Producer Bob Carty continues his series, Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race by looking at the debate over cloning humans for medical therapies and offspring replication.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Today, we continue with our series "Generation Next: Remaking the Human Race" with a look at human cloning.
President George W. Bush has been lobbying Congress to ban all forms of human cloning. But many scientists want an exemption, not for cloning to produce new human life, but for cloning to produce stem cells for possible medical therapies. Meanwhile, a handful of doctors and scientists say they are already in the process of producing a cloned human being. And when that event is announced, it will change forever the boundaries of what humanity deems acceptable, even what it means to be human. Today, producer Bob Carty continues his exploration of "Generation Next" with a story he calls "Another Me: The Question of Cloning."
[SOUND OF EXHIBIT MUSIC]
CARTY: In Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry has a new exhibit called "Genetics: Decoding Life." It’s 7,000 square feet of new age music, interactive videos and living displays, all about how life develops, sometimes about how it can be engineered, even copied.
APERSON: We’re in the brand new "Genetics: Decoding Life" exhibit. And I’m standing right next to the display of cloned mice. And people are fascinated to see something that they’ve heard about in the news.
CARTY: Dan Aperson mounted this exhibit for the museum. It’s designed to help the public which, today, is a few families and school groups, to become a bit more familiar, perhaps more comfortable with technologies like cloning.
MALE VISITOR #1: It’s pretty cool. It’s sort of weird, though. Because like, you have a mouse and you’re just going to create another whole one with just one mouse. And you can create and create and create. And you’ve got a whole bunch.
MALE VISITOR #2: I’m for cloning, personally.
FEMALE VISITOR #1: I’m against it, mostly.
CHILD: I don’t actually like what they did. Because it’s better if they just leave them and have babies on their own. That’s if they’re a girl.
CARTY: The reaction of children and teens here is typical of public opinion across America. Cloning is weird stuff for most of us. And we’re not sure what to think about it. After all, until now, human beings have been the combination of two parents, two sets of genes. That’s even the case with in vitro fertilization. But cloning changes that.
[SOUND OF SHEEP CALLING]
CARTY: The appearance of Dolly the sheep was what moved cloning from the realm of science fiction to reality. To create Dolly, they first took an egg from one sheep and removed its insides, its nucleus. They replaced it with the mammary cell of another six year old sheep. Then they gave the new egg a little jolt of electricity.
In 276 attempts, nothing happened. But in the 277th embryo, the cell began to divide, and grow, and eventually became the cloned sheep named after Dolly Parton. Now, there are no technical reasons this procedure could not be tried on humans. But the moral and political consequences are incendiary.
[TWO MEN ARGUING]
CARTY: Last summer, a committee of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences held a debate about human cloning in Washington, D.C. It was a verbal dustup.
CARTY: On one side of the debate was a small group of cloning advocates, an Italian fertility doctor, his American colleague, and a French biochemist by the name of Bridget Bosselier
Dr. Bosselier is also a so-called "bishop" in the Church of Rael, which might kindly be described as a new age cult dedicated to UFOs. This group actually believes that we are all descendents of clones put here on Earth by extra-terrestrials. And so, they want to clone themselves in order to transfer their consciousness into new bodies and live forever.
Understandably, some scientists were uncomfortable being in the same room with Dr. Bosselier. But, Dr. Bosselier was there because, as strange as her group may be, she does put forward the mainstream argument why she should be allowed to clone a human being.
BOSSELIER: Because there is demand. There is a huge demand. There are people who cannot have a child with their own genes. And they have heard about cloning. And now, they have hopes. If there are hopes, if there is a technology, this will be done. And I think it’s our own choice to use our genes the way we want.
If you want to have a baby mixing your gene with someone of your choice, it must be your right. But, it’s also your right if you want to reproduce yourself using your genes alone.
