The Ethics of Stem Cell Research
Cloning/stem cell research is defined as the process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals. Only recently has science been researching cloning, so the long-term effects of cloning are not completely known. There is an ongoing debate on the ethics of stem-cell research and in what circumstances it is acceptable. There are three types of cloning to consider. They are: therapeutic, reproductive, and gene cloning. The process of gene cloning is done by inserting a gene from one organism into bacteria, cells, or viruses and place in laboratory conditions to get the gene to multiply. Therapeutic cloning is mostly done in efforts to replace tissues that have been damaged and is done by producing embryonic stem cells. Reproductive cloning is copying sets of DNA to create identical animals or human beings. Gene cloning is used to replace damaged genes with one that is already properly functioning in the body. This type of cloning is hardly seen as unethical since it is used for health reasons. Therapeutic cloning is also not widely disputed for that reason. The difference between gene and therapeutic cloning is that therapeutic cloning is used to replace tissues or organs and can treat diseases without having the risk of introducing new cells that could not work for repair. Reproductive cloning however, is at the center of the debate. Some believe that cloning humans and animals would decrease the value of life, while others believe that it can help people who cannot have children do so.
Some positives aspects of reproductive cloning are: endangered animal species can be saved from extinction, help people recover from the loss of a loved one, and make the option of having children available to those who are unable to reproduce. In 2009, scientists had a near-success in resurrecting an extinct species. Using goats as egg surrogates, a wild mountain goat. Unfortunately, the cloned goat died soon after birth. When research uncovers how to maintain the life of clones, we can save the lives of endangered species. This can increase the milk and meat supply for consumption.
Most animals are cloned for experimental reasons, which can be considered unethical. For example, Dolly the sheep, the first sheep to be cloned, was born in 1996 with progressive lung disease and premature arthritis. This was caused by her cells already being too old from being extracted from an older sheep. With these conditions, Dolly was euthanized after six years of her life when the average lifespan of a sheep is eleven. The psychological risks are greater for animals because they did not ask or want to be cloned and therefore may suffer or live a life they did not want to live.
Therapeutic cloning was strongly advocated by Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as Superman. After his horse-riding accident in 1995 causing paralysis from the neck down, Reeve believed that stem cell research could help him be able to walk again. His emphasis on promoting stem cell research helped patients get better care for their injuries, suggests Reeve’s doctor, Raymond Onders. Even with the push for research from Christopher Reeve, the backlash against therapeutic stem cell research is ongoing. Some believe that accepting one type of stem cell research would open the gateway for the other types which face more controversy. This is why people can be less open to supporting therapeutic stem cell research.
The dangers of human cloning are creating a weaker immune system within the clone, which leads to a higher likelihood of getting infectious diseases. For instance, one clone may be a lot more likely to die from a single disease than someone with their own set of genes. The public opinion on cloning is not so negative that laws have been made against cloning.
Imprinting, copying the set of genes in a life form to be put into another, is a large part of how we clone today. Imprinting is also chemically altering some of the DNA strands during the process of methylation. Its process and risk factors are why many take the stance of being against cloning. During the imprinting process, the protein that is supposed to read the gene can no longer do so, shutting off the organism’s original (and not cloned) gene to make way for the cloned one. Most of the imprinted genes control the embryonic growth and development and others are involved in postnatal development. A risk to imprinting is having a clone that has DNA methylated in incorrect positions, which can cause lupus, muscular dystrophy, and congenital defects. There is also a likely loss of allele-specific genes in DNA which can result to genetic errors involving the patterns of DNA strands.
A reason to be on the side against stem-cell research is the belief that it is morally unjust. With the ethics of cloning of both animals and humans being debated, the main argument is that with the growth of cloning, the value of life would decrease. For humans, scientists believe that cloning humans can have a significant moral risk because if human cloning were to get more popular, it would lead to the commercialization of human life, lowering the value of life itself. The psychological risks to cloning is that clones may feel inferior to who they were cloned from or who they were supposed to be. Greater than ninety percent of clones are unable to have children/reproduce.
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