With large religious lobbies heavily influencing political and medical related legislation in the United States, much of the research into human cloning has moved overseas. Multiple U.S. states have bans on human cloning, even going so far as to ban therapeutic cloning, which is cloning specifically for the purposes of medical research. Not surprisingly, several ethical questions are immediately raised whenever human cloning is broached in modern medical discussion. First, what rights would a cloned individual possess? Second, how could we justify experimentation or failed experiments? Third, would the risks of human cloning ultimately outweigh the benefits? And, fourth, could this research be exploited by military, national governments, or wealthy private-sector entrepreneurs?
There are already sufficient advancements in human cloning to prompt more open discussion, perhaps even attempts to weaken the bans that some countries have placed on applicable research. For example, several medical scientists have (as of May 2013) successfully cloned human embryonic stem cells using similar techniques to those employed in creating Dolly, the cloned sheep born back in 1996. Researchers are hopeful that these advancements will provide much-needed transplant options for patients with a wide range of medical conditions, from multiple sclerosis to spinal cord trauma to heart problems. Cloning from a patient’s own cells significantly raises the chances the transplant will be successful. Considering that many potential recipients on organ transplant waiting lists are unable to find compatible donors, human cloning may offer them a solution to extend their lives.
After the required stem cells are extracted from these cloned human embryos, the embryos were destroyed, which has caused unrest in some parts of the medical community. Legislation determining where human life begins (and consequently what rights are afforded to fertilized human embryos) has been an area of contention for decades among public opinion, medical science, and religious doctrine. Researchers continue to develop techniques using cloned stem cells to facilitate organ transplants, which may in time have the ancillary benefit of severely affecting the international organ-trafficking trade, which often uses coercion to supply recipients in developed countries with organs harvested from unwilling or debt-enslaved “donors.”
Other ethical concerns include the end-goals of regenerative medicine, which seeks to restore function to those patients whose quality of life has been severely compromised by certain medical conditions. Advocates for ethics in human cloning cite the probability that regenerative cloning techniques would be exploited by national military to supplement the production of human soldiers or otherwise aid in an injured soldier’s recovery. New legislation to address this, as well as other ethical aspects of cloning, will undoubtedly become a priority for future sessions of Congress.
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