Today human cloning is the de facto standard for wealthy couples to have the child they want. The once much-vaunted ‘designer baby’ is now an uneventful reality for those who can afford it. The trend has resulted in an exponential growth for the cloning companies.
Yet the noise just won’t die down completely. There were angry scenes at the birthday party of Justine de Sera, the first human clone. Justine was 14 years old today and hoped to enjoy the party laid on for her at the headquarters of Bio Baby, the stem cell company that helped to create her. Pro Life activists and groups from a variety of ethical organizations, disrupted the proceedings with banners and angry shouts of “inhuman!” Whilst Justine was understandably upset, the con-cerns are many. Will she be infertile? Can she expect a normal lifespan? It resonates to another similar breakthrough – the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1983. Yet, by the time Louise was 20 years old, more than a million test-tube babies had been born through in vitro fertilization and the public hardly gave the technique a second thought.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
There are two types of cloning. ‘Reproductive cloning’ gives us the ability to replicate numerous genetically identical offspring. It would allow some infertile couples to have children genetically related to themselves and in theory let people ‘copy’ dead relatives. In this process, an individual organism is produced from another organism and therefore they are genetically identical. It involves taking an egg from a donor and replacing its nucleus with a cell containing the DNA of the creature to be cloned. The resulting embryo is then placed in a surrogate mother.
‘Therapeutic cloning’ is the most controversial but exciting new area made possible by cloning technology. In this form of cloning, human embryos would be produced by taking genetic material from a patient, and fusing that with an unfertilized egg. This is cultured for 6-7 day; certain cells are extracted and the embryos destroyed. The cloned embryo used in is not placed in a surrogate mother, but is harvested for useful stem cells that can be used to grow replacement body parts – eg to produce nerve cells with which to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.
1983: World’s first test-tube baby
The world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, is born amidst much furore about ‘Man playing God’.
1993: PDG Technique>
Mark Hughes, a molecular biologist working at the University of Georgetown, Washington, develops the ‘preimplantation genetic diagnosis’ technique (PGD). Within 24 hours, Hughes can ensure the ‘right’ embryo is picked in in-vitro fertilization before implantation in the womb.
1996: First cloned sheep born
Dolly the sheep is born on July 5th, at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland – although the world does not find out until the following year. The news that the first mammal to be cloned from an adult, rather than an embryonic, cell, makes front-page news, bringing the issues surrounding cloning to the breakfast table.
2000: Baby ‘spare parts’
The Nash family in the USA make medical history by having a baby boy who has been selected by PGS to provide a perfect tissue match for his sister. It is said the move paves the way for children to be born to provide ‘spare parts’.
2001: Cloned early-stage human embryos generated
In January, scientists announce Andi, the ‘GM monkey’, engineered using a jellyfish gene. He was the only one of three rhesus monkeys (our closest biological relatives), to be born alive. Can we allow this wastage with human life?
In November, cloned early-stage human embryos are generated in a process called parthenogenesis. It puts therapeutic cloning within reach.
2002: Ultimate stem cell discovered
The ultimate stem cell is discovered. The cell, found in adults, can turn into every single tissue in the body. Scientists think it may turn out to be the most important stem cell ever found.
2003: Cloning has high failure rate
A landmark legal precedent is set in the UK, when a court of appeal says Raj and Shanana Hasmi should be allowed to create a ‘designer baby’ as a donor sibling, to try to save the life of their sick child. Whilst the ban on ‘designer babies’ is reversed in the UK, surveys show nine out of ten people oppose baby cloning, with its images of Petri dishes, glowing test tubes and Dr Frankenstein.
Within a month of the case, the researchers who created Dolly the sheep are granted the first UK licence to create human embryos for stem cell research.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), in which sperm and eggs are mixed in a dish and the resulting embryo transplanted to a mother, has a 15% success rate at this time – yet there is little fuss on lost embryos. More than one million babies have now been born using the technique.
In August, scientists announce the arrival of Promotea, the first-ever cloned horse. She is the sole survivor of a process that began with more than 800 eggs implanted with foreign nuclei. Of these, 22 survived a week as embryos. Seventeen were implanted in horses and four pregnancies resulted. All but one failed.
In the USA, federal funds may not be used towards research on therapeutic cloning at this time. The European Commission produces draft regulations that, if approved, would keep European Union funding from researchers involved in cloning.
2005: Justine de Sera cloned
Justine de Sera is cloned at Bio Baby, a private stem cell research clinic in Miami. The clinic is rumored to be funded by a well-known drug company.
2006: Justine de Sera born
Justine de Sera is born in Rome, amidst massive outcry. The public demands to know how many embryos were lost as a result of the cloning.
2010: Cloning becomes popular
Despite continued protest and public unease, cloning is taken up by wealthy couples who have problems with fertility. Cloning technique has now improved, with the result of less embryo loss. As a result, a proportion of the public feels easier on the issue.
2011: 500,000 human beings born through cloning
Cloning has become widely accepted for medical reasons and is fast becoming accepted as a way of having a ‘designer’ baby. It is estimated that 500,000 human beings have now been born through cloning.
Whilst there is greater public acceptance of using cloning techniques to have a child, there is moral outrage to the concept of cloning a human being as a means of providing donor organs. The ethical debate continues in this area.
2020: Justine turns 14
Justine is an intelligent and apparently healthy 14 year-old. However, nobody yet knows whether she will be able to have her own baby or how long she will live.
So familiar with the concept of cloning is the general public, that only Pro-Life supporters protest about her birthday. The rest of the world has become inured to ‘designer’ babies.