Human Clones May Be Among Us Now! Who Is Ready?

January 3, 2010 at 2:17 AM 24 comments

Written by Lewis D. Eigen

One massive conflict that we are going to face is in the area of reproductive cloning.  Both scientists and politicians have their heads in the sand as the consequences are too awful and complex to think about for most people.

The following realities must be faced:

  • The art and science of mammalian cloning techniques are not secrets.  Almost all the information and know-how is readily available.  Animal cloning has become much more reliable,  Tens of thousands of scientists already have all the skill that they would need for managing the cloning process.
  • Reproductive cloning is not a very expensive technology or science.
  • All the equipment and tools for reproductive cloning are used for many other scientific processes.  There is no way to control the acquisition of the tools for reproductive cloning.
  • There is virtually no scientist familiar with principles and research on mammalian cloning who does not believe that human reproductive cloning is possible, and that it is just a matter of time and technique before a human clone can be developed.  Cloning a human does not depend on any fundamental scientific breakthrough—though the public will see it as a breakthrough with most fearing the breakthrough is not a step forward for humanity.

The moral ethical problems are immense and most people who have worried about the ethics of human reproductive cloning have not even yet identified the many issues that will exist.  The legal problems also.  Perhaps they are even more complicated.  Nonetheless from the practical point of view there are probably only four humans who would be necessary to attempt a human reproductive cloning.  1. A scientist who has studied the cloning process.  2. Someone who will come up with a location and pay the expenses of the project—perhaps less than $100,000.  3. A woman who would agree to be cloned.  4. A woman who would agree to carry and bear the clone through the 9 month gestation period.  Several of these roles can be played by the same person.  Perhaps the scientists will be a woman who is willing to be cloned.  If the same scientist had the money, then two cooperating women could attempt the project.  Once the pregnancy is underway, they could technically use the medical facilities almost anywhere to care for the fetus and facilitate the delivery and birth.

At first, we assume that no hospital would ever agree to participate in such a cloning experiment at this stage of development of the science and this stage of non-development of the ethics and legal aspects of human cloning.  However, it is perhaps naive to assume that the cooperating hospital would have to make a carefully thought out and considered scientific and ethical decision.  Most of us could not imagine a hospital Board of Directors who would agree to such a project in advance.  However, the very ethics that would almost certainly inhibit them from participating in such a planned experiment, might cause them to facilitate a cloning experiment without any planning at all!

Here is a scenario:  The two women walk into a Catholic Hospital and announce that one of them is 3 months pregnant as the result of a cloning experiment with the other woman, the donor.  One is a physician and the other a microbiologist.  They have financed and implemented the cloning process thus far without involving anyone else.  The pregnant physician tells the Mother Superior of the Order that operates the hospital, “There are people out there who think that human cloning is so horrible that they want to abort the baby—even by force if necessary.  We have a 3 month old innocent fetus who has a moral right to live.  Please help us manage the pregnancy and protect an innocent life.”  I would predict that there is no way where that hospital is not going to do everything in their power to bring the baby to term in the healthiest way possible.

[Editor's Note:  At the time of the original publication of this article the notion that some strongly religious people would actually protect clones and assist in  the birth of a clone.  See Many Religious Fundamentalists Will Protect Human Clones in the Feb 2010 issue of Scriptamus.]

If this were to happen, there would not only be political, press, and scientific interest, but certainly until the birth or failure of the pregnancy, this might be the most widely publicized event in human scientific history.  Our legislators will be inundated with demands for action.  People will be suing pharmaceutical companies that clone critical medicines as they do now, and we are going to have people ferreting out cloned animal meats or other clones from the food supply.  Many people will not realize that cloning is the way we obtain much of our current plant based food supply and call for a ban on those plants.  But worst, for much of America, it’s going to be like the Salem witch trials.  People will start accusing kids who look different or strange as being clones, and some nuts will see it as the work of the Devil. Some will refuse to send their children to school with the Devil’s clones. And how will an accused prove that she is not a clone?  There will be calls for clones to be sterilized so that they cannot interbreed with normal humans and no one can prove that the offspring would not be deformed mutants.

