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An argument in favor of further cloning research

Abstract The year 1996 witnessed the cloning of the lamb Dolly, based on the revolutionary somatic cell nuclear transfer SCNT technique, developed by researchers from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. This fact marked a relevant biotechnoscientific innovation, with probable significant consequences in the field of public health, since in principle it allows for expanding possibilities for the reproductive autonomy of infertile couples and carriers of diseases of mitochondrial origin.

This article expounds on 1 the experiment's technical data and the theoretical implications for the biological sciences; 2 the public's perception thereof and the main international documents aimed at the legal and moral regulation of the technique; and 3 the moral arguments for and against cloning, from the point of view of consequentialist moral theory. We conclude that in the current stage of the debate on the morality of cloning, in which there are no cogent deontological arguments either for or against, weighing the probability of risks and benefits is the only reasonable way of dealing with the issue in societies that consider themselves democratic, pluralistic, and tolerant.

Considering that Dolly resulted from the union of two individual cells, of which at least one is a sexual cell the oocyte of the receptor ewestrictly speaking Dolly cannot be considered a true clone or an individual born of another individual through asexual reproductionbut rather a sui generis clone or a 'later-born identical twin' of the ewe that provided the nuclear DNA.

However, both the mass media and the specialized literature presented Dolly as a clone, given that: In this sense, Dolly involves the transformation of the very concept of cloning; hence we will consider her a 'clone' for the purposes of this discussion. If Wilmut's experiment is confirmed, Dolly will open up new possibilities for human reproduction and procreative autonomy, inevitably implying a review of moral values consolidated through a new consideration of risks and benefits for human well-being.

Since the first data on the experiment were published, Dolly has been the focus of various types of speculation, including the moral controversy between those affirming the intrinsic immorality of human cloning presumed to be contrary to human dignity and human rights, and thus subject to prohibition under any circumstances and those who favor its regulation after weighing the potential risks to reproductive health and the benefits for procreative autonomy.

In fact, Dolly is not the first animal clone in natura, nor the first produced by man, or even the 'closest' clone to the original. There are clones that are genotypically much closer, much more common in the plant kingdom, but not uncommon in the animal kingdom, including mammals, even in the human species. Such is the case of monozygotic twins also known as 'identical twins'born of a single oocyte fecundated by a single sperm cell, born in the same uterine environment and which thus share not only the same nuclear DNA like Dolly but also an argument in favor of further cloning research same mitochondrial DNA although the role of the latter in vertebrate development remains obscure Kitcher, 1997: But these cases involved the use of the cell mass division technique, also known as embryo splitting or blastomere separation, consisting of manipulating embryos in the first stages of life.

Embryo splitting was also used in an experiment for cloning human embryos in 1993 at George Washington University, by Jerry Hall and colleagues, with the purpose of helping infertile couples the experiment was interrupted by US government officials.

The Roslin researchers had already reported the birth in March 1996 of Megan and Morag, using the same SCNT technique, but applied to adult embryonic cells Campbell et al. Less than a year after the creation of Dolly, Wilmut and his team created the transgenic lamb Polly, combining animal and human genetic material and utilizing the embryo splitting technique.

There are substantial differences between the two experiments: However, one could also conceive of a continuum between the two experiments, since Polly is aimed at producing a line capable of supplying milk containing -1-antitrypsin, a human plasma protein used in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, thereby opening the way for the large-scale, low-cost production of other human proteins.

In short, one can reasonably suppose that the experiments at the Roslin Institute will serve to facilitate and universalize the prevention and cure of various human diseases; transgenic cloning could also allow for creating a sufficient supply of organs for transplantation in human an argument in favor of further cloning research, with lower rejection rates.

Should the cloning of human beings be prohibited?

This interpretation appears to bear out if we think about the different public reactions to the two cases. Dolly caused a huge public commotion, immediately becoming a 'case', while Polly went virtually unnoticed and became a banal fact. This difference in public perspective appears paradoxical if we consider that Polly contains human genetic material, but this can probably be explained by the fact that the mass media focused mainly on the threatening side of cloning with Dolly, while for Polly the therapeutic potential prevailed, and I believe properly so Schramm, 1997a.

The critics based their attack on the observation that there were not 'more Dollies' capable of confirming the 'single observation' by Wilmut, and that clones of other mammal species, promised for 'very soon', had still not appeared at least publicly. Therefore, went the argument, there were serious reasons to doubt whether Dolly had actually been created in the terms reported by Wilmut or thus that she represented a relevant and innovative scientific fact.

