Select Committee on Stem Cell Research Report


Reproductive Cloning

1. There is widespread opposition to reproductive cloning. In a report published very soon after the announcement of the birth of Dolly the sheep the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology recommended that "the intention of Parliament to ban human cloning should be reaffirmed. We believe that it would be possible to produce a formula which would effectively ban cloning a human through primary legislation."[71] In its response the Government said that "it would consider carefully in the light of developments, whether the legislation needs to be strengthened in any more specific way".[72] Subsequently the Government announced on several occasions, that they would introduce legislation to prohibit reproductive cloning, and a commitment to that effect was included in the Labour Party's 2001 Election Manifesto. Until the judicial review they thought that the practice was already unlawful on the ground that it would require a licence from the HFEA, which had made it clear that it would not grant one. Cloning a child without a licence would be a criminal offence. In the event, as explained in Chapter 1, the Government's hand was forced by the High Court judgment in the judicial review and they introduced emergency legislation, which became the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001.

The scientific and medical considerations

2. The scientific objections to reproductive cloning are currently overwhelming. It required 277 attempts to produce Dolly the sheep, and it might prove even more difficult in humans. It would be unthinkable to allow that degree of experimentation on a human being. Moreover, the consequences of producing cloned animals are still not well understood: in recent studies there has been a high rate of malformations, and premature death. Many clones are also excessively large. This is not just a scientific issue—it would be unethical to attempt to produce a cloned baby, given the high risk of abnormalities.

Ethical considerations

3. It is possible that in time the scientific difficulties could be overcome (as a result of work on animals, although ultimately the procedure would have to be tested on human beings). If so, what then should society's attitude be? It is often claimed that reproductive cloning is contrary to human dignity. For example, article 11 of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights states that "practices that are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted". But the concept of human dignity is ill-defined, and it is desirable to try to identify more precisely the reasons which underlie the deeply held and widespread aversion to the idea.

4. One argument that has been advanced is that it could be used for highly undesirable and immoral purposes. The European Parliament passed a resolution in March 1997, whose preamble states that "the cloning… of human beings cannot under any circumstances be justified or tolerated by any society, because it is a serious violation of fundamental human rights and is contrary to the principle of equality of human beings, as it permits a eugenic and racist selection of the human race, it offends against human dignity and it requires experimentation on humans". It is indisputable that reproductive cloning should not be used for racist or eugenic purposes, but to the Committee's knowledge no one outside the world of science fiction has suggested that it should be. And the fact that a technique could be used for improper purposes is not in itself a sufficient reason for prohibiting it.

5. A more commonly expressed view is that the underlying objection to reproductive cloning is a person's right to a "genetic identity". The European Parliament's 1997 resolution asserted that every individual has the right to his or her own genetic identity. As has often been pointed out, this cannot be an absolute right, since identical twins share a genetic identity and no one suggests that they have less of a personal identity or a lower worth. But there is an obvious distinction between identical twins and a cloned child, in that the twins' genetic identity is given, whereas that of the cloned child would have been chosen for it by the person whose cell had been cloned (or the person who had decided whose cell should be used for the purpose).

6. This leads to what we see as the strongest set of arguments against reproductive cloning—the familial and child welfare considerations. Those who advocate reproductive cloning do so on the ground that it would provide an opportunity for a couple who could not have a child normally, by gamete[73] donation or by IVF to have a child with the inherited genes of at least one of them. The expectation therefore would be that a cell nucleus from one of the parents would be used. This would give rise to a whole range of ambiguous relationships to other members of the child's family. If the cell nucleus from the father were used, for example, the child would be the genetic son of its grandparents, the genetic sibling of its uncles and aunts and the genetic uncle of its cousins. The range of ambiguities introduced into family relationships by cloning from a close relative would be large and the possibility for emotional confusion and uncertainty—not only on the part of the cloned child—considerable.

7. Sometimes parents are said to want to clone a child who has died. While this may be an understandable reaction to the devastating loss of a child, it represents a misconception that the cloned child would be the same as the dead child because it was genetically identical to it. It would in fact be likely to be very different as a result of different environmental factors, but would have to live with the unavoidable expectation that it was intended to replace a lost child and was not brought into being for its own sake.

8. It might be argued that these familial objections would be overcome if the child were cloned from a stranger, but it is difficult to see what the object would be in that case, since such pressure as there is for allowing reproductive cloning comes from those who are desperate to have a child with a genetic link to at least one of the parents.

9. Against this it is argued that reproductive cloning is simply another form of infertility treatment and that people have a right to reproduce themselves and by extension to secure this right by whatever means is technically feasible. Such a right has not been established in law and there would be strong objections to it, since it would assert a right on the part of the parents at the expense of consideration of the welfare of the child. There have always been people who, sadly, have had to accept that they cannot have children genetically related to them, and seeking to meet their needs should not take priority over the considerable scientific and ethical risks inherent in permitting reproductive cloning.

71   Fifth Report, Session 1996-97: The Cloning of Animals from Adult Cells, March 1997, HC 373-E. Back

72   Cm 3815. Back

73   Male sperm and female eggs. Back

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