Another scenario is that the two women might go to a small foreign country—one with a good enough medical system, but where they can manage the process in secret—assured with some appropriate payments to the right people.  Costa Rica, Serbia, Singapore are just 3 possibilities.

There is a huge, and in my personal view, much too high a risk to the clone child in terms of birth defects and/or other problems like size so that I would find either of these scenarios at this time very unethical.  But if there are two skilled women who do not agree, they can pull this off.  The odds of a successful birth are low if we extrapolate from mammal cloning, but the technique improves all the time.  Sooner or later someone is going to get “lucky” or “unlucky” depending on your point of view.  A human clone will be one of us.

The human race may see its first clone in the next year or two, or it might even take a decade or so, but it is not in the far distant future.  And regardless of the consequences, some people are going to try it.  The politicians will consider these scenarios and first ask, “what shall be done with the cloners?”  “What are or should be the consequences?”  The scientists will ask a different first question.  “What shall be done with the child?”  The public will be more creative than scientists or politicians.  A family who loses a loved child in a tragic accident will take DNA from the dead girl and want her cloned.  Parents who have only one child and cannot have another might want a clone—a younger identical twin if you will.

For my own personal research, that is an area in which I am currently working.  What to do WHEN the first clone is born.  I use the word “when” and not “if.”  We will soon have a host of moral/legal problems not the least of which will be: “Are the donor and her clone legally sisters or is there a parental relationship?”  There will be some people after the child clone as the “spawn of the Devil.”  Others will view the clone child for the invaluable scientific research that might be gleaned and they will want science to monitor and document everything about the child.  Who is going to get to decide about such research?  Does the clone have privacy rights?  Does the government have rights to monitor the clone’s health and personal medical records?  Does the woman giving birth to the clone have the same parental rights as any other mother of a newborn?

At one level, the birth of the first planned clone will not be an unusual event.  We have had human clones for years.  That is the definition of identical twins.  So time relativity is the key variable.  Clones born about the same time are perfectly fine and in many people’s view, a great blessing.  Clones born years apart are at best an ethical, legal and religious dilemma.  At worst a cultural and legal nightmare.  Our culture wars of the past decades will seem like skirmishes compared to the coltural war that will break out.  The feminists and most modern women will find the position of women in society attacked as it has not been in a century or two.  When the Christian, Jewish, and Moslem fundamentalists realize that with human reproductive cloning, the race (family) can be perpetuated by women alone. Men might be useful but are certainly not necessary for the species to reporduce itself and thrive.  The “Head” of the houseold is not even needed anymore for his sperm.

As I have been working on this potential problem, I have come to the conclusion that it may not be a “potential” problem.  What if a small group of people got together and decided to produce clone children in secret?  They would go public only when the children had grown up, and force society to come to grips with a fete accompli.  That might have happened a decade ago.  The young clone child might be in school right now.  Perhaps there are a number of them.  There is only one thing about human cloning of which I at least am certain: We will be dealing with the problem in the next years or decades, and it really would be best for serious and ethical people to start thinking about the problem now.  The problem will not get put on hold until the politicians and the scientists both get ready and feel prepared.  Scientists have the luxury of generally setting their own agenda.  The politician’s agenda is usually set by the world as few will ever deal with a problem before they have toWhen the problem is as potentially ethically explosive as human reproductive cloning, politicians will avoid the issue at almost any cost.  And yet, by waiting until the first clone is among us or about to be born, we complicate the problem immensely and guarantee that we will not be able to have the national and international conversation and debate to arrive at particularly good decisions.

Politicians also love to kick the can down the road, and in the few cases where that is not feasible, pass some superficial legislation that allows them to say that they dealt with the problem, when really they have kicked the can.  The easiest thing for American politicians to do would be to outlaw human reproductive cloning—make it a felony punishable by imprisonment and fine.  But that would be another can kicking.  Given a scenario such as I have posed earlier, the two women would be prosecuted in a case that would make the OJ Simpson case seem a private matter.  Appeals to the Supreme Court are certain.  But meanwhile all the ethical problems (and hundreds of others) that I have posed earlier, would not have been solved.  For the real ethical and legal problem is not what happens to the people who decided to cone a human and succeeded.  The real problem is what happens to the clone child or children.

