OPINION

Editorial

The creation of the first cloned human embryos by researchers in a small US biotech firm has revived stormy debates over the serious concerns raised by the issue of human cloning. The firm, of course, declared that it does not intend to create cloned human beings, but rather to produce lifesaving therapies for a wide range of diseases and conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to diabetes and strokes. First, what was actually created was not a fully formed embryo but a living mass of cells. The cloned cell was used as a source of stem cells, that is primitive cells that only exist in the first days of the embryo’s life and which are then transformed and grow into all types of human cells. The colossal therapeutic possibility offered by this discovery is that by transplanting these stem cells one can, in theory, replace the damaged cells of a human organism. Hence doctors will, on one hand, be able to halt and even reverse the effects of degenerative ailments and, on the other, replace entire organs based on the same cells. A potential implementation, which would mark a real medical revolution, would come if body parts were replaced in a manner whereby the organism would not reject the transplant. This means that patients would be able to lead normal lives without having to take strong medicines for their immunity systems and which would render them highly vulnerable to all kinds of infections. Not everything is rosy, however. The problem is that this method opens the way to the cloning of human beings. Scientifically speaking, this would be a major achievement. From a social perspective, however, this could lead to a nightmare. As always, the possibility of exploiting a scientific discovery for the wrong reasons does not undo the value of the discovery per se, nor can it be used as an excuse to put a brake on scientific progress. This, however, does not mean that society and political institutions should be paralyzed before the serious threats emanating from scientific achievements. Humanity should find ways to encourage scientific research but also delimit its life-threatening applications. Societies have to come up with a strict and clear framework that will ensure research on cloning without the undesired consequences. Anachronistic prejudices or uncritical enthusiasm could prevent a sober tackling of an issue that could even determine the future of humanity.