Last Sunday, a small, privately funded biotechnology company announced that it had created the first human embryos ever produced through the process of cloning. Advanced Cell Technology, based in Massachusetts, claims the experiment was conducted in order to produce stem cells, an endeavor rapidly becoming the primary focus of the world”s leading biotech companies.
Sunday”s announcement heralds the opening of a vast new medical frontier. Stem cell research has become the premier area of concentration for many scientists. Its acceptance by the federal government could eventually make it possible to substitute cloned cells with damaged ones, thereby bringing enormous relief to patients with irreparable tissue damage. With this in mind, Advanced Cell Technology quietly developed an only semi-successful process for creating embryonic cells, yet in doing so, crossed into a heated sphere of ethical controversy.
The view of many religious leaders, as well as U.S. President George W. Bush, is that any type of human cloning, no matter what its medical potential, is morally wrong. Advanced Cell Technology maintains that it was never its intention to clone actual human beings. Yet another ethical concern is that killing each embryo upon the extraction of the desired cells could constitute a crime akin or equal to murder.
Not surprising is President Bush”s appeal to Congress to ban embryonic cloning. Critics say this experimental procedure will ultimately escalate into something worse than the simple cloning of individual cells, seriously breaching a rigidly defined moral standard.
As of now, techniques involving genetic alterations in human cells are performed strictly within the private sector. The federal government”s decision to make cloning illegal would make its medical implementation impossible. It would not only be illogical to place a ban on the replication of simple cells, but also insensitive in refusing to allow research that could lead to the of ailing patients. The U.S. government should take steps to see that stem cell cloning be legitimized. Given proper federal funding, companies like Advanced Cell Technology would make it possible for patients who need tissue reconstruction to receive healthy tissue samples with an astounding rate of compatibility 100 percent.
With the prospect of further development in this new field comes a solution for physicians and patients alike. Lawmakers must recognize the enormous potential that the practice of cloning can bring about in ending the more painful effects of aging and most hereditary diseases. Another practical application of the procedure is the elimination of contagious animal-borne diseases.
Despite the ethical complexity of this issue, cloning should not be banned. Instead, stringent federal regulation should be established. Many foreign powers are voicing concern over to the experiments of early this week Fresh in the minds of many, are the horrific eugenics experiments of Nazi Germany, in which the realm of genetic tinkering was pushed too far past the line of common morality. Fortunately, the present work of such companies like Advanced Cell Technology poses no threat only cures.
The question of embryonic cloning is not one that is likely to be resolved anytime soon but it is one that must be explored. Stem cell research may hold the key to solving some of medicine”s most debilitating diseases.