Hopefully, this article will stimulate a debate that will focus our attention on that real problem.  We will probably have the time to make reasonable decisions if we start seriously thinking about, studying and debating the problem NOW!  But there is no one who can assure society with any reasonable certainty that we will not have human clones among us in the next few years.

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24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R.G. Frano, A-EMT-P, (Ret.)  |  January 18, 2010 at 1:48 AM

    I’m a ‘vasectomized, w/o reproduction, middle aged’ U.S. male. With a child starving each 3/4′s of a second, ANOTHER 200 million children homeless & between 100-450k (never-to-be-adopted) IVF (‘starflake’) embryos, ‘in the fridge’, AND, short of a rifle in my face, (‘stealing my sperm’, if that’s even still possible), I will NEVER adopt, create, nor willingly become a ‘parent’ of anything more complicated then a dog/cat; I/We have 4 cats.
    Yet…I hardly feel outside these issues.
    What if the next ‘S. Roeder’ / ‘E. Rudolph’ / ‘M. Atta’ shoots me, missing the proposed clone(s)/parents/creator-group?
    That might seem (mere) tasteless sarcasim, or selfish, but, like the article suggests, Humankind DOESN’T even have a cllue about WHAT the issues are yet.
    Another unresolved issue: I am Neo_Pagan.
    If there’s one thing every N.P. (instinctivly) knows, it’s that
    ‘pro-lifers’, (regardless of catholic, islamic or ‘other’ etiology), will hesitate to employ violence for about 2 ‘femptoseconds’. (That IS a real time measurement; check Wikipedia!)…
    We called it the ‘Burning Times’…last time!
    I am pro-choice – even if I recieved/survived a subdural hematoma, (major, often fatal, head trauma) & became anti-abortion 30 seconds from now, it WOULDN’T go any farther then me, ‘cos It’s NOT MY Place to tell others what to do & that includes the woman I’ve lived with since the early 80′s.

    Having lived through Carter, Reagan, two Bush presidencies, Clinton & now…’Bush#3′, (a snappy ‘caramel’ version!), I might describe my faith in U.S. Gov. ‘ethical behaviore’ as oxymoronic at best.
    At present, my S.O.P. will be to treat ANY ‘post_birth_human’ as just like me, regardless of source & any ‘zygote – embryo – foetus as ‘not my business’…
    Even in the most extream, weird theoretical disaster I can imagine, (?N-B-C War?), I STILL would feel very uncomfortable telling others they have to reproduce / carry to term / whatever…and I have a healthcare (‘EMS’) background!

    Reply
  • 2. R.G. Frano, A-EMT-P, (Ret.)  |  January 18, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    NOTE: I realise ‘dogs’ are not popular among Islamics. NO offense is/was intended…

    Reply
  • 3. hungover  |  January 25, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    Good points!

    Reply
  • [...] an earlier article, Human Clones May Be Among Us Now! Who Is Ready?, we created the hypothetical situation where a woman pregnant with a clone would be cared for and [...]

    Reply
  • 5. Scriptamus  |  March 19, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    [...] Human Clones May Be Among Us Now! Who Is Ready? [...]

    Reply
  • 6. Rodel  |  April 29, 2010 at 1:32 PM

    I had a comversation and someone says human clones are in existance. Is this true?

    Reply
    • 7. Scriptamus  |  May 2, 2010 at 8:03 PM

      There was a small semi-religious cultish group in Canada that claimed about 4 years ago that they were about to produce a human clone. However no one has ever heard more about that.

      There is no claimed human clone that anyone has ever taken any “credit” for, and there have been no criminal prosecutions that are known for anyone even attempting to clone a human. There have not even been any failure attempts yet reported.

      So the answer is “probably not yet.”

      The reason I hedge the answer is that there are many good reasons for a serious cloner to do the cloning in secret and bring up the child BEFORE announcing the successful cloning. The scientist might argue that this is the only way he/she could study the process. develop the technique and not be “harassed” by politicians and the press who would make a political football of the cloning. Further, to protect the clone child, perhaps the bet thing to do is not announce it publicly and allow the then adult clone to make the deciion of when to make the event public.

      In such event, we may have a number of human clones years before the public relaizes it. So the person who told you there may now be clones may have been specualting in this directtion, But at this point it is all speculation and that is all we really know.

