Cloned human embryos

Researchers at Stemagen claim that they used skin cells from two men to create human embryos. The embryos did not develop past around 100 cells, the blastocyst stage, but that wasn't the point, said Stemagen CEO Samuel H. Wood. The aim, he said, is to derive stem cell lines from cloned embryos. From the new York Times:
It is not clear whether the embryos would have been viable if implanted into a womb. Stemagen did not test whether the embryos had the correct number of chromosomes. But Dr. Wood, who also is a fertility doctor, said, “We’ve seen reproductive blastocysts that look like this or worse and they implant.”

He said Stemagen, which he started with a wealthy friend in 2005, was not interested in creating cloned babies, something that is illegal in places and morally repugnant to many people. Rather it wants to make stem cell lines for research and medical treatments.
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  1. But without clones of myself, how will I manage the brain transplant? I’m going to have to go back to that “kidnap some rich guy’s heir” notion, aren’t I…

  2. I don’t get it. Why is cloning morally repugnant. You always hear that when cloning is mentioned, but nobody ever goes any further. It’s like the WMD of science.

  3. Moon, lots of people will be more than glad to tell you why they don’t like the idea of creating human embryos for stem cell research. Or the idea of human clones in general (I don’t think these same people would care about cloned orchids or apple trees…). It has to do with playing God and avoiding the sort of Perfect humans that might be created (think Nazi uber men and women ((hot!)). I did not say these concerns are real. But some of them might be.

  4. Moon, doing a quick google search for the arguments against cloning will get you a wealth of reasons. The genetic therapy Jeff’s talking about (which is not just a concern in cloning) is less about avoiding Perfect human beings, as if you could even define what a perfect human being is, as allowing human beings to play God/process of natural selection and eliminate certain genetic strains according to their own choice. Doubtless the first to go would be mental retardation, followed closely by homosexuality.

    There’re numerous other arguments, and the one I find particularly important is that once you start manufacturing human beings, human beings become a commodity rather than a protected form of life. The societal definition of a human being will shift, and probably in negative ways.

    This assumes, of course, that science can ever be stopped, which seems unlikely.

  5. None of the objections to cloning are actually objections to cloning. They’re objections to various forms of genetic manipulation that would produce genetically non-identical offspring.

    Human cloning as such is just another way of making a human child, and every supposed moral problem surrounding human cloning can be reduced to an entirely familiar problem by replacing the word “clone” everywhere with the word “child.”

    Your clone is not you, and has the same moral relationship to you as any of your children. As such, asking the question, “Do I want my children to be more than normally susceptible to co-evolving parasites?” is probably the question anyone thinking about having a child by this method should ask.

  6. That was more or less what I thought, Tom #6.

    If the argument is all “evil people might get hold of it and do something bad”, then let’s start the banning with cars or guns.

  7. I’m with Tom and Moon on this one.
    Any society that can deal with identical twins can deal with clones, and I think more people would realise this if they were not blinded by bad sci-fi or religious dogma.

    In short:
    Cloning != genetic modification.

    But I would like to single out one particular argument against genetic manipulation for closer study: The don’t-play-god argument.
    We are already playing god in a number of ways: Ailments that would have been fatal/debilitating if left to the care of “god” (whatever that means) are routinely cured – e.g. difficult childbirths, myopia, syphilis, malaria and so on.
    In fact, nearly every aspect of our bodies and their reproduction is under human control. There’s no reason our genetic makeup should somehow be sacrosanct. If it creates “perfect” humans – so much the better – this world needs all the extra brainpower it can get.

  8. If a person’s reproductive organs have been destroyed by radiation, cancer, or other catastrophe, in vitro fertilization is not an option. The only choice they have is cloning. It’s wrong to deny someone the right to bear children because of superstition and ignorance.

  9. any medical considerations are as nothing before what the lawyers are going to do to all of us over things like inheritance and property rights etc.

  10. #10 — Why? A clone is no different than any other child. The legal ramifications are exactly the same for a clone as any other offspring.

  11. Here’s an interesting first read summarizing current objections:

    http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/mcgee.html

    The first objection discussed in detail is pretty widely accepted. Cloning anything is HARD. You have less than a 100% success rate even when you already know how to do it “right”. Even when you think you do, though, problems may not show up til well after the animal/human can experience suffering.

    Another objection is determination of parenting responsibility/authority. As difficult as it was, I’m not sure I’d trade growing up in my family for growing up as intellectual property of a corporation or as a science project.

    That’s somewhat similar to part of #4’s post. The likely to inevitable degradation of the regard for a human life to the view of it as property.

    As for genetic manipulation of the traits of offspring, I’m with #8. We’ve had far too much artificial support of inheritable disease spreading and too many decades of sending the healthiest breeding males off to war. We NEED to start repairing those effects through genetic surgery.

    Is there a risk that there will be a tendency to eliminate homosexuality? I suppose it’s possible in the long term. However, we’re talking really long term here most likely.

