Case Overview, Human Cloning


This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over a ban on human cloning. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.


          Since Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned at Scotland's Roslin Institute in 1996, the ability to technologically reproduce human beings has moved from the realm of science fiction to the realm of the possible. The vast majority of people are frightened by the prospect even though only a few scientists have announced plans to try to accomplish what is still a daunting task. A quick consensus emerged in Congress to ban human cloning but the issue turned out to be much more complicated than just forbidding the reproduction of an individual. The actual process of cloning comes from genetic manipulation of embryos and medical research makes use of embryos for purposes widely embraced the American public. Stem cells can be extracted from embryos and manipulating these basic building blocks of all cells show promise for developing therapies for many serious diseases.
          The fight in Congress is thus over "therapeutic cloning." For a number of different interests it is not enough to ban reproductive cloning. Strong objection to therapeutic cloning comes from anti-abortion organizations who regard harvesting embryos as immoral. Said one proponent of cloning prohibition, "We feel cloning for an embryo is always wrong. . . Therapeutic cloning is essentially cloning your twin just to disembowel it." But politics makes strange bedfellows and conservative groups were joined in opposition to therapeutic cloning by some feminist organizations. Their opposition was based on a number of objections but they are especially concerned about the exploitation of women for the purposes of profit. Said the leader of one woman's group, we see "this as emblematic of allocating resources for hugely expensive technological innovations that kind of sound to the public that it's about disease curing but it's really about marketing something to a very large, well population." (Not all women's groups shared this view and most are inactive on the issue.) Some organizations concerned about how technology is used, such as the International Center for Technology Assessment, worked alongside these other groups.
          Support for therapeutic cloning came largely from scientists and from various organizations working to promote research for cures for particular diseases. Organizations representing the families with victims of diseases like Parkinson's or Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) are enthusiastic about stem cell research because they believe it holds out the promise for therapies that can ameliorate these debilitating conditions. Scientists don't want to see their research compromised by political objections. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) brought together various supporters of stem cell research and coordinated lobbying for legislation that would permit therapeutic cloning to continue.
          In the 107th Congress two bills emerged, one of which would have banned both types of cloning and another that would have only forbidden reproductive cloning. Both bills failed to gain sufficient support for passage. Similar bills were introduced into the 108th Congress and the debate was little changed from the year before. Since President Bush has promised to veto legislation that permitted any type of cloning, supporters of therapeutic cloning are more content with the status quo than those who want an outright ban.