Scientific American, an anything goes pro-cloning magazine, has two articles out dealing with the future of human cloning. The focus is on Ian Wilmut, who administered the team that cloned Dolly, who planned to pursue human SCNT cloning but then eschewed it in favor of iPSC research. The whole thing seems to me to be a somewhat desperate attempt to keep human SCNT research viable. You can read the article here to judge that for yourselves.

There is also a Q and A interview published with Ian Wilmut. I think this question is the most important:

It seems as though there is increasing sentiment among scientists that some form of reproductive cloning would be acceptable for clinical purposes. Would you agree?
Ah, the cat is finally getting out of the bag! I have been telling anyone and everyone that the supposed agreement within the science and bioethics communities against reproductive cloning was merely an expedient. The real agenda is anything goes, with cloning for reproduction and use in genetic engineering/enhancement research definitely part of the agenda.

Here is Wilmut’s answer:

There always has been a difference of opinion about that. I think you need to define the terms very, very closely. As a way of getting people to think about things, I’ve asked, “Suppose it was possible to use this technique to correct a genetic error in an embryo?” You know, say, if you had a family who were inheriting one of the diseases we’ve already talked about. If you produced an embryo by in vitro fertilization (IVF), grew out cells, corrected the mutation, and then cloned to make a new embryo, you’re using it as a tool for correction of genetic disease—and that child would not be a genetically identical twin. I personally wouldn’t find anything wrong with that.

Whether it’s likely to happen or not is a very different matter, simply because of the technical challenges and the costs involved. And as far as treatment for infertility is concerned, the odds are that there would be other ways of overcoming the problem. If IVF cells are equivalent in their developmental potential to embryo-derived stem cells, then it might be possible to produce gametes. So if you have, let’s say, a man who has no sperm, you produce iPS cells, you produce sperm, and you can then produce babies through IVF. Naturally, it would be a much more satisfactory approach, because it is a child who is the product of both parents and is not a genetically identical twin to anybody

In other words, Wilmut supports reproductive cloning. The limitations he specifies, even if he really believes them, would never hold if the technology were perfected. And in the past, he has been far less circumspect. Moreover, iPSCs still hold better promise for helping people with infertility.

If you want to stop reproductive cloning, stop all human SCNT. It is the only way.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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