Research Cloning Arguments Pro and Con

Picture of Dolly the Sheep

Reasons for Concern about Research Cloning

1. Perfection of techniques to create clonal human embryos would make it more difficult to prevent the births of human clones. If clonal embryos free of reprogramming errors can be created, establishing pregnancies is likely to be a trivial procedure. Without a system of strict public oversight and control, some of the clonal embryos created in laboratories are likely to wind up being used for reproductive purposes.

2. Perfection of cloning techniques would open the door to even more powerful technologies of human genetic modification. Proposals for commercially practicable inheritable genetic modification ("designer babies") call for the use of cloning techniques to create embryos using stem cell nuclei that have been previously genetically modified.

3. Cloning requires the use of women's eggs, typically ten or more for each attempt. Egg retrieval is a complicated procedure, involving courses of hormone treatments and significant risks for the woman. Large scale research cloning could generate a market for women's eggs that could easily lead to exploitation. Proposed therapeutic uses of cloning techniques would entail many millions of women's eggs a year, a quantity that seems prohibitively large.

4. Any treatments that rely upon cloning techniques would be very expensive, and likely unaffordable to large majorities of people.

Rebuttals to Reasons for Concern about Research Cloning

1. We can pass strong laws making reproductive cloning illegal without banning research cloning. Technical information about the production of cloned human embryos could not and should not be suppressed.

2. If society wishes to ban inheritable genetic modification it can and should do so.

3. As long women give informed consent and are fairly compensated, markets in human eggs should not be seen as a bad thing.

4. Access to affordable healthcare is a general social issue, not specific to research cloning.

Reasons to Support Research Cloning

1. Cloned embryos are said to be needed for research on embryonic stem cells that promise to revolutionize medicine. Scientists believe that embryonic stem cell research will lead to cures for many diseases and will provide tissues and organs for transplant and treatment of degenerative conditions.

2. Research cloning will be necessary in order to produce compatible tissues and organs for patients being treated with stem cell therapies. In order to overcome the immune rejection problems associated with organ and tissue transplants, stem cells would have to be obtained from embryos produced from a patient's own cells, by means of research cloning.

3. Restrictions on research cloning could postpone therapies beneficial to millions of people. We cannot allow delays in the development of techniques that could save lives or prevent suffering.

4. Restricting any sort of medical research is unacceptable. In a free society, people have the right to pursue any scientific-and especially medical-investigation. Medical technology has already improved our lives immensely, and we must support continued progress.

Rebuttals to Reasons to Support Research Cloning

1. Clonal embryos are not needed as a source of embryonic stem cells. As most supporters of research cloning acknowledge, embryos created in IVF clinics can provide adequate numbers and varieties of stem cells for research purposes. Advocating a moratorium on research cloning does not preclude support for continued work to overcome the technical difficulties.

2. Some studies suggest that research cloning may not be a necessary or desirable way to overcome immune rejection. Embryonic stem cells appear less likely to stimulate rejection after transplantation than other cell types. If this proves true, therapeutic tissues could be developed from existing embryonic stem cell lines rather than from cell lines customized for a particular patient. Other recent research suggests that it may eventually be possible to achieve similar results by "reprogramming" some of the patient's own cells.

3. Research cloning is likely to be too costly to be used in the course of routine medical procedures. The creation of cloned embryos would always be very labor intensive and expensive. Women's health advocates are concerned about the health and social justice implications of creating a market for human eggs in which most donors are likely to be poor women.

4. In a free society, people have the right to work together democratically to adopt policies that they believe contribute to building a better world. Some forms of human experimentation are already forbidden, as is the sale of organs for transplant.

Summary Comment

Research cloning presents a difficult choice for the many people who in general support medical research, including embryo research, but who are concerned about the dangers of human reproductive cloning and eugenic engineering. A moratorium on research cloning would provide the opportunity to put in place prohibitions on reproductive cloning and inheritable genetic modification, without impeding research on the therapeutic uses of embryonic stem cells. It would also allow time for more extensive public debate and for the establishment of regulatory structures to prevent the gross abuse of any research cloning procedures that society might decide to allow.

Last modified June 30, 2006