| Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned
New Delhi, Nov. 12: A United Nations academic think tank has asked the world to orchestrate a global ban on human cloning or prepare to protect human clones from abuse, prejudice and discrimination.
A legally binding global ban on work to create a human clone, with freedom to allow cloning for therapy, would have the greatest political viability, the Yokohama, Japan-based United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Studies said in a report to be released today.
“Whichever path the international community chooses, it will need to act soon — either to prevent reproductive cloning or to defend the human rights of cloned individuals,” said A.H. Zakri, director of the institute.
More than 50 countries have legislated bans on human cloning — the creation of an identical human with the help of adult cells or tissues. Scientists at the Roslin Institute, Scotland, were the first to clone a mammal, a sheep named Dolly, in 1997.
Since then, researchers elsewhere have extended the technique to a number of other species, including cow, horse, buffalo and rhesus monkey.
Human cloning has emerged as an emotive issue with researchers in several countries, including those in India, keen on therapeutic cloning.
In this process, stem cells that have the potential to develop into myriad human cells and tissues are harvested from cloned human embryos.
An effort to negotiate an international convention on human cloning failed two years ago on the issue of therapeutic cloning. Opponents view therapeutic cloning as unethical because it involves the production and destruction of human embryos for stem cells.
There have been no substantiated claims of cloned human embryos grown into foetal stages or beyond, but experts agree that such a feat is within reach.
“Failure to outlaw cloning means it is just a matter of time before cloned individuals share the planet,” said Brendan Tobin, a barrister with the National University of Ireland and one of the four co-authors of the report.
There is near-universal consensus on a ban on reproductive cloning, partly based on moral and religious grounds, but mostly because of concerns that clones may have serious deformities and degenerative diseases. But there are concerns that as technologies advance, the consensus may erode, and some scientist somewhere may one day announce the feat.
“If the failure to compromise continues, the world community must accept responsibility and ensure that any cloned individual receives full human rights protection... ensure that society treats clones with respect... and ensure they are protected against prejudice, abuse or discrimination,” Tobin said.
Guidelines from the Indian Council of Medical Research that have been in place for several years ban reproductive human cloning.
“In India, we’re still far away from therapeutic cloning, which needs a lot of investment and infrastructure,” a senior official of the council said. “We have no problems with therapeutic cloning but when it will happen (here) is unclear,” he added.
The first claim of the creation of stem cells from successfully cloned human embryos made by a Korean scientist in 2004 was subsequently shown to be fraudulent and triggered one of the biggest fraud investigations in science in recent years.
Although Indian researchers in government and private institutions have been urging authorities to allow them to create test-tube human embryos for research, the council hasn’t agreed to the demand.
“Scientists are asking for this, but we’ll need a wider debate on this issue,” the official said.