about Human Cloning and the Council's Report:
Cloning and Human Dignity:
An Ethical Inquiry"
1. What is cloning?
Cloning is a form of reproduction in which offspring result not
from the chance union of egg and sperm (sexual reproduction) but
from the deliberate replication of the genetic makeup of another
single individual (asexual reproduction). Human cloning, therefore,
is the asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all
stages of development, genetically virtually identical to a currently
existing or previously existing human being. (Key terms are defined
in Chapter 3
of the report.)
2. How is cloning related to somatic cell nuclear transfer?
Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is the technique by which cloning
is accomplished. It involves introducing the nuclear material of
a human somatic cell (donor) into an oocyte (egg cell) whose own
nucleus has been removed or inactivated, and then stimulating this
new entity to begin dividing and growing, yielding a cloned embryo.
(Key terms are defined in Chapter
3 of the report, and a detailed description of SCNT is provided
in Chapter 4
of the report.)
3. For what purposes would anyone want to perform human
Human cloning might be undertaken for two general purposes. One
potential use would be to produce children who would be genetically
virtually identical to pre-existing individuals. Another would be
to produce cloned embryos for research or therapy. For example,
a scientist might wish to create a cloned embryo which would then
be taken apart to yield embryonic stem cells that could potentially
be used in biomedical research or therapies. The Council has termed
the first use “cloning-to-produce-children” and the
second “cloning-for-biomedical-research.” (The Council’s
choice of terms is discussed at length in Chapter
3 of the report.)
4. Why does human cloning matter?
The prospect of cloning-to-produce-children, which would be a radically
new form of procreation, raises deep concerns about identity and
individuality, the meaning of having children, the difference between
procreation and manufacture, and the relationship between the generations.
Cloning-for-biomedical-research also raises new questions about
the manipulation of some human beings for the benefit of others,
the freedom and value of biomedical inquiry, our obligation to heal
the sick (and its limits), and the respect and protection owed to
nascent human life. Moreover, the legislative debates over human
cloning raise questions about the relationship between science and
society, especially about whether society can or should exercise
ethical and prudential control over biomedical technology and the
conduct of biomedical research. Rarely has such a seemingly small
innovation raised such large questions.
5. Has anyone tried to perform human cloning?
Yes, though the extent to which attempts have been successful at
this stage is unclear. One American company and one American university
are known to have attempted to produce cloned human embryos, but
at least in early experiments were unsuccessful. Reports from China
and elsewhere suggest that serious attempts have been made around
the world. At this stage, it is unclear if they have succeeded and
to what extent. In addition, researchers at Stanford University
have announced their intention to create cloned human embryos for
research. Several groups around the world also claim to have to
have transferred cloned human embryos in an effort to impregnate
women, and at least one group claims such pregnancies have resulted
in several births. These claims as of April 2003 have not been substantiated.
6. How many mammalian species have been cloned? With what rates
Attempts have been made to clone at least ten mammalian species,
but at this point, published reports suggest that seven species—sheep,
cattle, goats, mice, pigs, cats, and rabbits—have been successfully
cloned. Rates of success have been quite low: approximately 5 percent
of attempts have resulted in live births. Moreover, a substantial
number of live-born cloned mammals have shown severe abnormalities
after birth. Some surviving cloned cattle, however, do appear physiologically
similar to their uncloned counterparts, and at least one cloned
sheep (Dolly) and some cloned cows have given birth to offspring.
(Scientific details are provided in Chapter
4 of the report.)
7. How is research cloning related to embryonic stem cell
Cloning is related to stem cell research in that both procedures
deal with human embryos, and the human embryos in both cases are
destroyed when their stem cells are extracted.
In cloning-for-biomedical research as well as in embryonic stem
cell research, scientists extract cells from embryos in order to
use those stem cells for research purposes.
The human embryos used in stem cell research are made in a laboratory
by combining sperm and eggs, frequently in an attempt to compensate
for infertility. A cloned human embryo does not result from the
random union of sperm and egg, but from a process called somatic
cell nuclear transfer, in which the nucleus containing DNA from
a cell of one individual is put into an egg whose nucleus has been
removed. The resulting cloned embryo becomes genetically virtually
identical to the individual whose DNA was inserted into the enucleated
(Details are provided in Chapter
4 and 6
of the report.)
8. Why might anyone want to clone a child?
Cloning-to-produce-children might serve several purposes. It might
allow infertile couples or others to have genetically related children;
permit couples at risk of conceiving a child with a genetic disease
to avoid having an afflicted child; allow the bearing of a child
who could become an ideal transplant donor for a particular patient
in need; enable a parent to keep a living connection with a dead
or dying child or spouse; or even to try to “replicate”
individuals of great talent or beauty. These purposes have been
defended by appeals to the goods of freedom, existence (as opposed
to nonexistence), and well-being. (See Chapter
5 of the report.)
9. What are the arguments against cloning a child?
The Council holds that cloning-to-produce-children would violate
the principles of the ethics of human research. Given the high rates
of morbidity and mortality in the cloning of other mammals, cloning-to-produce-children
would be extremely unsafe, and, as such, attempts to produce a cloned
child would be highly unethical. Even conducting experiments in
an effort to make cloning-to-produce-children safer would itself
be an unacceptable violation of the norms of research ethics, so
there seems to be no ethical way to try to discover whether cloning-to-produce-children
can become safe, now or in the future. Beyond those safety issues,
the Council holds that cloning-to-produce-children would be a radically
new form of human procreation that leads to concerns about: 1) problems
of identity and individuality; 2) concerns regarding manufacture;
3) the prospect of a new eugenics; 4) troubled family relations;
and 5) effects on the family. (These are detailed in Chapter
5 of the report.)