      Reply
  • 8. Nomonde  |  June 21, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    I am ready

    Reply
  • 9. Nomonde  |  June 21, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    I am ready!

    Reply
  • 10. emmanuel olayinka  |  August 29, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    The words here are tight and one need to focus on the possibility of science achieving the great feat. It is ok if we clone for therapeutic purpose only.

    Reply
  • 11. Shelly Elizabeth Rose. A Susan Rose Hoffman ,Warren,Sommers,Sholty's, Streigler,(Sanders?)  |  October 23, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    O.K.

    Reply
  • 12. anti  |  December 30, 2010 at 5:40 PM

    I am not ready. If you think about WE SHOULD NEVER be ready. we were not put on this earth to play GOD. It would deplete the gene pool and we do not yet fully undrstand the consequences

    Reply
  • 13. Kathleen Courtney  |  August 21, 2011 at 4:59 AM

    If we allow cloning there would be no need for humans because top government officials can make their own population. They would not need man an woman because their is cloning. They can create their army. Clones would be without illness because they can alter the DNA. Surely people have put some thought into this? Clones would be no more than ants or bees. Trained to think and do as they are told. Created for one purpose. Who cares if a couple can have a baby b/c their would be no more mother no more families. Just workers to protect and serve. No individuals. So cheer on clones and see if I am not right. Long gone are the days of birth as we know it b/c there would be one person as queen who is cloned or king. Doesn’t really matter. They will not have the ability to mate. I say watch out b/c cloning could kill the human race as we know it. What other real purpose would there honestly be for cloning, but to change the way the government runs the country. How would they kill off those who are born to create, but through war I am sure. Create supreme beings through cloning an gone are the days of husband an wife families. Gone are the days of choices an decisions.

    Reply
  • 14. KG  |  December 8, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    Kathleen Courtney you wrote a nice story for a movie. Scientists, please continue your good work, I can’t wait to read the whole report on the first reproductive clone to be born from a womb.

    Reply
  • 15. Mark Peaty  |  February 26, 2012 at 2:22 AM

    did nobody here see The Island (2005) with Scarlet Johansson and Ewan McGregor? A great movie I thought, apart from some of the over the top ‘action’ fun. But the underlying moral theme of persons cloned, kept alive and in complete ignorance of their true fate, before being harvested for their body parts, is one of the major issues that is likely to arise in future.

    I think that to meet this and other related challenges we need to keep track of the truly basic issues of human life and survival which I think is the meaning of the word wisdom. In this modern era that requires not being fettered by concepts which were only valid in the pre scientific era. For example appeals to the supernatural are really not helpful. Old words on the other hand can be refined to greater clarity and ethical effectiveness. For example: “evil” is that which occurs as, when, and to the extent that a person is treated as if he or she is a mere thing and not a person. Analise the actions and policies of your local leaders, bureaucracies and commercial organisations to see how they score against that definition of evil. Let them know about it!

    Reply
  • 16. Mark  |  April 3, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    Interesting article.
    I’m not erhically opposed to the idea of clones. But I am concerned for them. You didn’t discuss the ethical considerations within capitalism. I might be wrong, but I thought I read that with stem cell research there have been advances in artificial womb technology. Now, what if in the near future a pharmacuetical corporation was able to not only clone, but clone within an artificial womb for the market. Say to infertile parents who are willing to pay to adopt the cloned offspring. Would the corporation be the parent? Would the child be a commodity? A slave? What if the parents changed their mind? Would the state buy the child or would we see a future with corporate orphanages full of cloned children.
    I’m not so sure the future will be all sweetness and light.