CARTY: Bosselier and other cloning advocates claim their experiments are already underway. They will not say where. They claim they have a list of people ready to be cloned. They will not say who. And although each clone could cost up to half a million dollars, they say they do have the money to do it. They argue cloning should be allowed because it’s a reproductive right. It’s the will of the marketplace. And it’s technologically inevitable.
BOSSELIER: The demand is huge. The demand is there. And, this will be done.
CARTY: "Rubbish," says Lori Andrews. Lori Andrews is the director of the Center for Science, Law and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the author of "The Clone Age." She points out that you can’t really clone yourself or bring back a loved one from the dead because although the DNA would be an exact match, the environment in which a clone would be raised would make that child unique.
So, Andrews worries more about the values held by people who would even want to be cloned or do cloning. They remind her too much of Nazi experiments in eugenics, the idea of reproducing only certain people.
ANDREWS: Cloning isn’t just about making a copy of an individual. It’s really a way of choosing particular values. As I go around the world, I’m finding that people who are advocating cloning do so to create the type of people they most like. The Raelians tell me they would only clone smart people because they value that. When I was in the Middle East, I was told the groups there would only clone men because men are who they value. And when you look at the list of who people want to clone, it’s almost invariably men: Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan. Many of the technologies that we’re talking about do turn having a child into something akin to buying a car, or picking the extras and so forth. And I’m worried about the affect on relationships, the affect on society if we do look at children that way.
CARTY: But, ethical concerns are not the only arguments against cloning. There is also the issue of safety.
JAENISCH: So, this is a picture of a normal embryo at birth. And they are juxtaposed to a cloned pup.
CARTY: In his office at MIT, biologist Rudy Jaenisch displays a picture of one of his clones. It’s a mouse, dead at birth.
JAENISCH: The clone pup is really grossly abnormal, like a monster. It’s four times as big and deformed. Body wall has not closed. And you see that the lungs are not inflated, so the animals cannot breathe and then all sorts of other problems.
CARTY: Rudy Jaenisch says the abnormalities in his cloned mice happen in all cloned animals. Even Dolly, the success story, is overweight and suffering from arthritis. Jaenisch explains that the technical problem in cloning is getting the right genes turned on and others turned off.
Take Dolly, for example. The trick in making her was hoping that when the mammary cells were put inside the nucleus of an egg, the genes that used to make milk would turn off and the genes for embryo development would turn on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Many times, things go wrong. Rudy Jaenisch doesn’t believe there is a so-called "normal clone" in existence. And that’s beside the fact that most of them die before birth.
JAENISCH: In mice, you have one, two, three or four percent of the animals ever survive to adulthood. And in cows, it might be between two and maybe six or seven percent. Then animals die later with apparently a non-existing immune system. So, the immune system was very defective. The biological problems are major in cloning activists who want to clone humans.
CARTY: If they go ahead though, what would be the consequence?
JAENISCH: I think we can only predict from what we know from cloning of animals. The consequences will be that most human clones will die. Then few will survive. And most of those, I think, will be not normal. Advocating cloning of humans, I think, is totally irresponsible. It should not be done.
CARTY: Cloning proponents respond that, with time, cloning technology will get better. Practice makes perfect. But, critics say that to get even close to being safe, it means doing experiments with people. And it means accepting terrible failures and deaths along the way, something no one could justify in moral terms.
Still, there are scientists with lots of egos and little ethics. And despite laws against cloning that have been passed by some nations, or are soon to be passed by other nations, the fear is that a cloned person will soon appear somewhere in the world. And if the first clones don’t work out so well, even that may not stop some scientists. Some of them have already proposed the creation of imperfect clones to be used for body parts. It sounds like science fiction. But it scares Stuart Newman, a biologist at the New York Medical College.
NEWMAN: The proposal was to manipulate early human embryos to have infants born without brains. By most western standards, they would be non-persons because they’re brain dead at the time they are born. And then they could be used as sources for transplantable organs, or for research. It really makes me wonder. I mean, it’s outrageous. And, if we were bus drivers rather than scientists, we would accept limits on where we could drive our bus. But somehow, the idea has taken hold that there should be no limits on what scientists could do.
