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Mapping the Terrain—Human Cloning

Once the stuff of science fiction, human cloning has become science fact. In 1997, scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, amazed the world when they announced that they had successfully cloned an adult mammal: Dolly the sheep. Using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the nucleus of a cell from an adult ewe’s mammary gland was transferred to the cell of another sheep. Scientists were then able to coax the cell to divide just as a normal embryo divides. The cloned embryo was then transferred to the uterus of a surrogate sheep, and months later Dolly was born. Since that announcement was made, the media reports almost daily news about cloning.

Controversy swirls around two types of human cloning: “reproductive cloning” and “therapeutic cloning.”1 Reproductive cloning aims at bringing a cloned human baby to term. Several groups have been trying to become the first to give birth to a cloned human being, though, to date, there is no reason to believe they have been successful. So-called “therapeutic cloning” aims at cloning human embryos for research purposes. Likewise, several research labs have claimed to have cloned human embryos, though none have lived past several days.

Combined with embryonic stem cell research, cloning embryos is a means of reproducing sufficient numbers of genetically identical embryos for research purposes. “Therapeutic” cloning is really a misnomer, however, because the aim of both types of cloning is, in fact, reproduction. That is, both types of cloning are used to produce human embryos, the one for a take-home baby, the other for embryo-destructive research. For this reason, the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics recommended in 2002 that other terms be used, viz., “cloning-to-produce-children” and “cloning-for-research.”2 Since human embryos have the same moral status as other children, this is a somewhat more helpful description, but is still lacking. Therefore, Kairos Journal will seek to make clear which type of cloning is being discussed in its articles. Furthermore, Kairos Journal finds both kinds of human cloning ethically objectionable for reasons explained in the articles contained on the website.3


See Kairos Journal article, "What's Wrong with a Little Cloning Around?"


The President’s Council’s reports are found at The President’s Council on Bioethics Website,


Readers may keep abreast of developments in cloning science and public policy at Americans to Ban Cloning Website,