Besides, Wilmut and his team were believed to have committed a series of methodological errors: In their rebuttal, Campbell, Colman and Wilmut Campbell et al. Besides, given that this cell culture was not planned for the nuclear transfer experiment, but for other purposes, there was a valid reason for not having analyzed the genotype of the cells used for insemination and for not having kept the fetal material for subsequent 'fingerprint' analysis.

As for the absence of further Dollies, the authors also recalled that only eleven months had transpired since publishing the first data, which was too short a time considering that five months are required for this type of gestation, plus the time for writing up and publishing the results. In order to clarify some terms in the debate, we will take an introductory approach to the following aspects: I the biotechnoscientific relevance of the Dolly 'fact'; II the public perception of the Dolly 'case'; III the morality of cloning in the context of the secularized and pluralist societies of modern democracies.

The biotechnoscientific relevance of the Dolly 'fact' From the biotechnoscientific point of view, and despite the fact that many questions remain unanswered, we suggest what the relevant aspects are, assuming that the results of the Roslin Institute experiment will be confirmed. We will distinguish between the experiment's practical or technical significance and its theoretical relevance and then analyze its implications for biosafety. Practical Significance If confirmed, SCNT allows to expand procreative techniques in mammals and improve human an argument in favor of further cloning research health, without going through the standard fertilization procedures.

However, it is assumed that SCNT will improve human reproductive health by controlling the transmission of genetic traits in women with serious diseases of mitochondrial origin Walters, 1997 apud Parens, 1997. In short, Wilmut's experiment included the following stages: Wilmut and his team faced a huge challenge, given that before their experiment scientists thought it was impossible to clone mammals from differentiated adult cells; they believed it was necessary to intervene in the embryo stem cells, manipulating their nuclear DNA and running a serious risk of damaging their structure.

Technically, they thought it was necessary to discover the correct phase in which donor-cell An argument in favor of further cloning research could be 'grafted' into a receptor cell without the DNA killing the cell or generating 'chimeras' resulting from the fusion of two embryos.

After many unsuccessful attempts exactly 277, according to the authorrather than insisting on attempting to combine the numerous DNA sequences at the right moment an extremely complex and risky operationWilmut had an original idea: It worked, despite the fact that we still do not know the exact conditions under which the experiment was performed, which will only become known when there are other experiments of the same type and probably after the patenting of SCNT.

Theoretical significance From the theoretical point of view, the cloning of Dolly can be considered an important step, indeed a veritable revolution in the field of biotechnosciences, creating new research perspectives in both molecular biology and the theory of evolution Kahn, 1997providing new conceptual 'tools' for the following two-pronged issue: The two issues constitute the two sides of one and the same problem, that is, "Do growth, differentiation and development of the embryo involve irreversible modifications to the genome in somatic cells?

Upon cloning Dolly from differentiated cells from an adult female individual, Wilmut and colleagues appear to have produced arguments in favor of the thesis by which the genome of at least some types of cells like mammary cells do not undergo irreversible modifications during the evolutionary process, while the differentiated cell under given conditions to be determined can revert to its initial stage of undifferentiation, thus functioning as a stem cell.

This is theoretically relevant since we knew that the genome of other cells, like that of lymphocytes, for example, definitely undergoes recombination in given regions.

Before Dolly was created using SCNT, cloning experiments using separation of cells from the blastomere the embryonic stage with only 4 or 8 cells appear to indicate that the DNA from such cells was not altered, while it was supposed that the nuclear genetic code was.

On the contrary, the Dolly experiment appears to have raised arguments in favor of the thesis according to which adult cells can maintain their DNA unchanged, thereby remaining competent to conserve their functional identity. In short, Dolly appears to prove that there was a reprogramming although an argument in favor of further cloning research do not know exactly why of the donor somatic cell, making it totipotent Kahn, 1997.

Thus, if confirmed, the Roslin Institute experiment represents a significant biotechnoscientific step towards new forms of conserving and reproducing genetic information.

Biosafety aspects Yet Dolly involves a third important aspect, regarding biosafety and legal implications, since she was the product of genetic manipulation and hence we can reasonably ask if she is not a genetically modified organism GMO. Indeed, if Dolly were a GMO, she would be the object of specific regulation, considering that in many countries experiments with GMOs are subject to rigorous restrictions.

Such is the case with the Brazilian Biosafety Act no. If we view genetic engineering in its narrower sense of 'recombinant DNA technology', the Dolly 'clone' cannot be considered a clear-cut product of genetic engineering, nor an orthodox GMO, since strictly speaking there was no alteration in the sense of a 'recombination' of different DNAs as in the case of Polly.

