Friday 17 November 2006

Rebirth of the cloning debate

The issue of human cloning is one that has been with us for some time.

Recently in Australia, a bill which would allow scientists to clone embryos to extract their stem cells for medical research has passed through the Senate and now awaits a lower house decision.

With this in mind, I have dug up an article I wrote for The Helix magazine in 2001 (editor Darren Osbourne). In this article I asked a number of prominent Australian's about their opinions on cloning, for some very interesting answers. I have attempted to track down these same people 5 years on to see whether or not their opinions have changed, and have had a couple of responses, so stay tuned for the 2006 results.

Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja
Leader of the Australian Democrats in 2001

Cloning is no longer about whether it will be done but when it will be done. It is time to start sorting out the boundaries of what our community deems acceptable—or unacceptable, as the case may be. Cloning has a role to play in many possible medical treatments, either as a therapy or as a diagnostic. The paramount requirement from legislators in the immediate future will be to ensure the new cornucopia of genetic tools is used only for our benefit and not to unfairly discriminate.

Senator Bob Brown
Australian Greens Senator for Tasmania and leader of the Greens party

Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob Bob – isn’t cloning boring? Nature has sorted all our genes and we re-arrange this ecological prescription at the peril of losing diversity and ecological robustness. The Precautionary Principle should, at least, apply.

Jean-Francois Aymonier
Spokesperson for Clonaid, a company aiming to be the first Human Cloning Company

Cloning frightens a lot of people. Especially the people who believe in God. Because if we succeed in cloning a human being, it proves that we can create life scientifically and God might not exist after all. That God doesn't exist is very hard to accept for those who have always believed in God. They don't want to be proven wrong so for them it is important to stop scientists from cloning. That is why they try to frighten us by imagining many terrible things that could be done with cloning. But cloning can also be used very positively. We Raelians at Clonaid think that a long time ago extra-terrestrial beings created life on earth scientifically thanks to cloning techniques. The first humans they created were clones. So cloning is a wonderful thing since we are all here thanks to cloning. Not only cloning will help cure many diseases but it will also make us understand how to create life and become eternal using different bodies or body parts. And one day it will be our turn to create life on another planet. That's why cloning is so fantastic.

Adam Spencer
Then Triple J Morning Presenter, Comedian and Science Communicator

One of the most disturbing aspects of the cloning debate is that again science has arrived at the ability to do something well before society has decided where it stands on the issue. This is happening more and more as the rate of discovery is increasing in so many controversial fields. It is so important that we start discussing the morality of this sort of research as soon as someone suggests that "perhaps one day we could do..." rather than wait until the press conference where it is announced "well we've got a few in the lab now if you want to come and have a look!” Hopefully we will all learn from this, we have to make our feelings known on the big issues, earlier not later.

Associate Professor Catharine Lumby
Director of the Media and Communications Program at the University of Sydney, Journalist and Author

There is understandable public anxiety over the issue of cloning. I believe there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we live in a society where the speed of technological advances far outstrips our capacity to absorb their implications, let alone debate them in a considered manner. Secondly, cloning touches on an ancient philosophical conundrum - the relationship between the original and the copy. Plato expresses a concern that representations of real objects, if they are too exact, might be mistaken for the real thing - that images or copies have the capacity to trick the viewer. A similar kind of anxiety grounds the taboo in some religious orders against making likenesses of God (icons). A clone is essentially a perfect copy. The fear then arises that there will be no way of telling the original from its copy (or the human from its clone).

Professor Alan Trounson
World Leader in Reproductive Technology
Centre for Early Human Development, Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development

Cloning human people is not ethical because of the risks of deformities to babies and problems for mothers during pregnancy. We know this from our studies on cloning Dolly the sheep and many other animals. We are studying cloning of animals to try and understand what goes wrong and to see if we can correct this. If we are successful we may be able to use cloning for cows to produce more milk, milk that is better for little kids in poor countries and cheap medicine to help sick people all over the world.

Dr Paul Willis
ABC Catalyst and radio Presenter, PhD in Palaeontology

I think that we all need to take stock of the context in which cloning is proposed. It's all very impressive to be able to clone people, sheep or cattle but do we really need to? The biggest problem this planet faces is too many people so why exacerbate the problem by producing more? Further, the only people who will be able to afford cloning will be the rich who are also the worst offenders for wasting the resources of the earth. Producing more of them only makes matters worse. I really have no opinion on the ethics of cloning and can see arguments for both sides, but I think that the wider context of cloning is emphatic; we don't need more people no matter how we want to make them.

Dr Graham Phillips
Then ABC Catalyst Presenter, author and PhD in Astrophysics

I'm in favour of therapeutic cloning - creating cloned embryos that might one day allow replacement livers and kidneys for people. I know there are serious ethical problems with creating embryos purely for medical purposes, but I think there are even more serious problems by not doing this. In effect this means sentencing people who need the new organs to earlier deaths. As far as the other sort of cloning goes - creating cloned adults - I guess my attitude is it will eventually happen and it will turn out to be not such a problem. After all, biologically, a clone is just an identical twin. But I don't think we should be attempting to create adult clones any time soon - the techniques are simply not safe enough yet.

Brian Alexander

Then Journalist for US Magazine Wired –

The subject of human cloning has occupied the better part of one year of my life. In the process of researching and discussing human cloning for the U.S. magazine Wired, I have met a number of very interesting people, including scientists who say they would like to help clone a human being, people who would like to be cloned, and people who feel strongly that nobody should ever be cloned. After all this time, I have come to the following conclusion: human reproductive cloning does not really matter. Someday soon, the issue of whether cloning is safe will go away. Then, there will be a human clone. And that clone will be, simply, a baby. The world will not change. There will be no "Brave New World," no sci-fi mass-produced human beings. A very few people, probably men and women who cannot have a baby any other way, may choose to clone to have a genetically related child. Hardly anybody else will ever want to have children this way. The one lesson I think we can take away from the controversy is that we need to look at science in realistic ways, not as if we all lived in a movie.


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  2. With foresight, I revisited a 2001 article I penned for The Helix magazine, exploring the perspectives of notable Australians on cloning, much like our discussion on the significance of Air Freight Forwarding Services in business. Gathering intriguing insights, I endeavored to reconnect with these individuals five years later to gauge the evolution of their opinions.

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