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Reproductive Cloning Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is cloning?

A: Cloning means making a genetic copy or duplicate of a DNA sequence, a cell, or an entire organism.

Q: What is reproductive cloning?

A: Reproductive cloning of a human being means making a genetic copy or duplicate of an existing person. The method used with animals involves the following steps:

  • taking the nucleus from a cell of an existing person,
  • putting this nucleus into a woman's egg from which nucleus had been removed,
  • stimulating the resulting entity so that it starts developing into an embryo, and
  • implanting that clonal embryo into a woman's womb to be brought to term.

The baby, and later the child and adult, would be the genetic duplicate of the person from whom the original cell nucleus was taken. A person created in this way would not have a genetic mother or father, as we understand those words, but instead a "nuclear donor."

The cloning process is also called "nuclear transfer" (NT) or somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

New techniques, such as the derivation of induced pluripotent stem cells via cellular reprogramming, suggest other potential methods of reproductive cloning

Q: How successful has reproductive cloning been in animals?

Though over eighteen mammalian species have been cloned, the vast majority of cloning attempts in mammals fail completely. Of the animal clones born alive, many are affected by "large offspring syndrome" or other seriously debilitating-sometimes lethal-conditions. Some experts believe this is an inevitable result of the nuclear transfer procedure and that no clones are fully healthy.

Q: Has human reproductive cloning been successful?

No. In the 2000s, a fertility specialist named Severino Antinori and a company affiliated to the Raelian sect each claimed more than once to have created cloned babies, but never offered any evidence. These announcements appear to have been nothing more than publicity hoaxes.

Q: Wouldn't reproductive cloning be an acceptable option for people who are otherwise unable to have biologically related children?

A: No. Evidence from cloning attempts in other animals demonstrates that reproductive cloning in human beings would be far too risky. Further, the number of people for whom cloning is the only way they'd be able to have biologically related children is very small indeed. Almost all couples or individuals with fertility problems have other viable options for having children, including in vitro fertilization, use of donor sperm or eggs, or adoption. Even if cloning were safe, the social risks it entails would make it an unjustifiable option.

Q: What about gay and lesbian couples who want to have a child that is genetically related to them?

A: Cloning would result in a child that is genetically "related" to one individual in the couple, but in a way unprecedented in history. In the case of male couples, a donor egg and "surrogate" mother would still be needed to carry the fetus to term. If cloning were ever to become safe, lesbians could theoretically have a child without male involvement, but any experiment to test that would inevitably be risky and unethical.

Q: Shouldn't parents of a child who has died be able to clone that child as a way to redress their loss?

A: No. Throughout history parents who have lost children have grieved and sought consolation from family and community, and in the process resolved their sense of loss. The notion that a child who has died can be "replaced" with its clone is an insult to the lost child, to children in general, and to human dignity.

Q: Wouldn't access to reproductive cloning constitute a "reproductive right?"

A: No. The right to decide whether and when to have a child is far different than a right to determine the genetic makeup of a child or to obtain a child by any means possible. A "right to clone" would be a dangerous distortion of reproductive choice.

Q: Why should we care about human reproductive cloning if it is not expected to be used widely?

A: Any effort to create a cloned human being would constitute an unacceptable form of human experimentation. If reproductive cloning ever became technically successful, and an accepted practice, it would be much more difficult to prevent other pernicious applications of human genetic engineering technology.

Q: Isn't human reproductive cloning inevitable?

A: Not at all. In a democratic society, people have the power to agree on the rules under which they wish to live. Many nations have already prohibited reproductive cloning. There is no reason that the United States and the rest of the world cannot do the same.

Q: Isn't human reproductive cloning already against the law?

A: Laws against human reproductive have been passed in dozens of countries, but not in all countries with advanced biotechnology industries. For example, although reproductive cloning is prohibited in nearly a dozen states of the United States, there are no such laws at the national level. That is why it must be proscribed at the international level, as well as by all individual countries.

Q: What's the difference between "reproductive" cloning and "research" cloning, and why is this significant?

A: See the discussion of research cloning. Many who support research cloning oppose reproductive cloning.

Last modified March 10, 2010


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