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Opinion 2.147 - Cloning–to-Produce-Children

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is the process in which the nucleus of a somatic cell of an organism is transferred into an enucleated oocyte. “Cloning-to-produce-children” is the application of SCNT to the creation of a human being that shares all of its nuclear genes with the donor of the human somatic cell.

To clarify the many existing misconceptions about this use of cloning, physicians should help educate the public about the intrinsic limits of cloning-to-produce-children as well as about the current ethical and legal protections that would prevent certain uses of cloned human embryos. These include the following:

(1) Using cloning-to-produce-children as an approach to replicate a person (the donor of the somatic cell) is a concept based on the mistaken notion that one’s genotype largely determines one’s individuality. A cloned child created via this process would not be identical to the donor of the somatic cell.

(2) Current ethical and legal standards hold that under no circumstances should any use of cloning occur without informed consent from the somatic cell and the oocyte donor(s).

(3) Current ethical and legal standards hold that a child produced from a clone would be entitled to the same rights, freedoms, and protections as every other individual in society. The fact that a human clone’s nuclear genes would derive from a single individual rather than two would not change its moral standing.

Physicians have an ethical obligation to consider the harms and benefits of new medical procedures and technologies. Physicians should not participate in cloning-to-produce-children at this time because further investigation and discussion regarding the harms and benefits of this use of cloning are required. Concerns include:

(1) Unknown physical harms introduced by SCNT technology. SCNT has not yet been refined and its long-term safety has not yet been proven. The risk of producing individuals with genetic anomalies gives rise to an obligation to seek better understanding ofand potential medical therapies forthe unforeseen medical consequences that could stem from cloning-to-produce-children.

(2) Psychosocial harms introduced by cloning, including violations of privacy and autonomy. Cloning-to-produce children risks limiting, at least psychologically, the seemingly unlimited potential of new human beings and thus creating enormous pressures on the cloned child to live up to expectations based on the life of the somatic cell donor.

(3) The impact of cloning-to-produce-children on familial and societal relations. The family unit may be altered with the introduction of this use of cloning, and more thought is required on a societal level regarding how to construct familial relations.

(4) Potential effects on the gene pool. Like other interventions that can change individuals’ reproductive patterns and the resulting genetic characteristics of a population, cloning-to-produce-children has the potential to be used in a eugenic or discriminatory fashionpractices that are incompatible with the ethical norms of medical practice. Moreover, cloning-to-produce-children could alter irreversibly the gene pool and exacerbate genetic problems that arise from deleterious genetic mutations, resulting in harms to future generations.

Two potentially realistic and possibly appropriate medical uses of cloning-to-produce-children are for assisting individuals or couples to reproduce and for generating tissues when the donor is not harmed or sacrificed. Given the unresolved issues regarding cloning identified above, the medical profession should not undertake cloning-to-produce-children at this time and pursue alternative approaches that raise fewer ethical concerns.

Because SCNT technology is not limited to the United States, physicians should help establish international guidelines governing uses. (V)

Issued December 1999 based of the report "The Ethics of Human Cloning," adopted June 1999; updated December 2003, based on the report "Cloning for Biomedical Research," adopted June 2003.