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Therapeutic cloning

Last week’s decisions in principle by the British and US governments to permit experimentation on human embryos for limited purposes has aroused controversy, especially among religious groups and those opposed to abortion. At the moment, cells taken from embryos at an early stage of division are the only source of stem cells, which can grow and specialise into any part of one’s body. The hope is that eventually it may be possible to use such cells to grow replacement parts for organ transplantation: new livers, kidneys, skin, even pancreatic islet cells to help cure diabetes. The eventual aim is to persuade adult cells to revert to stem cells so that organs can be cloned from one’s own tissues and will therefore not be rejected. The creation of organs in this way has been named therapeutic cloning, in order to make a careful distinction between this and reproductive cloning, the creation of a complete new copy of a human being from an adult cell. Experimentation leading to the latter has been outlawed in most developed countries, and is not the aim of the proposed experiments.

The focus of ethics and public policy has shifted from an alarmist and rather fanciful preoccupation with human reproductive cloning to an emphasis on “therapeutic cloning” for cell and tissue replacement and repair.

New Scientist, Feb. 1999

The council acknowledges the advantages of using cloning, which enables doctors to grow a patient’s own tissue, and supports the use of so-called “therapeutic cloning” with sufficient safeguards, notably to ensure that donors consent to such research.

Daily Telegraph, Apr. 2000

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 2 September 2000.