CLONES ‘A MATTER OF TIME’
Published:Nov 11, 2007
UN report calls for action to prevent human rights crisis
Unless the world bans human cloning it may be just a matter of time until we share the Earth
with exact copies. This is according to a major UN policy analysis released this morning.
The report’s authors propose outlawing human reproductive cloning while allowing restricted
therapeutic cloning as the most viable “compromise” option for the international community to adopt.
South Africa’s proposed regulations on cloning
are in line with this compromise: permitting the use of human eggs to create stem cells for therapeutic and research purposes
— but still prohibiting reproductive cloning.
Professor Jacquie Greenberg, the associate professor with the Human Genetics Research Group
at UCT, says: “The guidelines are specifically for stem cell use which is what the debate pivots around.”
The Health Department is expected to finalise its regulations on therapeutic cloning, which
are governed by the National Health Act, by the end of this year.
A deadlock over cloning at a UN General Assembly in 2005 blocked the adoption of an international
convention and resulted instead in the non-binding UN Declaration on Cloning.
One of the report’s authors, Brendan Tobin from the Irish Centre for Human Rights, says:
“The failure to adopt an international convention on therapeutic cloning means that reproductive cloning is inadequately
controlled ... and it is inevitable. There are maverick scientists who are continuing with experimentation.”
He adds that they can move across borders if they run into national restrictions, given the
lack of global control.
“As science improves we are likely to reach a stage where human cloning can be done
effectively ... This science may become acceptable 20 or 30 years down the line, but will the world be ready to accept cloned
Tobin believes the international community will have a responsibility to protect the human
rights of cloned individuals if human cloning is not banned. Essentially the choices come down to this: prevent human cloning
by acting soon or work towards preventing discrimination against clones.
The UN report, Is Human Reproductive Cloning Inevitable? Future Options for UN Governance,
urges the world community to revisit the issue before “science overtakes policy”.
Co-author and Sheffield University legal academic Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy explains: “Licences are being
granted for therapeutic cloning, which means in time scientists will perfect the technique for human reproductive cloning.”
Research or therapeutic cloning is intended to produce cells or, in the future, tissues and
organs, which genetically match the donor and can potentially cure many common and dread diseases.
Reproductive cloning, on the other hand, is meant to duplicate a person or an animal. Cloned
animals to date include a rhesus monkey, mice, sheep, pigs, cows and dogs.
Greenberg said: “I’m surprised that [human] cloning hasn’t happened. I think
it’s very possible but I’m not sure whether it’s probable given all the checks and balances ... A lot of
experimentation has been done, I have no doubt ... behind closed doors.
“Whether it’s been successful I have reservations; however, I’m much more
concerned about the failures and the human suffering from such failures.
“This is not science fiction.”
Greenberg added: “What is necessary now is therapeutic cloning, which will undoubtedly
benefit humanity in the long run. It needs to be done with extreme caution and with very strict scientific control. As long
as we adhere to this we are not on a slippery slope. We have wonderful scientists and they are very responsible. Therapeutic
cloning can be done here and should be done here.”
Bio-ethicist and Wits University’s acting director for the Institute for Human Evolution, Professor
Trefor Jenkins, agreed: “Stem cell research holds a lot of promise though not much has been realised yet. No responsible
scientist would try to clone a human being with the current state of knowledge. It is hazardous.”
The objections to human cloning largely revolve around three concerns:
· Scientific — underdeveloped technologies will produce
clones with serious deformities or degenerative diseases;
· Ethical or religious — producing and destroying
living embryos to harvest stem cells is wrong, and that people are tampering with the sacred cycles of life and natural selection;
· Moral — cloning could lead to the commoditization
Kuppuswamy said: “Representatives of countries such as Uganda
and Nigeria raised concerns that women
in poorer countries could be exploited for the purposes of their eggs for therapeutic cloning.”
Jenkins said: “The only objection I’m aware of really ... [concerns] early stage
embryos. If you think they have the same respect as human beings do after they have been born then you can’t do any
But he added: “There is an abundance of such embryos in any surgery or institution doing
IVF [in vitro fertilization]. The appeal is to make use of these embryos with the parents’ consent or to wash them down
“From a utilitarian point of view you can
use them for what you believe is the good of humankind.”