What happened was a manipulation in the sense of a transfer of a 'closed package' of DNA from a donor cell to a receptor cell, but without fusion or recombination of different DNAs.

However, if we applied the same technique to humans, we would run up against article 8 of the above-mentioned law, which prohibits genetic manipulation of human germ cells in toto. One could thus argue on the one hand that the SCNT used to make Dolly does not involve 'genetic manipulation of germ cells', but that we can consider it a kind of manipulation, as the experts did from the Brazilian National Commission on Biosafety CTNBiobased on a distinction between ontogenesis and function.

Based on this interpretation, the CTNBio stated the following: In other words, from the ontogenetic point of view, the whole formed by the nucleus of the differentiated donor cell and the enucleated receptor oocyte perhaps cannot be considered a GMO, but from the functional point of view it can, since there was genetic manipulation of the germ cell, which in principle allows one to consider Dolly a GMO.

This 'hairsplitting' in the definition, although logically and semantically odd, has its reasons. In fact, the legislator's concern in this article aimed to avoid by all means possible that manipulation of and interference in human genetic material become hereditary, passing the 'manipulated' characteristics on to the offspring. That is, it is important to know whether Dolly is a GMO because one of the main concerns of biosafety is the possible health impact i.

However, considering that SCNT is an incipient technology, it will be necessary to 'let the dust settle' and wait for other scientists to repeat the experiment under the proper conditions and as often as deemed necessary in order to evaluate the probability of risks and benefits. What might be the spin-offs of cloning for humans? In principle, from the purely technical point of view, cloning applied to humans is merely a matter of time and investments in order to: However, it appears unlikely that 'cloning' in humans will become commonplace.

It is more likely that humans will continue to reproduce using the traditional method, which appears to be much more pleasurable. In other words, cloning should be viewed as an exceptional method, to be used when others fail. It appears improbable that in the foreseeable future cloning will significantly affect the genetic structure of the human population, reducing its biodiversity. At this stage one might ask if Dolly is not a predictable 'artifact', especially in light of a serious of traits in contemporary Western societies, such as: One could thus state that biotechnoscientific techniques like the cloning of Dolly are part of the very logic of the collective imagination and of the means to satisfy the needs and an argument in favor of further cloning research of consumers.

All this helps explain why Dolly, besides constituting a noteworthy biotechnoscientific fact, rapidly became a symbol for a possible and even probable transformation of the human condition, despite Wilmut himself stating clearly that it would be out of the question to clone human beings, since "it would be unethical to attempt the experiment with people" Wilmut, 1997: Yet it is through the possibility of affecting this image that humans have of themselves and the potential for transforming so-called 'human nature' or the human 'essence' that the social controversy arises over the legality of this new threshold achieved by biotechnoscientific know-how.

Sci-fi stories about cloning soon appeared, along with analogies like those published by Newsweek, comparing the likely consequences of cloning with those of the nuclear bomb or chemical weapons Begley, 1997.

Other analogies, like those in Time, compared Dolly to Frankenstein, with armies of drones, cloning factories producing spare parts, and dictators producing generations of clones of themselves Kluger, 1997.

  • The Roslin researchers had already reported the birth in March 1996 of Megan and Morag, using the same SCNT technique, but applied to adult embryonic cells Campbell et al;
  • Neither was there consensus over religious aspects, which are also discussed by the NBAC, since some theologians considered human cloning intrinsically immoral, while others found it morally justified in some circumstances, so long as clearly regulated to prevent abuses Shapiro, 1997;
  • It is not sufficient to cite lofty goals or pressing needs when experiments may entail costs of personal loss, distress, and harm to individuals—or even significant risks for these harms;
  • In such a situation, your aunt—genetically speaking—both is your aunt and your mother;
  • Biosafety aspects Yet Dolly involves a third important aspect, regarding biosafety and legal implications, since she was the product of genetic manipulation and hence we can reasonably ask if she is not a genetically modified organism GMO;
  • The House rejected competing measures that would have banned cloning for reproductive purposes while allowing nonreproductive or therapeutic cloning for scientific research.

In Brazil, the mass media announced the cloning of human beings, highlighting the possible violation of fundamental rights, which fed fears of authoritarian eugenist policies and helped muddle the debate.