CARTY: The question of limits is at the heart of another part of the cloning debate. This is the debate not about cloning a whole person, but cloning human embryos for stem cell research.
REEVE: For the record, I’m a C-2 ventilator-dependent quadriplegic. I have a keen interest in research. And I’m deeply disturbed by unreasonable attempts to block scientific progress.
CARTY: At a Senate hearing on cloning earlier this year, the quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve lobbied from his wheelchair in favor of cloning for research purposes. Activists for the disabled like Christopher Reeve are excited about embryonic stem cells because they eventually become every kind of cell in the human body.
If scientists could transform stem cells into tissues or organ cells on command, they might be able to treat diseases or make transplantable organs without the risk of rejection. That’s the hope. The problem is that to harvest embryonic stem cells, you have to destroy the embryo. And that’s why President Bush cut off federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
However, a Massachusetts company, Advanced Cell Technologies, says they will use their own money to clone human embryos. They’ve already tried it. Robert Lanza is the vice president of Advanced Cell Technologies and one of the most enthusiastic advocates of embryonic stem cell research.
LANZA: In the future, we hope to be able to use embryonic stem cells to cure a long list of human disease such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, over a hundred human diseases that, one day, will be treatable using this technology. By the time you and I, for instance, grow old, say you get in an accident, we will simply grow you up a new kidney. And this isn’t science fiction. This is very real. This is going to happen within our lifetime. We believe that the use of embryonic stem cells is entirely ethical. We think that it’s the whole question of whether a completely undifferentiated ball of cells that’s smaller than the tip of a pin warrants the same rights and respect as an adult, say a child, or a parent who may die because we failed to move a moral line.
BUSH: And we must not forget that even the most noble ends do not justify any means.
CARTY: On the other side of the debate, you have President Bush, and an unlikely coalition: conservative Christians joined by feminists and independent scientists to oppose any kind of cloning. They marshal several arguments. That the availability of cloned embryos for research makes it more likely someone will try to clone a person in America’s largely unregulated fertility clinics. That stem cell science is over-hyped. Therapies are years, if not decades, away. And, stem cells implanted in mice have caused cancer, precisely because they are stem cells and reproduce uncontrollably. And that, as with Dolly, human embryonic cloning would have a lot of failures. So, tens of thousands of women would likely have to be hired, and paid, to take super ovulation drugs to produce eggs, to then be surgically extracted. It means putting women at risk.
The critics say there is an alternative–adult stem cells. They generate new blood, and skin, and hair, and muscles in our bodies everyday. Research on adult stem cells is quite young. But so far, scientists have been able to transform them into blood, fat, bone, kidney, liver, nerve, brain and muscle cells. They may be just as promising as embryonic stem cells but with a medical, and an ethical, advantage, according to Dr. Ron Wharton who coordinates stem cell research in Canada. Dr. Wharton is not against regulated basic research on embryonic stem cells. But he says it may be dead-end medicine.
WHARTON: The problem that I see with it is that we would all have to have our own source of embryos if we were going to be treated in this way. I think it may well be impractical. And I worry that providing embryos for treatment of this kind will become a business, and embryos will become a commodity. If there’s any chance at all that we can use adult stem cells instead of going that route, we would be much better off. And we’ll just avoid the ethical problems of dealing with embryos. And you avoid the need for cloning all together.
[SOUND OF MUSEUM EXHIBIT]
CARTY: Back at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, grade school children are playing with computer joysticks, following instructions on how to make a virtual clone. As with many technologies, our anxiety tends to diminish as we become more familiar with them. But familiarity does not necessarily mean one understands all the consequences for all the years to come. That is why some have called for a moratorium on any kind of cloning, to give humanity a chance to digest the meaning of this next step in procreation. For Living on Earth, I’m Bob Carty.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth