Nobel Prize Winner Says Human Cloning Coming Within 50 Years

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Dec 19, 2012   |   4:47PM   |   Washington, DC

Those of us who could read between the lines have always known that so-called therapeutic cloning, the creation and cloned human embryos with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and their subsequent destruction for stem cells, has always ultimately been about reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.

How do we know this? Well first, SCNT is the same technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, and the countless other mammals that have been cloned since. Once scientists perfected SCNT in humans under the guise of “stem cell research” it was only a matter of time before the same technique was being offered on the menu at your local fertility clinic. President George W. Bush was right when he warned:

“Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies.”

Second, if you paid close attention to the race to clone embryos for stem cells, you would have noticed that fertility docs were moonlighting in the cloning lab. Dr. Samuel H. Wood is a fertility specialist. His web page at the San Diego Reproductive Sciences Center says their facilities are “where babies come from” and yet at the bottom of Dr. Wood’s list of publications is his paper on cloning human embryos. [French AJ, Adams CA, Anderson LS, Kitchen JR, Hughes MR, Wood SH. Development of Human cloned Blastocysts Following Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) with Adult Fibroblasts. Stem Cells. 2008 Jan 17]

IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is also in favor of cloning-to-produce children. He sees a similarity between IVF in the early days and cloning and believes cloning to help infertile couples have a child is a “clinical imperative.”

Now that induced pluripotent stem cell technology (iPSCs) has replaced therapeutic cloning as the method to get patient-specific stem cells, talk about cloning should have disappeared. That is if cloning really was about the stem cells.

And yet scientists are still talking about cloning. The recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Sir John Gurdon has told The Telegraph that we can expect human cloning within the next 50 years:

Sir John Gurdon, whose work cloning frogs in the 1950s and 60s led to the later creation of Dolly the sheep by Edinburgh scientists in 1996, said that progression to human cloning could happen within half a century.

Although any attempt to clone an entire human would raise a host of complex ethical issues, the biologist claimed people would soon overcome their concerns if the technique became medically useful.

In-vitro fertilisation was regarded with extreme suspicion when it was first developed but became widely accepted after the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby”, in 1978, he explained.

And what would those “medically useful” applications be? To help the infertile have the child of their choosing or course:

During public lectures the Cambridge University scientist said he regularly asks his audience if they would be in favour of allowing parents of deceased children, who are no longer fertile, to create another using the mother’s eggs and skin cells from the first child, assuming the technique was safe and effective.

“The average vote on that is 60 per cent in favour,” he said. “The reasons for ‘no’ are usually that the new child would feel they were some sort of a replacement for something and not valid in their own right.

“But if the mother and father, if relevant, want to follow that route, why should you or I stop them?”

Why indeed. In the prophetic words of cloning activist Randy Wicher:

“My decision to clone myself should not be the government’s business, or Cardinal O’Connor’s, any more than a woman’s decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. It’s part of the reproductive rights of every human being.”

Human cloning is still a real possibility and just because cloning is no longer needed for stem cells does not mean it is going to disappear. Cloning was never going to stop at the laboratory. The plan has always been to produce cloned children.

And how can we produce healthy cloned children after so many deformed animals have been produced by cloning? Experimentation of course. Gregory Pence, Philosophy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in his book, Cloning after Dolly: Who’s Still Afraid?, explains how this cloning experimentation will proceed:

“If the primary moral objection to reproductive cloning is that it will likely result in genetic errors in reprogramming, then of course we want research to prevent that kind of problem. But how do we do that? The best way is to see how cloned embryos develop and to study them, gestating them in female chimpanzees, artificial wombs, or human volunteers, then aborting them to see which are normal and which are not, then experimenting to see how to create only normally developing embryos/fetuses.”



Facing the practical challenges of cloning children, Josephine Quintavalle, the director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, states the obvious:

“You could never perfect cloning on humans without experimenting on humans, and that is something that the world has agreed should never happen again after Nazi Germany.”