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The ethics of cloning human embryos

An embryologist holds a dish with human embryos at the La Jolla IVF Clinic in La Jolla, California.
An embryologist holds a dish with human embryos at the La Jolla IVF Clinic in La Jolla, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

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For the first time, researchers have successfully cloned human embryonic stem cells that could be used to treat diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to Parkinson’s to diabetes. More importantly perhaps, the breakthrough shows that it may be scientifically possible for humans to clone themselves.

The method used is called somatic cell nuclear transfer—the same process that was employed to create Dolly the sheep.  In this case, the Oregon scientists took an egg donated by a woman, emptied out all of its genetic material, then injected a patient’s skin cell into it to produce a wide variety of stem cells. The experiment, funded by Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and a grant from Leducq Foundation of France, was published online in the journal Cell.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a cell biologist at OHSU that headed the study, said the focus of the research is on advancing therapeutic cloning, and not on cloning a human. "Our research is directed toward generating stem cells for use in future treatments to combat disease," Mitalipov said. "

While nuclear transfer breakthroughs often lead to a public discussion about the ethics of human cloning, this is not our focus, nor do we believe our findings might be used by others to advance the possibility of human reproductive cloning." But this breakthrough has reinvigorated debate over the ethics of human cloning.

Bernard Siegel, Executive Director of the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI)

Dr. Dan Sulmasy, a professor of medicine & ethics at the University of Chicago