FEBRUARY 24, 1997
Scientists have cloned an adult mammal for the first time, producing a lamb named Dolly. The lamb was cloned from a 6-year-old ewe, using tissue taken from the ewe's udder. The study, to be released in this week's Nature, has raised questions over the possible uses, and ethical dilemmas, of this development. Following a background report and discussion of the science of today's announcement, Jim Lehrer leads a discussion of the ethics of cloning.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the ethical implications of the cloning breakthrough. Kevin FitzGerald is a Jesuit priest and geneticist at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Mark Siegler is director of the Center for Clinical and Glen McGee is director of graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
February 24, 1997:
A background report on the cloning of sheep in Scotland.
February 24, 1997:
A technical discussion on the science of genetic engineering.
March 7, 1997:
Join an Online NewsHour forum debating the merits of cloning mammals.
April 3, 1996:
Fred De Sam Lazaro reports on scientific advances in genetic research and the ethical questions they raise.
The Genetics and Public Issues Program at The National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) discusses cloning.
Discussion of Ethics and Social Issues in Gene Research at the Human Genome Project.
Father FitzGerald, is this a positive development for society?
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD, Loyola University: (Chicago) Well, I think if one looks at the technological advances and the scientific possibilities, you would certainly say, yes, it is an advancement for society. It allows us to do a lot of the things that have been mentioned already, the work toward developing drugs, possible organ donation, that sort of thing, so in general, I would say, yes, it is a positive thing.
JIM LEHRER: What are the problems that it also--what is the downside?
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD: The downside, I guess, is coming a lot from the possible applications of this sort of thing, or, as Mr. Raeburn mentioned, the mythic significance of this particular event, the idea being that there are ways in which our speculation can take us into fantasies which lead us places that perhaps, if we sit down and think are calm and rational about it, we wouldn't normally go; also, the fact that when people talk about cloning a human being, the idea that you're going to get a carbon copy or a Xerox copy, as the case may be, is wrong. What you're going to get is something like a delayed identical twin. And, as many of us know, from having known identical twins or triplets or quadruplets, the fact is that they can actually be quite different, behaviorally, have very different personalities, and that sort of thing.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. Siegler, do you agree with Dr. Wilmut, the researcher, that it would be unethical to clone human beings with this technique or any other technique?
DR. MARK SIEGLER, University of Chicago: (Chicago) I think, in general, at this stage of development it would be unethical to do it. I can imagine in the future that there might arise certain circumstances in which the temptation would arise and might even be ethically defensible.
JIM LEHRER: Give me--can you give me a for instance?
DR. MARK SIEGLER: Well, the for instance that comes to mind is the family you will recall a few years ago who conceived a child in order to do a bone marrow transplantation on another child of theirs who is dying of leukemia. And if you recall that particular situation, tragic as it was at the time, it was reported that there was a 25 percent possibility that even if they were able to conceive and have a child that the child they would have would then match the potential recipient; that is, the older child with leukemia. Well, imagine if there was a 100 percent chance that you could then do something like that in order to provide a benefit to an identifiable human being who might otherwise die.
I think if the technology were there, and had been shown in animal models to be successful and efficient, as one of the earlier speakers referred to it, currently it's inefficient, but if it were efficient, I think there would be a great temptation to try to apply it. Very few instances of progress in medicine and technology have led to curtailing their application if in the application of them they could benefit individual human beings or society.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. McGee, can you conceive of a benefit to cloning human beings?
GLEN McGEE, University of Pennsylvania: (Philadelphia) No. And I have a hard time agreeing with Dr. Siegler about some of the benefits that might in the long-term accrue from using potential offspring for organ donation or for other kinds of outcomes. I think we're talking about what probably will turn out to be an unstable, perhaps even unsafe, technology when it's applied to humans. Remember that they tried 270 some odd times to successfully--
JIM LEHRER: But let's say--leave the technical part aside. Let's say that it would work. Would you think it would be ethical to try to use it on human beings?
GLEN McGEE: Well, let me give you one of those on the one hand, on the other hand kinds of answers. I think on the one hand we don't want to have an absolute ban on the use of cloning technologies in humans. I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense, and as has been pointed out several times tonight, we're not really talking about clone in the sense of a Xerox of an organism and their experiences anyway. So a ban on cloning wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. On the other hand, this is one of a whole range of new reproductive technologies. To call them unregulated would be the quantum understatement of the year: egg donation, sperm donation, embryo donation, gestational carrying by women, sometimes for profit. A whole range of these technologies now exist in our culture. We've had almost no discussion about them. I think it is time for a serious national commission on genetics and the family. And cloning should be a part of that area of study.