    Reply
    • 17. Scriptamus  |  April 4, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      You raise a terrific point. There is no doubt in my mind that artificial womb or not, cloning of humans will create a hist of legal–ethical–social–economic problems. However this has ALWAYS been the case with each significant scientific / technological. This is to be expected. What is not to be expected is the lack of political initiative in getting out in front of these issues. There is not reason for example that the major problems of the Internet in many cases could have been avoided had our politicians started to consider the laws and regulations immediately after the other end of the Government developed it. The time to hold hearings and consider the nature of the regulation and legislation that might be needed re human cloning is NOW. The Congress and the State Legislatures need not PASS LAWS now, but they should have alternatives ready for when the issue is imminent. Most importantly there will be alternatives and a cadre of legislators who are somewhat knowledgeable to provide the intellectual leadership. But Congress and State Legislatures tend to not deal with anything until it is a crises and then it is usually too late for many rational solutions. There is also the other danger–namely that when we have the first known human clone child or the first artificial womb, a small but loud part of our population will claim a crises, demand action and pass poor legislation as a result of their own ignorance. That has already occurred where states have banned human cloning and at the same time, the legislation outlaws the production of many pharmaceuticals that have been in use for years. They didn’t necessarily intend to but their definitions of cloning are so naive that it covers all kinds of innocent and constructive activities. Our government needs to be be involved during the developmental stages of new science. But then again, with this Congress, there may be no point in learning anything as it will just give them more to gridlock about.

      Reply
  • 18. Darkwun  |  April 25, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Just a dumb question on my part. What if a group of some sort were making clones and selling it as ivf? would anyone catch the failures as clones? without looking for it it would just look like a failed birth. unless someone was checking the dna and crossreferencing. That probably would not happen without a reason.

    Reply
    • 19. Scriptamus  |  April 25, 2013 at 12:18 PM

      Good point. That is certainly possible. A woman who wanted a clone could go to a medical practice specializing in ivf and instead implant the clone in the woman and she then has a normal pregnancy. It appears to the world that this was the result of ivf. You are right that no one would ever know unless they did DNA tests on mother and baby.

      You raise a larger issue however. Regardless of what laws are passed restricting clones, if scientists/doctors were doing it judiciously and not for the money, it would be VERY hard to catch them. I am personally convinced that there will be attempts made (if not already made) for human reproductive cloning in the next few years. Most attempts will probably be done by moving the parties temporarily to a nation where there are no laws governing cloning, or do it in International Waters (on board a private yacht) or done where it is illegal where the probability of getting caught would be minimal. As you suggest, the result could easily be explained as an ivf.

      Reply
  • 20. shelley  |  October 17, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    Making people comfortable, by use of stem cell replacement parts is a wonderful advancement, but to clone entire beings especially for parts or producing the perfect person(s) for specific jobs should be illegal. As far as living longer goes , well I guess there goes the whole purpose of this being a temporal place , and Heaven being where we want to be for everlasting long life. You don’t replace your loved ones! love all people and leave creation alone. help the poor clones that may have been found by unappropriate people and donmt know what to do about it! try explaining the secret and being put in a phsychiatric ward!!

    Reply
  • 21. theme hospital download full version  |  February 17, 2014 at 9:12 AM

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  • 22. ted  |  May 5, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    Everyone here is speaking as if cloning does not exist yet. Perhaps you should do a more in depth study. If your concept of great evil is not current, the shock alone may kill you.

    Reply
  • 23. Rawinia Millar Hawke  |  July 4, 2014 at 4:11 AM

    As outrageous as it sounds if this scenario was real and these clones existed I would defend their lives and I believe that their lives are of value, because essentially wouldn’t they be living and breathing like you and I and have the ability to feel. They should not be created at all if they are only used for body parts or to make our lives easiar. Life is for living and I value life and I would value these beings no matter how they were created. God only has the right to create life not us stupid humans who have other motives and with the chance of them being abused by us is more likely. With the evilness of this world it is more likely they will not be treated right. Am I right?

    Reply
    • 24. Scriptamus  |  July 4, 2014 at 4:59 PM

      I agree with you that life is for living and no sentient human being should be grown for body parts. However, I am not sure about who creates life. Some people argue that if God did not want man to create life, he would not have given man the intellect, knowledge and will to do so.

      An I totally agree with you that human clone lives should be defended. I believe that there is NO DIFFERENCE between the value of human lives regardless of how they were conceived: intercourse, test tube fertilization, IVF or clone.

      Also, I think that the human parts issue will not likely take place. The way I see teh science developing it will be easier and less expensive to directly generate and grow a new organ than to create an entire person and then harvest the organ. Science has already created ears, skin (the largest organ of the human body) and other parts–especially at the cellular level. This is not long in coming.

      Reply

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