Reverend Nick Goulding, Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Does cloning turn a person into a product?

“Human cloning is a very hot topic because it makes us ask the question: who are we? Is it our DNA coding that makes us who we are, or is there more to it? People who are in favour of human cloning say that it is just like making identical twins – and they can turn out very different, having been shaped differently by their surroundings both inside and outside the womb. People in favour of human cloning say that it could give a person who can’t have children, a baby which is genetically-related to them.

“On the other hand, those who are against it argue that it turns embryos into items to be stored, traded and then disposed of if not used. It really depends if you think that tiny embryos in a freezer have the same rights as babies in the womb. Religious people might also say that if we are made in God’s image, then cloning would go against that and be ‘evil’. Cloning of children could threaten the dignity of what it means to be human and upset the whole balance of society and family life.”

Is therapeutic cloning a slippery slope leading to reproductive cloning?

“Potentially yes. Therapeutic cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells uses exactly the same techniques as you would use to clone a human being. The UK government and many other Western governments were so worried by this that they banned all human cloning. Now the UK government has changed the law to allow therapeutic cloning under very tightly-controlled circumstances. You can go to jail in this country if you clone an embryo and then either try to implant it in a womb or send it off to a foreign country for others to do that. However that does mean that scientists working in many developing countries who do not have such laws could produce cloned babies. In fact two or three scientists working overseas say they have already done it, but there is no scientific proof of their claims.

“Cloning a human baby is so technically challenging and would involve the generation of so many embryos and recruiting so many women to carry the embryos that it is likely to be beyond the scope of researchers in the developing world for many years to come – but eventually I am sure it will be done by someone.”

Is it fair to produce animals through cloning that are severely disabled or very ill (like Dolly)?

“Dolly the Sheep became an old lady much more quickly that she should have. Cells in her body seemed programmed to die much more… she developed arthritis and breathing problems. The scientists who cloned Dolly didn’t know this would happen. It doesn’t seem to happen in other cloned creatures like cats. We don’t yet understand why this sometimes happens but it is could be a big problem if humans were to be cloned. It could be that they too are programmed to die early which would not be good.

“However, many small animals that are cloned from embryos can be genetically altered in some way to deliberately try to produce an illness or disability in order to understand that disease in humans. As with all experiments involving live animals, society has to decide whether small animals should undergo these procedures in order to potentially lead to more cures for diseases and less human suffering.”

Should medical science be able to control the ‘natural’ process of reproduction – is it going too far to interfere with such a fundamental activity?

“Medical science has been able to interfere with the ‘natural’ process of reproduction ever since Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby was born in 1978 by the method called in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Eggs removed from the mother are fertilised in the laboratory with sperm from the father and re-implanted in the womb either of the donor, or of a surrogate mother. Immediately you have removed the need for the natural act of sex between a man and woman to create a child and have increased the number of people directly involved in the creation of a new baby. In reality, due to the costs, only a small fraction of all births are likely to ever be by IVF. In the UK last year only about 1.5% of all live births resulted from IVF.

“Those who argue against human cloning as interfering with ‘natural’ reproduction use very similar arguments to those who argue against IVF. Embryos have to be created for this process and those left over are destroyed. Some would even say this is murder. Others say it turns babies into ‘things’ rather than people. As an example it was thought that when couples asked for IVF to choose an embryo to save the life of an older child who had a serious illness [sometimes called a Saviour Sibling ], was a step too far. It was like creating someone just to save someone else. How would the younger child feel about that when they grew up? How serious an illness could your child have before it was allowed? On the other side of the argument, there are those who would say if we have the technology and individuals have the money to do good, why not use it. It allows childless couples to have babies and can save other children from serious, crippling diseases.”

Photo of Reverend Nick Goulding, Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and The London School of Medicine and DentistryReverend Nick Goulding, Professor of Pharmacology and Medical Education at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Did you know?

98% of your DNA is in exactly the same order as that of a chimpanzee.