    We still don’t have a clue on genetic markers for it (assuming they exist) let alone traits like intelligence and longevity.

    As someone who is gay, I’m not certain I particularly care. It’s not as if there’s some form of genocide occurring.

    Symmetric features, a great singing voice, strength or an extremely efficient respiratory or circulatory system are far easier to find and select for. It’s highly unlikely that all this will provided for free as a universal birthright,

    I think folks should be far more concerned about saddling kids with sports or profession specific traits that make them feel coerced to do/become specific things at their parent’s whim. On top of that, there’s those who will have even less chance to compete.

  12. I’m chiming in w/ my support for the position of Moon, Tom, and spazzm on this one. Is it because I don’t think there is a “God” that I’m not worried about us playing one?

    Human cloning is going to happen, like it or not. Cloned people would be people, too. I’m not sure how they would turn modern notions of morals and acceptable social behavior on ear. A clone will be indistinguishable, at the macro level, from any other person. With present-day technology, clones will be born just like everybody else. (Just like identical twins, actually.) The clones will just be people. How is this going to change society so fundamentally?

    Ooooo– maybe they won’t have “souls”! Yeah! No “souls”! Spoooky!

    *sigh*

    I do think that cloning as a means of reproduction is a bad idea, just because we don’t have a clear understanding of what we’ll be fucking up. Our method of sexual reproduction evolved because it works. I laugh at the kind of hubris that says “we can out-think billions of years of evolution” when we talk about engineering our own genomes.

    Every time I hear “junk DNA”, I just think “4kb demos, procedural texturing, and a black-box CISC virtual machine with megs and megs of micrcode that you’ll never get to see” and giggle madly. One we have a working grand unified theory, then maybe we can totally understand the “VM” that biology executes in.

  13. It’s massively unlikely that cloned humans will be identical because of epigenetics. Even if the DNA may be the same, changes occur even before birth that determine the eventual person, so hordes of Epsilons or whatever aren’t really feasible, at least with cloning as it now stands.

    @ #15 – You’re right, there’s no genocide occurring against homosexuals (at least in America). However, the example of abortion shows that people are much less squeamish about making these decisions when they don’t have to put a face to it. Think about what would really happen if most parents got to decide which box to check on their BabyCo application form, [] heterosexual or [] homosexual. As was said, evolution built sexual reproduction best it could – which also probably means that cloning, like in vitro, will never become the usual way of reproduction for humankind.

    #16 – I don’t know of any experts, on either side of the debate, that deny that clones will have souls or be people (although they may not be treated as complete persons by a society that will necessarily shift its understanding of what a human being is). After all, the same could be said of in vitro babies. The concern for most religious people is the state of the souls of those who make the decision to clone.

  14. I look forward to the day when we can buy celebrity clone kits. Imagine raising any of your favorit celebs for a fee of, say, $10,000. George Clooney? No problem. Keira Knightly? Sure.

  15. Female genocide is occuring on a massive scale in China and India, which together form about half of the world’s population. The gender ratios are frighteningly skewed. As soon as they find a definitive gay gene, those fetuses will be aborted as well. Eventually, the population will consist solely of men – heterosexual men. Clearly, they haven’t quite worked out the kinks yet, but it might make a good sitcom.

  16. @ #15 – I think your last sentence says it all. Once you start selecting for traits, you run the risk of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots; that is, the people who can afford the selection technology and the people who can’t. How is some kid who may be naturally gifted at academics, sports, etc going to be able to compete with the kids who are designed to do those things even better?

  17. Finally some democracy. If only the wealthy can select perfect genes for their offspring, then in a few generations,all the poor will be dead. Problem solved, everyone is happy.

  18. nonsense, who needs disease-ridden, snaggle-toothed, depressing people around when our robot servants will cater to all our needs? I imagine a few “control – naturals” will have to be kept for breeding stock for the arena, but everything and everyone else will be shiny and happy.

  19. In regards to parental responsibility/authority, how would this be any different from artificial insemination or sperm banks?

    I don’t think that’s much of an argument against cloning.

  20. @#20- Does this significantly differ from selecting traits for your offspring by selecting a breeding partner with those desired traits? Pretty people picking pretty people, smart ones smart, rich ones rich, etc.

  21. Re #25 – I would say so, because you’re still rolling the dice. Two poor parents from the ghetto still have a shot at a Harvard elite, and two beautiful rich people still have a shot at an ugly kid who goes on to be a serial killer.

  22. If it were affordable, I think I would have had my last dog cloned. He was perfect and I don’t think I would have had ethical concerns.

  23. @#26 Might be so on a case-by-case basis for a while but give it a few centuries of weeding and assortment, and you ought to be able to breed your eventual descendents for whatever you like.

    Travel surely helps this– you’re not limited to just picking spouses within walking distance. I imagine a study of (rich enough to fetch spouses and selective enough to choose carefully) European nobility would be illuminating. Even if the Habsburg jaw shows they didn’t select for pretty.

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