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Cloning; Medical Breakthrough or a step too far?

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Introduction

Cloning; Medical Breakthrough or a step too far? Cloning, a term surrounded by controversy and fear, describes the making of an individual with identical genetic material as its parent. Contrary to belief, there are many natural clones already living in the world, since any animal that reproduces asexually produces a clone. Therefore, many plants, such as potato and strawberry plant are clones of their parent's . Tumours, many insects, identical twins, algae and even some multi-cellular organisms such as the armadillo produce clones as well. In addition to this, every time a cutting of a plant is taken and grown, a clone of the parent is produced. However, when scientists speak of cloning, they are talking of three different types; Therapeutic Cloning, Reproductive Cloning or DNA Cloning and their uses are significantly different. Therapeutic Cloning refers to the cloning of human embryos, in order for scientists to remove Stem Cells. These are extremely useful since they can develop into nearly any cell in the body, thus making them invaluable in medicine, since scientists hope to grow new organs or tissues from them. To attain the Stem Cells, human embryos are cloned, and after 5 days of cell division, the Stem Cells harvested. Unfortunately, the embryo is destroyed once the Stem Cells have been removed. Reproductive Cloning is possibly the most famous type of cloning since its method produced Dolly the Sheep in 1997, although it did take 277 attempts. Reproductive Cloning results in an exact copy of an individual being produced. In order to do this a cell is taken from any part of the body and its nucleus ejected and transferred to a host cell, also devoid of a nucleus. Electricity is used to fuse the cells together and certain chemicals are needed to stimulate cell division, but after that the cell divides and grows normally. When it reaches a certain stage and size it is transferred to the uterus or a surrogate mother who carries the embryo until its birth. ...read more.

Middle

Once united, the altered plasmid is introduced into a rapidly reproducing bacterium, which clones itself, producing billions of copies of the plasmid with gene attached. This technique is used to mass-produce drugs, for example manufacturing Insulin for the treatment of Diabetes , and also for producing enough specific genes for scientific study. It is also useful in gene therapy , genetic engineering of organisms, and sequencing genomes. There are many advantages to cloning; however, these always seem to be in conjunction with serious ethical considerations. Therapeutic Cloning could, in time, significantly alter medicine, as transplants, free from fears of organ rejection, become available, while replacement of damaged cells cure nerve damage or spinal injuries, proven by the recent experimentation on paralysed rats that enabled them to walk again . New proteins could also be developed for diseases such as cystic fibrosis or diabetes and illnesses, previously incurable, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, could also be cured by the growth of new cells. Additionally, cloning could be used in cosmetic and plastic surgery, as doctors may be able to manufacture bone, fat, connective tissue, or cartilage, which matches the patient's tissues exactly. New skin could also be made for burns victims, safer breast implant's developed and possibly new limbs for amputees. Therefore people could change their appearance in a much safer way. However, the moral decision of killing Embryos in order to harvest the Stem Cells they carry is an immense one. Protestors against cloning perceive this as murder, yet thousands of Embryo's are killed each year through abortions and pregnancy screening. To justify killing embryo's needs a weighty argument, yet a cure to terminal and painful illnesses might satisfy this. Furthermore, children needing organ transplants could be cloned using Reproductive Cloning so that spare organs could be attained without the risk of tissue rejection, although the idea of producing a baby simply to acquire organs must be considered from a moral point of view. ...read more.

Conclusion

Cloning is already in use in agriculture producing many identical copies of prize animals. Breeding is controlled so that the genes containing certain characteristics from the parents are taken and the resulting embryo split apart into clumps of cells that will eventually develop into many identical clones . However, narrowing genetic diversity in this way means livestock 'would all be susceptible to the same diseases and one organism might wipe them out' . Therefore, no one organism has an advantage of fighting the disease over another and consequently, the 'survival of the fittest' idea breaks down and evolution becomes endangered. Similarly, Reproductive Cloning could increase the population of endangered species dramatically, proved by the birth of an endangered baby Gaur on January 8th 2001. The Gaur died soon after birth, yet the experiment proves that endangered animals can be produced through cloning. Ethical issues also play a part in the debate concerning cloning, with suggestions on the moral rights of clones and the issue of how far humans will interfere in nature. Religious organisations have also raised concerns over the biological importance of men, once cloning occurs, since the donor cell and womb needed to carry the foetus to term can be attained solely through the woman. In conclusion, there are many advantages and disadvantages to cloning. While cloning could accord people new starts at life through Therapeutic Cloning, and increase the population and quality of animals, it could also spell disaster for agriculture through the reduction of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding and quick spreading diseases. In addition to this the moral rights and emotions of clones must be considered. Overall, I believe that the amount of research still needed into cloning and the numbers of mutations and unexplained deaths of clones would make it ethically irresponsible at this time. Furthermore, I do not agree with Reproductive Cloning, since it alters the meaning of the 'individual' and, for Human Cloning especially, puts forward far too many moral and ethical arguments. However, Therapeutic Cloning could have great possibilities in the future and may in time be classed as a 'medical breakthrough'. ...read more.

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