In February 1997, scientists at Scotland’s Rosalin Institute unveiled the sheep, cloned from the cell of a six-year old ewe by nuclear transfer process. The following year Cumulina—the first in a batch of fifty mice- was born on October 3 at University of Hawaii, but it died of old age two years and seven months later. The technique was believed to be more reliable than Dolly’s. In 1998, a pair of calves was born in Ishikawa Prefectural Livestock Research Centre. Japan produced by a similar technique as Dolly’s. Scientists said that the new technique could be used to breed better cattle strains. Five piglets were born in 2000 in Virginia, US produced by PPL Therapeutics from an adult sow using a slightly different technique from Dolly’s. In2001, Bessie the cow gave birth to a wild Indian ox called gaur. Scientists at the Advanced Cell Technology inc, US, used nucleus from a gaur’s skin cell. Noah, the gaur died within hours due to intestinal failure. Thus begin the era of cloning. The scientific breakthrough—like other inventions before like the atom—received mixed response worldwide for everyone knows that any invention or discovery could be misused. And here was a breakthrough that was morally reprehensible in that it interfered with God’s plans to human evolution when it came to the idea of human cloning. ‘Technology that pioneered Dolly would be dangerous to use on humans at the moment. The likelihood is that such attempts would result in miscarriages and deformities so warned Ian Wilmut, an expert in cloning in 1997.
The new debate on human cloning surfaced after an organization called Clonaid claimed on December 27, 2002 in Hollywood, Florida, that a baby girl born the previous day was cloned from her mother. The organization said that the mother was a 31-year old American whose husband was infertile, but has refused to further identify the family or say where the cloning process or birth occurred. The company had originally committed to allow DNA tests to prove the cloning claim, but said in early January 2003 that the baby’s parents will not submit to any testing unless they receive guarantees that the child will not be taken away.
Clonaid has ties to the Raelian religious sect which believes that humans were cloned by extraterrestrial beings who descended on earth in flying saucers.
What after all is human cloning? In natural conception, 23 male chromosomes from the sperm and 23 female chromosomes from the egg meet. Bad genes usually get eliminated in the crossover and good genes get propagated. This natural selection ensures new genetic material in each individual, who never duplicates either parent, and is considered an important step in evolution. This pattern is maintained in other assisted reproductive techniques such as test tube, but is absent in cloning. In cloning, a cell with a full DNA compliment of 46 chromosomes is implanted in an egg. After the cell is stripped of its nucleus and the DNA material of the egg is taken out. The egg and cell are then fused with electrical or chemical stimulation. It is then developed for five days to form an embryo or blastocyst. The inner cell of this embryo, comprising stem cells, can be extracted and cultured for therapeutic purposes. Alternatively, the embryo can be implanted into a womb for a normal pregnancy to produce what is called clone.
The word clone comes from a Greek word referring to a word as we understand today is derived from a discovery by the British biologist JBS Haldane. From a study he conducted in 1963, he theorized that it would be possible for exact genetic duplicates to be generated from all living organisms, including human beings.
While there has been universal condemnation of the reported human cloning by the Clonaid Company, many scientists contend that the claim made by Clonaid has been a hoax. Dr. Krishnan Dronamraju, Adviser to the US Secretary of Agriculture, said: “It is a hoax created by few misguided individuals who lack credibility. Human cloning is not possible as experiments for several hundred times have to be carried out for achieving success”, he said. Dr. Dronamraju, also the President of the US Foundation for Genetic Research and honorary professor in Albert Schweitzer University (Geneva) said that he had his own doubts over human cloning as Clonaid has refused to allow a DNA testing. Commending therapeutic cloning, he said this technology could be used successfully for cloning organs such as kidneys, harts and lungs to facilitate their transplant in human beings. Dr. Dronamraju suggested that India should give an additional boost of therapeutic cloning and a thrust to research on stem cells. ‘It has been done successfully in the US and Europe. India could also create kidney and heart banks like eye banks to transplant the organs to give a new life to many.”
Vithal C. Nadkarrri, the Indian scientist, says that in therapy cloning embryos are created so that scientists can mine them for stem cells. These so-called master cells of the body have been hailed as a potential medical breakthrough of the 21 st century because of their ability in theory, to replace the damaged tissue. Therapeutic cloning could help us one day to patch up damaged heart muscle following heart attacks or to form new neurons in the brains of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients. For diabetics stem cells may be a source of new islet cells in the pancreas. Later, perhaps even whole organs might be grown, all free from the threat of rejection.
In the wake of the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the then US President Bill Clinton announced a moratorium on human reproductive cloning in March 1997. When Bill Clinton issued his order, Senator Tom Harkin alongside Pope Paul V, who in 1616 tried to stop Galileo.” Most American politicians claim to be against cloning but they are also nervous about restraining their genetics industry. After Dolly hogged world headlines, the US Congress tried halfheartedly to pass an anti-cloning bill.
A poll in March 2001 by Time/CNN found that 67 percent of people thought that animal cloning was “a bad idea”; 90 percent opposed human cloning. There were strong majorities even against cloning to produce vital organs to save others (68 percent) and to help infertile parents to have children (76 percent). Whatever be the outcome of the opinion poll, there are desperate people in the USA to bring back a dead sibling and around 3.5 million “infertile” couples who are eager to have their own children.
The worldwide debate comes down to a basic division of opinion; between seeing human life in terms of its intrinsic value; or in terms of its utilitarian value. Quint-essentially, it is a war between commerce and culture. Where on earth would you draw the line? Much can be said and against cloning. The antagonists fear the worst. For instance, animal cloning shows that it usually takes many eggs to get a single pregnancy, 277 in Dolly’s case. Researchers began by attempting to fuse 277 adult sheep cells with an equal number of eggs. These yielded only 29 embryos, which in turn resulted in only 10 pregnant sheep, only one of which made it term and gave birth to Dolly. Giving these odds, it would take almost 29 surrogate mothers to produce one viable human clone.
Harry Griffin, who was associated with the Roslin Institute that successfully cloned Dolly says that it would be wholly irresponsible to clone a human being, given the present state of technology. Even the success rate with the animal cloning is about 1.2 percent. The risks are higher for the mother and the child. Most of the cloned animals have developed severe abnormalities, malfunctioning livers, abnormal blood vessels, heart problems, underdeveloped lungs, immune system deficiencies and hidden genetic defects.
“Genetics and eugenics, though potentially benign, are obviously too powerful to be left to individual scientists unregulated”, says Trance Kealey, Vice-Chancellor of the Buckingham University. Every scientific
discovery promises to confer on humanity a bonanza that involves a total change in his lifestyle. Despite assertions to the contrary, man has been known to misuse discoveries and invention for purposes detrimental to his own well-being. Nuclear energy misused has provided the lethal punch to destroy the world a hundred times over. Amniocentesis introduced to get rid of etuses with birth defects or other abnormalities has been used to get rid of female children in many parts of India. Human cloning is too dangerous a field to be left to the whimsical scientists.