BMA opens door on human reproductive cloning Richard Woodman , London
Public opposition to human reproductive cloning may be based on nothing more than an "illogical and transient fear of new technology," according to a British Medical Association discussion paper.
The paper, which is being presented at this week's World Medical Association meeting in Tel Aviv, assumes that the potential hazards of cloning by cell nuclear replacement, the method used to clone Dolly the sheep will eventually be overcome.
This method involves the implantation of a donor nucleus into a host egg which has had its original nucleus removed. The cloned embryo ends up with nuclear DNA that is identical to that of the donor.
Public hostility to human reproductive cloning may be based on an 'illogical and transient fear of a new technology', according to a British Medical Association (BMA) discussion paper presented at this week's World Medical Association meeting in Tel Aviv. If the cloning method of cell nucleus replacement were eventually to become safe, the BMA paper argues that there would no longer be any compelling arguments against the use of the technique for reproductive purposes. There is currently a widespread international moratorium on human reproductive cloning.
In answer to a widely expressed reservation about the possible motivations of parents who use this method to have children, the paper asks: 'Do people always have children for the sake of the child itself? In reality, the reason why most people have children is more to do with their own wishes and desires than the child's'. The paper adds that a preferable method of cloning would be embryo splitting. Clones produced by this method would then share both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, could be born like twins into the same environment and would avoid having a confused genetic heritage.
The BMA paper goes on to ask whether there will be any compelling argument against human cloning by this method once the safety problems are resolved. At present, there is a widespread international moratorium on human cloning.
It points out that some people oppose cloning because they are worried about the ethical questions that arise if it were used for certain purposes. Some individuals have expressed reservations, for example, about the idea that a parent with a sick child might wish to produce a clone of the child, so that he or she could use the cloned child's bone marrow, stem cells, or other organs to save the life of the existing child.
But it asks whether that would be any more unethical than many of the other reasons for which parents have children. "Do people always have children for the sake of the child itself? In reality, the reason why most people have children is more to do with their own wishes and desires than the child's."
It adds: "If the child were to be abandoned once the donation had taken place, he or she would have been treated merely as a means, and this would be rightly condemned, but the child will undoubtedly be loved and respected for him or herself and, perhaps even more so for having saved the life or his or her sibling."
The paper suggests that people's motives for wanting a clone could be critical, as the risk-benefit ratio would be more acceptable if people were aiming to save life rather than simply wanting a child in their own image.
It adds that many of the psychological harms predicted for children who resulted from cloning by cell nuclear replacement would not arise if good quality embryos were cloned by another method, embryo splitting. Clones produced by this method would then share both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, could be born like twins into the same environment, and would not have a confused genetic heritage, as the woman who carried them would be their mother and not their sister.