DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L142-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2003
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

‘Cloning’ is the popular name given to Cell Nuclear Replacement (CNR) or Cell Nuclear Transfer (CNT) techniques. CNR involves a recipient cell, generally an egg (oocyte), and a donor cell. The nucleus of the donor cell is introduced into the oocyte. With appropriate stimulation the oocyte is induced to develop. In some cases, the created embryo may be implanted into a viable womb and developed to term. The first mammal to be born by CNR was Dolly the sheep (1996–2003).

It is thought that CNR may have various potential applications ranging from reproduction to treatment of some of the most serious and life-threatening diseases that afflict humankind (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries). However, many technical problems must be addressed and resolved before CNR becomes viable for use in either therapy or reproduction. Although research on CNR is still at its early stages, CNR (cloning) attracts people’s attention in a way that few other advances in biomedical research do. Public debate on cloning has unfortunately been influenced more by fiction than science. The horrendous or absurd scenarios pictured in novels and films are often mistakenly believed to be possible, or even likely, outcomes of cloning. The international community, immediately after news of the birth of Dolly, imposed restrictions that may make it difficult to refine the technique used. Against ‘reproductive cloning’ a prohibition is enforced virtually everywhere. ‘Reproductive cloning’ is considered offensive to human dignity and a threat to the well-being of the child or even to the future of humankind. Most of these objections are based on either a misunderstanding of CNR or on inconsistent philosophical arguments. Against ‘therapeutic cloning’ objections are also raised. The strongest are that CNR involves the creation and destruction of embryos, and this is widely believed to be unethical. Advocates of this position contend that, although CNR may save human lives, the technique still involves the taking of an innocent life and therefore is the equivalent of killing one person to save another. The debate on the moral status of the embryo is ongoing, in bioethics, philosophy and theology. However, if the arguments against the killing of the embryo for the morally important, life-saving purposes envisaged for CNR were to be accepted, then the current legal and social context of most European countries would have to be revised, and abortion and in vitro fertilization (IVF) made criminal offences. Abortion and IVF (which involves creation of extra-embryos that may be destroyed) are in fact accepted practices in most European countries. Those who believe that abortion, even in its therapeutic form, and IVF are acceptable, admit that it may be ethical to destroy an embryo either to save a life or to treat infertility. If this is accepted, it is unclear why is it unacceptable that embryos are used to treat highly serious and lethal diseases (cancer or Parkinson’s disease for example).

    Citing this article:
    Harris, John and Simona Giordano. Cloning, 2003, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L142-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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