Did you know that in 1997 the first ever successful mammal was cloned? Moreover, did you also know that out of an astonishing 277 trials of cloning made, just 29 embryos were produced, and among which, only one birth survived? Yes, and that is Dolly the sheep.
Can you imagine a world where the people you encounter each and every day has exactly the same face as yours? Is it really possible to clone a human being? If yes, will you likely be able to live a normal life considering you are a cloned one? What is exactly the essence of cloning? As for the mothers out there who unfortunately got a mitochondrial DNA diseases, which can be passed on to their offspring (such as diabetes mellitus, frequent seizures, muscle weakness, vision loss, and heart problems, to name a few), would you attain if your children get sick? Are cloning and mitochondrial DNA transfer techniques ethical or unethical with regards to human existence?
What do ethics really mean? Ethics are a system of moral principles that affect how people make decisions and lead their lives. It is mostly concerned for the good and well-being of individuals and society. In using human as the subject of the study, human ethical concerns must be carefully considered.
According to the journal article entitled Ethical aspects of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA transfer by Blesa et al., the term cloning is very broad and usually used in biotechnological processes. Cloning may refer to the production of DNA fragments with a sequence identical to the original fragments using recombinant DNA techniques. It is also defined as the production of a cell or a cell population genetically identical to another cell. Cloning may also refer to the artificial division of early embryos and the generation of an organism identical to the other from the genetic material of a cell obtained from a person or an animal to be cloned by means of asexual reproduction. In simplest terms, cloning is the genetically identical copy of an organism through the process of asexual reproductions. On the other hand, the term mitochondrial DNA transfer is mentioned in the same article by Blesa et al., to prevent the transmission of serious diseases by creating an embryo with a nuclear DNA from the mother with mitochondrial DNA and by the intended woman with nonpathogenic mitochondrial DNA by modification of either an oocyte or zygote. The journal aims to analyze the somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) and mitochondrial DNA transfer techniques in both reproductive and therapeutic applications, and preventive methods in the transmission of mitochondrial diseases from a bioethical perspective. The term somatic cell nuclear transfer is a technology for acquiring human embryonic stem cell and is referred to as cloning. On the other hand, mitochondrial DNA transfer techniques are designed to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial DNA diseases from mother to child.
Creating exact copies or cloning human beings has always fired the human imagination. This desire has been clearly seen in many movies depicting cloned human beings (e.g. The 6th Day starring Arnold Schwarzenegger). Cloning has its share of advantages. It helps sterile couples who are more privileged (since the method is costly) to have biological offspring. Human cloning could allow parents, who have lost a child, a chance to redress their loss using the DNA of their deceased child. Embryonic stem cells can be cloned to produce tissues or organs to replace or repair the damaged ones. Though on the other side, many ethical issues have arose since the advent of cloning and more of it are focused on the context of genetically copying a whole organism.
For instance, the first successful cloned Dolly the sheep had surprised many in the scientific community and garnered a lot of hostile reactions that lead to a worldwide ban on reproductive cloning.
However, many scientists still continue to clone other species in which humans are speculated to be included. According to some related reviews in the journal article aforementioned, cloned human embryos have been produced, but there are no reliable reports that any have been implanted on a woman’s uterus, that let alone developed to birth. This is referred to as the reproductive cloning. Moreover, cloning embryos where their stem cells may be extracted for possible research on therapeutic use is called therapeutic cloning. So what is really the ethical issue in cloning? The cloning of mammals has occurred in research contexts for many years and several studies have been conducted, thus, the key ethical issue with therapeutic cloning is the moral status of the cloned embryo, which is solely created for destruction. Additionally, the ethical issues with reproductive cloning are consist of genetic damage to the cloned one, health risks to the mother, loss of large numbers of embryos and fetuses, psychological harm to the cloned, complex altered familial relationships, and commodification of human life.
In the past decades, introduction to hereditary diseases, which include mitochondrial DNA diseases, are very broad.
According to Mitalipov, hereditary diseases caused by mitochondrial DNA mutation affects at least 1 in 5,000–10,000 children and are mostly associated with severe clinical symptoms. Innovative techniques on reproductive have been proposed and studied in order to replace a mutated mitochondrial DNA in oocytes or early embryos to prevent transmission of disease from parents to their children. One of the many innovative techniques is the Mitochondrial DNA transfer or also known as mitochondrial replacement. This technique involves the making of an embryo with a nuclear DNA from the proposed mother and from a woman with nonpathogenic mitochondrial DNA by altering either of the oocyte or zygote. Mitochondrial transfer techniques are for couples to avoid the risk of having a child with mitochondrial disease that can affect multiple organ systems which are often incurable. Moreover, if given that the technique is effective and could satisfy the desire of women wanting to have a biologically and genetically child without the risk of passing on the disease, the technique itself raises many ethical, social, and policy issues. However, legalization of this techniques has been approved last March of 2015 in United Kingdom even though it cannot guaranteed a hundred percent successful process, since it greatly helps to prevent the risk of mitochondrial diseases. Whatever happens, the parent should not blame anyone except herself because she was the one who decided to proceed further with the method. As what I had mentioned earlier, although this technique involves ethical and policy issues, this could also help to stop hereditary diseases and what will be left is a healthy human individual.
Since mitochondrial replacement is already legal in some places, the question that still remains is: Will human cloning be legal in 10 or 20 years from now?
As a student, I personally think that the world of genetics is fascinating especially after learning of what is now possible through the technology. I see cloning as a wonderful advancement in technology and knowledge, but I do not think that it should be used to reproduce humans. I cannot imagine myself wherein my clone would be much more beautiful than me. I do not believe that we should try to develop other ways beside the natural way to bring life into this world. I would strongly suggest that it would be better to science and medicine to clone tissues and organs rather than cloning humans for it could save millions of lives everywhere. And for mitochondrial replacement, I am okay with it, since I do not want to be a hindrance for someone who wants to have a healthy baby of her own.
Imagine yourself where all the people you meet each and every day has the same face as yours, how would you feel? What would you say? Is it not awkward? Whether or not you can picture yourself with all those questions, you should weigh the pros and cons of your decisions and be responsible of your actions. After all, as what I had said, we have what we called rules and regulations that govern the world and human population.
What we consider ethical for today may not be ethical five or 10 years ago. Just as the world is changing, concepts and beliefs do the same thing. I know for a fact that some people do not know what is ethical, some also know what it means but let us just say that they do not follow correct procedures. Every person has its own opinion and definition of what is good from bad. Cloning and mitochondrial replacement can revolutionize the world and the way we live but let us just hope for the better.
I think it is time for you to start thinking, what world would you want to live in? Each and every one has the power to decide for what you truly stands for, but just keep on weighing things, and consider the best ones. In the end, I believe that every one of us has an end no matter what we are and where we came from.
4.Blesa, J. R., Tudela, J., & Aznar, J. (2016). Ethical aspects of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA transfer. The Linacre Quarterly, 83(2), 179-191. doi:10.1080/00243639.2016.1180773
Author: Mariel Mae Lim