National Report Recommends Ban on Human Cloning

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2002 (ENS) - A new report by the National Academies argues that the United States should ban human reproductive cloning aimed at creating a child, but permit cloning that creates embryonic stem cells for clinical and research purposes. The report is intended to address only the scientific and medical aspects of cloning, plus ethical issues that pertain to research with human subjects.

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A cloned mouse hangs from a bar above the mouse whose cells were used to create him (Photo May 27, 1999 by Dave Au, courtesy University of Hawaii)
Based on experience with reproductive cloning in animals, the report concludes that human reproductive cloning would be dangerous for the woman, fetus and newborn, and is likely to fail. The study panel did not address the issue of whether human reproductive cloning, even if it were found to be medically safe, would be - or would not be - acceptable to individuals or society.

"Data on the reproductive cloning of animals demonstrate that only a small percentage of attempts are successful, many of the clones die during all stages of gestation, newborn clones often are abnormal or die, and the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother," said Irving Weissman, chair of the panel that wrote the report and a professor of pathology, cancer biology and developmental biology at Stanford University.

"The proposed ban on human cloning should be reviewed within five years," added Weissman, "but it should be reconsidered only if a new scientific review indicates that the procedures are likely to be safe and effective, and if a broad national dialogue on societal, religious, and ethical issues suggests that reconsideration is warranted."

The report was issued by a panel of scientists sponsored by the National Academies, which includes the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

Bush

Last fall, President George W. Bush approved limited research using existing lines of stem cells (Photo courtesy the White House)
The panel concluded that although scientific and medical considerations justify a ban on human reproductive cloning at this time, these considerations do not apply to using cloning techniques to produce stem cells. Because of the potential for developing new medical therapies to treat life threatening diseases and advancing biomedical knowledge, the panel supported the conclusion of a previous National Academies' report - "Stem Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine" - which recommended that biomedical research using stem cells be permitted.

To date, five mammalian species - sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and mice - have been used in reproductive cloning studies. Data from these experiments illustrates the problems involved, and the fact that very few cloning attempts are successful.

Many clones die in utero - even at late stages or soon after birth - and those that survive frequently suffer from severe birth defects. In addition, female animals carrying cloned fetuses may face serious risks, including death from cloning related complications.

Human reproductive cloning is likely to have similar negative outcomes, the report concludes.

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In 2000, scientists at Advanced Cell Technology cloned an endangered Asian gaur, the largest form of wild cattle in the world (Photo courtesy Nepal Information)
Because many eggs are needed for human reproductive cloning attempts, human experimentation could subject more women to adverse health effects, either from high levels of hormones used to stimulate egg production or because more women would be sought to donate eggs, which involves surgery with its own inherent risks, the panel noted.

Some proponents of human reproductive cloning have argued that voluntary, informed consent would give people the option of making their own decisions about participating in research. But when critical information is lacking, as it would be in this case, fully informing patients of potential health effects is difficult or impossible.

Moreover, cloned offspring - who would face the greatest risks of abnormality and death - would not be in a position to offer consent. These circumstances provide additional reasons to exercise caution, the report says.

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The world's first cloned pigs (Photo courtesy PPL Therapeutics)
Enacting a legally enforceable ban that carries substantial penalties would be the best way to discourage human reproductive cloning experiments in both the public and private sectors, the report says. A voluntary measure probably would not be effective because many of the technologies needed to accomplish human reproductive cloning are widely accessible through private fertility clinics and other organizations that are not subject to federal regulations.

The report said that their proposed ban on human cloning should be reviewed within five years, but should be reconsidered only if a new scientific review indicates that the procedures are likely to be safe and effective.

The full report, called "Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning," is available at: http://www.nas.edu/