Human Embryo Cloning

Bryan Ness bryan.ness at
Sun Jan 16 14:14:00 EST 1994

As many of you are probably aware, at the September meeting
of the American Fertility Society's annual meeting Jerry Hall,
director of the In Vitro Fertilization and Andrology Laboratory
at George Washington University School of Medicine,
announced that his laboratory had successfully cloned human
embryos.  The same has been done for several years with
animals, but this is the first time it has been done in humans.

Jerry Hall claims that part of the reason for doing the
experiments was to stimulate an ethical discussion of whether
human embryo cloning should proceed or not.  Some feel the
procedure could help improve in vitro fertilization procedures.

One proposed application of the procedure would be to clone
an embryo in two that will potentially be implanted and test
one of the clones for genetic defects.

Opinions are sharply divided over the ethics of this application
in view of the fact that one clone would be destroyed
by the analysis. "You'd essentially have the situation of one
identical twin being sacrificed for the sake of the other," says
Somerville. The president of the American Association of
Bioethics, Arthur Caplan of the University of Minnesota in
Minneapolis, also finds the idea disturbing, saying that the idea
of "creating embryos solely for the purpose of genetic diagnosis
is morally suspect." In contrast, another bioethicist, John
Robertson of the University of Texas, Austin, who's a member of
the American Fertility Society's ethics committee, says he thinks
the idea of using two- or three-cell clones for diagnosis is not
much different from taking a single embryonic cell.

Currently  there seem to be no regulations or guidelines
in place for researchers to refer to. The United States has not
had a bioethics commission since 1989 when the congressionally
appointed Biomedical Ethics Advisory Committee expired
without ever issuing a report. At Congress's request, however,
the Office of Technology Assessment has prepared a report
reviewing past efforts, hoping to establish a new ethics
commission.  If Congress does establish such a commission,
human embryo cloning would presumably come under its purview.

For more information on this topic please read the article
entitled "Human Embryo Cloning Reported" in Science, October 29,
1993, page 652-ff

I bring this topic up because I think the ethics involved need to
be discussed more openly.  I have given the students in my
college Foundations of Biology class an assignment to discuss
this topic among themselves and with any others who are
interested.  You may see some of them posting replies here.

The basic questions I have regarding this topic are:

1.  What are the ethics of cloning human embryos in general?
    Should research of this type be allowed at all?

2.   If the cloning of human embryos is allowed then what
     kinds of research should be allowed?  Should the
     research be limited to faulty embryos or could healthy,
     viable embryos be used?

3.  If these techniques were to be used to improve in vitro
    fertilization what limits should there be?  Should one
    be allowed to be used for genetic testing?  Should
    multiple embryos be allowed to be implanted?

4.  If several embryos are produced by cloning should
    people be allowed to save the extras for later
    implantation?  Should people be allowed to sell
    extra embryos?

These are just a few of the ethical dilemmas that come
to mind.  If you have any others feel free to bring them
up as well.  I would encourage discussion from other
biology students as well as researchers in the field.

Bryan Ness
Assistant Professor of Biology
Pacific Union College
bness at

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