Jan 6, 2003
The Raelian sect has now announced that it has cloned two human beings. A number of scientists have commented that it could be a pure and simple hoax. And this religious sect has so far failed to provide any demonstration or proof of its claims.
Nonetheless, it is not impossible that a human clone could be "built." In 1997 already, the sheep Dolly demonstrated that the attempt to clone a mammal had succeeded. Several other mammals have since been cloned. This created the widespread and sensational image that "exact copies" could now be cloned of almost anything.
In reality, there are immense scientific and technical difficulties, as well as numerous failures which researchers confronted until they could produce just one "presentable" result. Given the current state of knowledge, these results bode badly for reproductive cloning. Beyond the very high rate of spontaneous abortions and early death after birth, the animals obtained in this way very often have serious defects. Among other reasons, the flesh, bones and organs of these "new borns" have the same age as their donor (usually a female) when they are born, and not the amount of time they have been alive. New born clones are biologically aged. So – and serious scientists are the first to say it – this enterprise would be at the very least criminal with respect to human beings.
But even apart from the current practical problems, the idea of cloning human beings would be perfectly reactionary in every sense of the term. Cloning – that is, asexual reproduction – goes against the whole evolution of species, including human beings, since the appearance of sexuality. Sexual reproduction has permitted the diversification of species, their proliferation and their development up to the appearance of our distant ancestors. Poetry, the arts, literature, feelings and human society itself would all be unthinkable without sexuality and without sexual reproduction, which makes each human being a unique individual.
Cloning has no place, outside the head of some crazy scientist or, more probably, con artist who smells the possibility of a swindle in it. It makes no difference who proposes to carry out the procedure – whether a sect like the Raelians or equally unscrupulous con men like Zavos in the United States or Antinori in Italy, who both say they are about to announce human clones they have produced.
Obviously, it's not shocking that this society would seek to protect itself from such people; on the contrary. Moreover, the scientific community supports such prohibitions. But, in some cases, for example in France or to some extent in the United States, this prohibition has been extended to another domain – that is, cloning for medical purposes, called for this reason therapeutic cloning, which depends on some of the same techniques as reproductive cloning but uses them for much different aims.
Cloning for therapeutic purposes depends on embryonic stem cells, which are the first cells to appear after an egg is fertilized and are capable of producing the entire range of cells which make up a future human being. This science is still at a very early stage, but such cells eventually might be used, for example, to provide the material to replace damaged heart muscle cells after a heart attack; or, in the case of diseases like Parkinsons, to furnish neurons capable of migrating toward areas of the brain where certain cells are deficient.
Obviously, the experiments that this implies must be carried out within a careful framework. But the prohibitions which exist in certain countries against all research involving stem cells, affecting all forms of cloning, are not aimed at establishing such a framework. These absolute prohibitions, when aimed against cloning for therapeutic ends, result from the sensitivity by politicians to reactionary sectors of opinion. For example, there are some organizations and religions that condemn abortion, denying women the right to control their own bodies. These same organizations oppose the utilization by scientists of aborted embryos, even of fertilized eggs which are unused in the case of assisted fertilization.
In Europe and North America, the legislation is sometimes more, sometimes less, restrictive. In the United States, the restrictions issued by Bush are hypocritical – refusing to let stem cells be produced on U.S. soil ... but not prohibiting their importation from other countries. It's obviously only a way to respond to the needs of scientific research, while keeping reactionary layers of society happy. Such an arrangement is aimed also at preserving the interests of private capital, which doesn't want to miss the opportunity to invest in this sector. That's why there has been no prohibition on issuing patents in this domain – even when they concern parts of the human body.