JIM LEHRER: Father FitzGerald, President Clinton, in fact, today asked--there is a commission in place that examines these kinds of issues, and his press secretary said the President had asked this commission today to look at the Scotland development in the context--in the American context as to how this might be applied. Do you have a scary scenario under the current rules that, that this thing could lead to that we ought to be prepared for, and that we should debate as, as Mr. McGee just said?
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD: Well, I agree with Mr. McGee. I think that, in fact, one of the positive ramifications of this development is to bring these issues once more again to the floor. I mean, these sort of issues have been discussed in the past and debated in the past even before the technology was this available. But what happens is these are difficult issues, and I think at times the public tires of the long debate and the struggle that it takes to come up with some kind of clear evaluation of what is at hand. And so it's good, in a way again, that we are forced to--
JIM LEHRER: Can you draw in one or two simple sentences what the issue is ethically that this discovery in Scotland draws?
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD: I'd say there's two that come to mind right away. One is biological or genetic reductionism. In other words, this sort of sense that we are our genes, and that's all we are, and so that if there's some way in which we can copy, reproduce, manipulate our genes, we can actually determine what the individual--who the individual is going to be.
JIM LEHRER: And the question is: Should we do that, and should we allow that to happen?
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD: Well, first of all, I don't think it can happen. We are not our genes. There's much more to us than that. So even pursuing it, in a sense, is an act of futility and leads us in the wrong direction. Another issue that's going to arise from this, and I think is an important thing to also address, is the nature of the parent-child relationship. What are we looking for in that relationship? How do we see that relationship to be, and in a situation where--
GLEN McGEE: Exactly.
FATHER KEVIN FITZGERALD: --a child is begotten and in this particular technology I think that we could say copied, what purpose is behind this? Are we trying to replace someone? Is this child being brought into existence in order to provide organs or tissue or something like that, and, if so, are we actually manipulating, using an irreplaceable, valuable human being for some kind of technical means?
JIM LEHRER: Let me ask Dr. Siegler. How would you draw the ethical issue, the crucial ethical issues that the Scotland thing--that emerges from the Scotland experiment?
DR. MARK SIEGLER: That emerges from the potential applications.
JIM LEHRER: Exactly.
DR. MARK SIEGLER: I think the essential ethical issue is whether there are limits to human and scientific progress and whether we are going to impose limits, to regulate and control such progress. All efforts in the past to do so with railroads and airplanes and electricity and gunpowder and anything else you want to name have failed, and I can't imagine that given the kinds of emotions and potential commercialization of this sort of technology, that we'll be any more successful here. Commission hearings are a nice thing, and they'll come to some conclusions, but I think that scientific progress will march on.
JIM LEHRER: And is that good?
DR. MARK SIEGLER: Well, I think the ethos of our community; that is, its character, is a progressive ethos. That's what characterizes American society at the end of the 20th century. And I don't think it's going to stop because of the potential ethical problems that could emerge from one particular new technology.
JIM LEHRER: So, if it's possible, if it turns out, if it's possible to clone human beings, human beings will be cloned.
DR. MARK SIEGLER: So long as it can be done safely, efficiently, to benefit mankind, and not to arouse sufficient negative results. I think one or two negative results could put an end to it. It could be the kibosh.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. McGee, do you agree with Dr. Siegler, that the train has left the station?
GLEN McGEE: Well, yes, and I agree, moreover, that the right approach here is to acknowledge that Americans correctly press for scientific advances and about reproduction. I think we have to shift our focus a little bit. Instead of asking what we shouldn't do, what the big wrong is here, the focus should be on education. I find it amazing that here in the context of a program, the Human Genome Project, that has devoted an unprecedented amount of money, more than $150 million dedicated to the study of ethics and reproduction and genetics, we don't spend a dime on training research scientists in this country about ethical understanding, about social implications. We treat these issues after they're already in our front yard, as it were. We need to shift the focus to education.
JIM LEHRER: In a word, do you still think we have time on this one?
GLEN McGEE: I think we may not have time on the cloning front, but for larger context, maybe.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, gentlemen, thank you all three very much.