The birth of a cloned sheep dubbed “Dolly” in 1996 gave new life to the discussion about human cloning. The possibilities are endless: Baseball could be revitalized by twins of Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. Leaders like Fidel Castro could pass their mantle on to a clone of themselves. The Three Tenors could all be Luciano Pavarotti. One company has even been formed to protect celebrities from unauthorized cloning of their dna.
Cloning has had some amazing, and widely publicized, successes. What has received far less attention though, is the 95-97 percent failure rate. Now that scientists are seriously attempting to clone humans, we should pay attention to these numbers.
It took more than 250 attempts before Dolly was born. Ian Wilmut, part of the team that created Dolly, tells the story of one lamb that appeared perfectly normal, but that could not stop hyperventilating. “What if it had been a child?” Mr. Wilmut asked. “Who would be responsible for such a child? What sort of life would it have, panting all of the time?” (Washington Post, March 7, 2001).
Professor Wilmut had this to say about human cloning: “It is quite obvious to me that it is appalling for anyone to suggest using this on a woman at the present time. I think you have to be ill to use this on humans” (bbc News, May 19, 2000).
Consider this quote from March 2001: “If the team really tries to clone a person, here’s what to expect, several scientists said: Almost all of the first 100 clones will abort spontaneously because of genetic or physical abnormalities, putting the health and lives of the surrogate mothers at risk. Of the handful of clones that make it to term, most will have grossly enlarged placentas and fatty livers. And of the three or four fetuses that may survive their birth, most will be monstrously big—perhaps 15 pounds (about 7 kilograms)—and will likely die in the first week or two from heart and blood vessel problems, underdeveloped lungs, diabetes or immune system deficiencies. … ‘We’re talking about harming developing humans,’ [Michael West of Advanced Cell Technology said]” (Washington Post, op. cit.).
In December of that same year, Advanced Cell Technology announced a so-called success in human cloning. They reported they had cloned an early human embryo from an adult cumulus cell nucleus. Ian Wilmut, however, felt the announcement was made prematurely: “It’s really only a preliminary first step, because the furthest that the embryo developed was to have six cells at a time when it should have had more than 200—and it had clearly already died.” Here is one of the painfully few examples of a “success” in cloning, and it resulted, as cloning attempts usually do, in death.
The poster sheep for successful cloning, Dolly, isn’t so healthy either. In January last year, Ian Wilmut announced that Dolly had arthritis in her hind leg. It is entirely possible that the cloning process can only lead to unhealthy animals. Wilmut “believes other experts may have long-term data on cloning abnormalities that they are not revealing because of the bad publicity it might generate” (bbc News, Jan. 4, 2002).
The bad publicity that the cloning community fears regards the ethical dilemma surrounding their trade. But while the arguments rage on, the fruits of cloning continue to emerge, and they are not good. Cloning has shown itself for what it is: the gift that keeps on dying.