes the existence of national and worldwide consensus that the cloning of an existing human should never occur. She cites several developed countries, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, which totally oppose cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer. Supporting such an observation, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission has concluded “that at this time, it is morally unacceptable for anyone in the public or private sector to attempt to create a child using somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning” (Senator Gordon 3). Dan Brock, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Brown University, argues that human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer “would result in a persons’ worth or value seeming diminished because we would come to see persons as able to be manufacture or “handmade.” This demystification of the creation of human life would reduce our appreciation and awe of human life and of its natural creation” (159). Additionally, a child’s sense of individuality and uniqueness would be substantially diminished as a result of expectations set by the life of the adult from whom he was cloned.