Got regulations. May need more.
As the presidential commission on bioethics discusses restrictions on cloning research, recall that a considerable number of existing restrictions control research funded by the federal government or occurring at the many large research institutions with tight regulations on human research.
Review boards at these research institutions decide whether the benefits of a human research project will outweigh the risks. After a project is approved, all research subjects (or parents in the case of children) must give "informed consent," meaning they must actually understand a research project before they can take part in it. Third, federal funds may not be used to fund research into embryos, fetuses or human cloning.
But, warns Alta Charo, a University of Wisconsin-Madison medical ethicist, these restrictions don't apply everywhere. "What about state colleges, junior colleges, doctors' offices? Those are settings where human cloning research could be done, outside of review, oversight, regulation." (Not to mention the many in-vitro fertilization clinics that are already used to dealing with embryos.) Thus, says Charo, who's also a member of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, "to extend protection to every person in the United States ... would be a small but important step toward general protection from abuse of this technology."
Worldwide, the regulatory picture is mixed. In Dolly's home, the United Kingdom, human cloning is banned, as it is in several European countries. But these countries are exceptions, since most countries have had no reason to pass legislation on the subject.
Let's take a meeting
Norm Fost, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pediatrics and medical ethics, agrees that education might work better than regulation. "It's questionable legally and practically whether they could prohibit cloning. You don't need a lot of technology to do this."
Still, Fost maintains that the dangers of widespread human cloning, in general are "overstated, as they are with new medical, biotechnology, or in particular reproductive technologies. It's appropriate to be very attentive to the potential ethical and social issues" but "most are not likely to materialize, or are extremely unlikely to be as problematic as some fear."
It's important to bring perspective to the issue, Fost adds. If the goal is to protect children from abuse, the possible plight of a relatively small number of cloned children would pale beside the widespread child abuse seen in society today. Furthermore, he points out that "tens of thousands of children produced with new reproductive technologies -- in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and surrogate motherhood -- have no biological complications. Furthermore, they're generally raised in loving homes... . There's no evidence to suggest that they are doing worse than other children -- in fact, they're doing better."
Finally, there's what could be called the "realism" argument. Genetics are important, but they are not destiny, Fost argues. "We need to educate people on the biological impossibility of cloning replicas of desirable people, to make sure people are on a rational plane."
On a rational plane? Not us Why Files clones.
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