The weekly Veja, for example, ran a story with the title The Dolly revolution. Yet the reaction to cloning in the moral field was also essentially emotional and in many cases irrational, fluctuating between pragmatic approval resulting from the hope of having found a new panacea for disease and organic dysfunction and condemnation a priori.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the consequentialist approach prevailed, while in the United States the focus was more deontological and religious. This type of reaction in the American imagination appears to contradict that country's pragmatist tradition, but it makes sense when one recalls that "the ethical discussion of cloning, however, seems to have taken us back in time.

And the customary public and media excitement over the latest advances in medical technology was eclipsed by talk of moral repugnance, evil, wrongness, playing God, and impermissible interventions" Klotzko, 1997: In other countries, like France, there was no less emotional analysis of the pros and cons for cloning, weighing, for example, the probability of risks an argument in favor of further cloning research benefits, and the debate was left with petitions of principle, falling back on the sophism that condemns cloning a priori because it is supposedly unacceptable, with no more elaborate arguments Taguieff, 1997.

In short, and in general, the debate was left in a stage of polarization between the following: This is why the 'Dolly fact' became the 'Dolly case', immediately mobilizing not only scientists, philosophers, theologians, jurists, and politicians, but also the imagination of the public itself.

The President of the United States immediately commissioned a report from the NBAC, having 90 days to advise on the risks, benefits, and ethical and legal implications of potential human cloning The White House, 1997. He also imposed a moratorium on human cloning in public institutions, cutting off funds for both research and clinical applications, and requesting that private institutions voluntarily adopt the same attitude The White House, 1997.

Clinton's position may have been hasty, considering the possible benefits of cloning and the many doubts still surrounding it, relating for example to the role of mitochondrial DNA in defining individual identity and the interaction with nuclear DNA; interactions with genetic mutations and the function of telomere length which allows one to measure the respective age of the donor, receptor, and Dolly herself.

Shapiro himself, "several serious scientific uncertainties remain that could have a significant impact on the potential ability of this new technique to create human beings" Shapiro, 1997: Yet there was no lack of criticism for the report's 'ambivalence' Bilger, 1997: The NBAC thus took the middle of the road by stating that "whether the use of this new cloning technique to create children should be allowed or permanently banned is, for the moment, an open question" Shapiro, 1997: In his introduction, Shapiro justifies this stance by underscoring both the scientific uncertainties and the difficulties, on the one hand, in deciding "if and when our liberties, including the freedom of scientific inquiry, should be restricted" and on the other, in weighing the risks and benefits an argument in favor of further cloning research human cloning, including the issue of individual identity, personal autonomy, family ties, and intergenerational relations Shapiro, 1997: This stance by the NBAC is understandable considering that it had to ponder the plurality of opinions for and against cloning in the different interest-based and moral communities in the United States.

It thus proposed legislation capable of allowing cloning of embryos for research purposes in some cases and maintaining the prohibition in principle over human cloning with regard to the use of embryos for procreative purposes.

In other words, NBAC experts suggested that scientists relying on private funding be allowed to clone human embryos for research purposes, but that the use of such embryos for procreation be prohibited. In addition, the NBAC proposed a sunset clause according to which the Congress should review its position after a trial period of three to five years, based on progress in research and risk prevention. In the opinion of Callahan, "the idea of a sunset clause was the perfect via media, of a kind that commissions traditionally seek when opinion is radically divided.

In that respect, it was a good political solution, attempting to balance a variety of values and interests" Callahan, 1997b: Capron, prudence was justified because the issue of human cloning has to do with one of most morally conflicting fields in bioethics: Besides, by suggesting a temporary moratorium on human cloning, the NBAC an argument in favor of further cloning research aimed to make a distinction between cloning for human reproduction, or 'making babies', from cloning as research, that is, human cloning per se the real object of the Commission's moratoriumand cloning of other animals and plants.

Both this distinction and the legal stratagem of the sunset clause thus appear to suggest that the NBAC does not intend to prohibit cloning in totum, since "just as it is a mistake to imply, as sometimes happens in ethics discussions, that everything we have a right to do is right to do, so too it would be a mistake to say that everything we believe would be wrong to do should be wrong to do" Capron, 1997: However, according to other researchers, this 'compromise' is a de facto prohibition, with serious consequences in the legal and political field, given that it turns cloning into a veritable 'political football in Congress' and ends up chilling an important field of research in public institutions, delaying the development of safe procedures Wolf, 1997.

Neither was there consensus over religious aspects, which are also discussed by the NBAC, since some theologians considered human cloning intrinsically immoral, while others found it morally justified in some circumstances, so long as clearly regulated to prevent abuses Shapiro, 1997.