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The Ethics of Cloning: How do we decide where the line between benefits and costs is drawn?

Written by Chloe Ireland for the Open Article Section.



This article explores cloning and whether the ethical issues drawn outweighs the benefits of it. Should this be the next big thing?


Dolly the sheep, the most famous case of animal cloning, occurred back in 1966; since then, numerous other species of animals have been cloned, including but not limited to, cattle and a mouse in 2004[1]. Dolly the sheep was ‘the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell’[2], with the purpose of investigating methods of creating genetically modified livestock. Now, Chinese scientists have successfully cloned a rhesus monkey, known to be used in medical research, which has lived for two years.

 

The Process:

The process of cloning animals from adult cells is known as ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’[3]. Somatic cells are any cells other than the sperm and egg cells and most somatic cells from mammals are diploid meaning they contain chromosomes from both the mother and the father. The DNA of the somatic cell is placed into a developing egg cell to produce another animal with the same genetic makeup as the original cell[4]. The process of cloning animals has a very low survival rate, with only 1-3% surviving till birth[5]; this tending to be a result of ‘abnormalities in cloned foetuses and placentae.[6] Similarly, there also tends to be a myriad of neonatal deaths[7].

 

The Benefits:

It is argued that cloning, especially that of the Rhesus monkeys can expedite drug testing since each animal has identical genetic makeup. As a result, there will be more certainty and reliability in their trials, as the effects are consistent with the genetic makeup of the specific animal[8]. Due to the physiology of the Rhesus monkey being comparable to that of a human, it can produce more accurate and pertinent results. Cloning and breeding of healthy livestock is also encouraged to increase productivity and quality, and consequently benefit both farms and consumers.

 

 

The Costs:

As previously mentioned, the cloning of mammals often results in low survival rates, with the added risk of neonatal deaths. The RSPCA describes animal cloning as causing ‘pain, suffering and distress, with little consideration for ethics or animal welfare’[9]. There is increased concern in terms of the cloning of primates, as stated by the RSPCA, ‘Primates are intelligent and sentient animals’[10]. This has been demonstrated in several studies of emotional displays in primates, such as a study by Nakayama et al., 2005[11], on the nasal temperature of rhesus monkeys. The study used an infrared thermographic system to measure the temperature of parts of the rhesus monkey’s face in response to viewing a threatening person, to which the monkey’s temperature dropped, indicating a negative response. This indicates that, to a certain extent, they can form emotional responses. Therefore, how can we be certain that monkeys do not suffer in the same way as humans when it comes to losing a child?

It could be argued that the medical benefits to humans outweigh any physical or emotional suffering experienced by the animals subject to cloning. However, when do the costs become too great?


We have moved from solely drug testing on animals, which in itself, raises ethical issues, to cloning which can cause further distress. If the process of cloning becomes less risky and has a higher success rate, it could be justified. However, currently, due to the lack of success in somatic cell nuclear transfers, it is difficult to argue the benefits of cloning.

 






References

[1] Understanding Animal Research, ‘Animal Cloning’ < https://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/what-is-animal-research/areas-research/animal-cloning > accessed 17 January 2024

[2] Ibid.

[3] There are other methods, such as ones beginning with embryonic cells, but Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is the process specifically which was used in the cloning of the Rhesus monkey.

[4] X Cindy Tian and others, ‘Cloning animals by somatic cell nuclear transfer – biological factors’ (2003) 1 Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC521203/#:~:text=Somatic%20cell%20cloning%20(cloning%20or,donor%20(Figure%20%E2%80%8B1). > accessed 17 January 2024.

[5] Alex Bortvin and others, ‘Incomplete reactivation of Oct4-related genes in mouse embryos cloned from somatic nuclei’ (2005) 130 (8) Development for Advances in Developmental Biology and Stem Cells

[6] X Cindy Tian and others, ‘Cloning animals by somatic cell nuclear transfer – biological factors’ (2003) 1 Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology < https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC521203/#:~:text=Somatic%20cell%20cloning%20(cloning%20or,donor%20(Figure%20%E2%80%8B1). > accessed 17 January 2024

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pallab Gosh, ‘Cloned rhesus monkey created to speed medical research’ (BBC News, 16 January 2024) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67987633 > accessed 17 January 2024

[10] Pallab Gosh, ‘Cloned rhesus monkey created to speed medical research’ (BBC News, 16 January 2024) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67987633 > accessed 17 January 2024

[11] Katsura Nakayama and others, ‘Decrease in nasal temperature of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) in negative emotional state’  (2005) 84(5), 783, Physiology and Behaviour < https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938405000776 > accessed 17 January 2024

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