Ten years ago
this summer, the world’s first cloned mammal was born. The lamb named
6LL3—soon to become famous as “Dolly”—was created from the DNA of an
adult sheep by a team of veterinary researchers, led by Ian Wilmut and
Keith Campbell, at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. The New York Times
front-page story on Dolly, published when her birth was announced in
February 1997, noted that “the achievement shocked leading researchers
who had said it could not be done.” The article also introduced the
topic that has since dominated media coverage and public discussion of
cloning: “In theory,” it said, “such techniques could be used to...
create a genetically identical human—a time-delayed twin.”
the years since Dolly, a near consensus has emerged: Cloning human
beings is a very bad idea, and should be prohibited. More than forty
countries—including nearly every country with a significant human
biotechnology program—have adopted prohibitions against human
reproductive cloning. But the United States has not.
past decade has seen the development of techniques that, if not
effectively regulated, could lead not only to cloned children, but also
to a “designer baby” world of genetically “enhanced” humans. Again,
unlike many other countries, the US has not put in place binding
regulations to prevent this.
cloning technique that produced Dolly may turn out to have beneficial
applications as a tool for biomedical research. But it could also be
misused in the production of cloned or genetically modified children.
This “dual use” situation is understood by researchers, but has
received little attention from the media or policy makers. In their
book about Dolly, The Second Creation, Ian Wilmut and his
co-authors wrote, “Cloning and [inheritable] genetic engineering are
conceptually linked because they are technically linked.”
similar lines, the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins
University has warned that “rapid advances in stem cell research and
other genetic technologies make the possibility of successful permanent
modification of the human genome... much more likely... and as a
society, we are running out of time to plan sensible policies.”
ten-year anniversary of Dolly’s birth is an opportunity to reflect on
what needs to be done if we are to realize any medical or scientific
benefits that cloning technology offers, and avoid the real risks that
will require leadership from all sides. Those who oppose research
cloning need to recognize that the majority of Americans are willing to
support some forms of embryo research, as long as the need is clear.
And scientists need to recognize that most Americans are willing to
support cloning research only if it is subject to strong social
oversight and control.
nations, including Canada, Australia and most of Europe, have adopted
comprehensive policies that ban reproductive cloning and inheritable
human genetic manipulation, while allowing carefully regulated stem
cell research to proceed. We need similar comprehensive enforceable
policies in the United States and all countries.