[VIEWPOINT]Cloning Serves to Double Our Troubles

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[VIEWPOINT]Cloning Serves to Double Our Troubles

Recently, advances in human cloning have made it the focus of intensifying interest - and concern - around the globe.

The ethical and theoretical bramble of issues surrounding the cloning of humans are extremely important, but the chance that human cloning will become a troublesome intrusion on everyday life is not as high as the general public might think.

Many people seem to view human cloning as the creation of an exact copy of an existing human, with an identical appearance and identical personality. However, this would only be possible if we would clone the human mind - and that is technically impossible at this stage.

In biological terms, human cloning produces an entity with exactly the same genetic information as an original - the same as producing an identical twin.

You are mistaken if you think that human cloning can create an identical human being or can somehow provide someone with immortality.

In the main, there are two types of technologies that can be used in human cloning. The first is dividing an already fertilized egg. The second type involves transplanting the nucleus of a body cell into an ovum.

The extent to which one can anticipate what type of child will result varies greatly between the two.

The first method requires an egg fertilized in the normal fashion with a sperm. Four to eight cells are removed from the egg and then are grown separately into a human being. This is the same principle as creating identical twins.

In this method, we do not know the exact information behind the fertilized egg, so it is impossible to predict what kind of human being will be created.

The second method of transplanting the nucleus of a body cell was used when creating Dolly the sheep. An ovum has its nucleus extracted and discarded and the nucleus of a mature body cell is implanted in its place.

The cell then undergoes induced cell division in a uterus and grows into a being with identical genetic information as the person from whom the body cell was taken.

This second method is controversial because it is possible to create a baby with certain genetic information by selecting specific genes.

Also, by this method, it is technically possible to create an identical twin years after the original person was born.

If we were to take a body cell from a 60-year-old, in about two years we should be able to produce a clone. Thus, the cloned baby will be an identical twin 62 years younger than the cell donor.

This method is fraught with technical problems. There is a high rate of failure - and the social costs of failure may be inordinately high.

People who want to clone humans might have very special reasons for wanting to do so. For example, someone who has lost all his family members and is infertile but wishes to continue the family line; someone who has lost their beloved partner and wishes to recreate them, or a homosexual couple which wishes to have a baby using the genes of a specific person.

But it is likely there will be alternative ways of solving these problems that are easier and cheaper than such expensive human cloning.

We will quickly find that trying to clone humans causes more problems than it addresses.

Of course, there are a few worries related to human cloning.

A 65-year-old person dying of organ disease may try to "grow" an identical human being solely to receive an organ transplant, disposing of the cloned child after the transplant.

But even current laws would view this as illegal. Few would invest the enormous amounts of time and money to go through the whole complicated process in secret.

In conclusion, human cloning is like an empty echo. It sounds controversial, but if one looks carefully at the reality, it has little practical value.

Instead, I am worried that the nation's energy is being wasted on the controversy.

Let us expend our passions on a subject with sounder science and a greater potential value.


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The writer is a professor of biological sciences at Seoul National University.

by Kim Sun-young

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