10. Why might anyone want to produce cloned embryos for
Some scientists believe that stem cells derived from cloned human
embryos, produced explicitly for such research, might prove uniquely
useful for studying many genetic diseases and devising novel therapies.
4 and 6
of the report.)
11. Is cloning-for-biomedical-research the only way to
treat some diseases?
No one knows. In fact, it is not known if cloning-for-biomedical-research
will help treat diseases at all, but some researchers believe they
have sound reasons for expecting valuable knowledge from such research.
Other avenues of research on diseases are also being pursued, including
adult stem cell research and various alternative techniques for
dealing with immune rejection. Cloning-for-biomedical-research is
one of many potential routes to treatments and cures, but at this
point researchers have no way of knowing for sure which route will
prove most productive. (See Chapter
6 of the report.)
12. What are the arguments for and against cloning for
The primary argument for proceeding with cloning-for-biomedical-research
is that it might lead to advances in medical knowledge and toward
treatments and cures. Those members of the Council who support cloning-for-biomedical-research
believe that it may offer uniquely useful ways of investigating
and possibly treating many chronic debilitating diseases and disabilities,
providing aid and relief to millions who are suffering, and to their
families and communities. They also believe that the moral objections
to this research—some of which are taken quite seriously by
some of these members—are outweighed by the great good that
may come from it.
The case against proceeding with the research does not deny the
possibility (albeit speculative) of medical progress from this work,
but rests on the belief of those members of the Council who oppose
the research that it is morally wrong to exploit and destroy developing
human life, even for good reasons, and that it is unwise to open
the door to the many undesirable consequences that are likely to
result from this research. These members point to concerns about
our obligations to nascent human life; the crossing of an important
moral boundary through the creation of human life expressly and
exclusively for the purpose of its use in research; and possible
further moral harms to our society.
(Both sets of arguments are presented in detail in Chapter
6 of the report.)
13. Is there any connection between the two uses of human
Both potential uses (cloning-to-produce-children and cloning-for-biomedical-research)
begin in the same way with the act of cloning (by somatic cell nuclear
transfer) that produces a cloned human embryo. They are therefore
connected by technique and separated by intent. Any attempt to limit
or regulate one would almost inevitably touch upon the other.
14. What does U.S. law now say about human cloning (state
There is currently (as of April 2003), no federal law on
cloning, though the issue is being hotly debated in Congress. Because
there is so much activity on the state level in this area, we are
posting links to websites that track these data on a regular basis.
The President's Council on Bioethics makes no claims as to their
accuracy and our posting these links should not be construed as
an endorsement of their contents.
15. What do other countries do about human cloning?
Many countries have passed laws regarding one or both uses of human
cloning. Approaches vary widely from country to country, with some
banning both uses of cloning (for instance, Australia, Canada, France,
Germany, Italy, and Norway), while others have prohibited cloning-to-produce-children
while allowing and in some cases regulating cloning-for-biomedical-research
(for instance, the United Kingdom). Several nations have also begun
work in the United Nations toward an international treaty banning
one or both forms of human cloning.
16. What are the Council’s policy recommendations on human
A minority of the Council (seven members) recommended a ban on cloning-to-produce-children,
with federal regulation of the use of cloned embryos for biomedical
research. Such a policy, they argue, would permanently ban cloning-to-produce-children,
which nearly all Americans oppose, and would allow potentially important
biomedical research to continue, thus offering hope to many who
are suffering. These members believe that a regulatory system would
be sufficient to protect against abuses and to prevent the implantation
of cloned embryos to initiate a pregnancy. Above all, they believe
that society should support and affirm the responsible effort to
find treatments and cures for those who need them.
A majority of the Council (ten members) recommended a ban on cloning-to-produce-children
combined with a four-year moratorium on cloning-for-biomedical-research,
and also called for a federal review of current and projected practices
of human embryo research, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, genetic
modification of human embryos and gametes, and related matters.
Such a policy, they argue, would most effectively ban cloning-to-produce-children,
which nearly all Americans oppose, and would provide time for further
democratic deliberation about cloning-for-biomedical research, a
subject about which the nation is divided and where there remains
A moratorium would allow time for moral persuasion; for further
animal experiments and progress on alternative avenues of research
(including adult stem cells, and other approaches to the immune
rejection problem); and for development of possible future regulations
by those who do not wish to see the moratorium made permanent.
It would show respect for the views of the large number of Americans
who have serious ethical problems with this research, and it would
promote a fuller and better-informed public debate. The moratorium,
they argue, would also enable society to consider this activity
in the larger context of research and technology in the areas of
developmental biology, embryo research, and genetics.
Finally, a moratorium, rather than a lasting ban, signals a high
regard for the value of biomedical research and an enduring concern
for patients and families whose suffering such research may help
alleviate. These members believe that on this important subject
American society should take the time to make a judgment that is
well-informed, respectful of strongly held views, and representative
of the priorities and principles of the American people. They believe
this proposal offers the best available way to a wise and prudent
(Both recommendations, and supporting arguments, are presented
at length in Chapter
8 of the report.)
17. Are disagreements over cloning basically a clash of religion
Disagreements over the ethical and policy positions regarding human
cloning do not seem to fall along lines of science and religion.
The Council’s own deliberations are an example of this. Eight
of the Council’s eighteen members have degrees in medicine
or biomedical science. Four of these supported the majority proposal,
while the other four supported the minority. Meanwhile, members
with strong religious convictions can be found on both sides as
well. Unusual left-right coalitions have also been seen on both
sides of the cloning debate in Congress. Differing assessments of
the moral significance of the facts at hand have shaped the differing
opinions of the members.
18. Where does President George W. Bush stand on human cloning?
President Bush has expressed strong opposition to all human cloning,
whether for biomedical research or for producing children. For more
information about his views, visit the White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/