Frozen mice and men …
The recent news that scientists have been able to clone mice using brain tissue frozen 16 years ago, produced a ‘Daily Mail’ front page, entitled ‘Cloning from the Grave’.
The day was spent deliberating whether we could recreate woolly mammoths and other extinct animals, and accusing those who worried that the research would be applied to humans as being scaremongers, and that human reproductive cloning would never be on the agenda for the United Kingdom.
No human reproductive cloning? Just scaremongering? Says who?
Ten years ago we would have been horrified at the prospect of cloning embryos from cow eggs and human tissue – now we have 3 licences up and running involving this very procedure. Human cloning for research was licensed even earlier, and another project steams ahead involving the cloning process and eggs from two different mothers. If we want to permit reproductive cloning there’s little of the Rubicon left to cross.
Human reproductive cloning was banned by Parliament in 2001, but the new Bill which has just passed through the Houses of Parliament, and awaits Royal Assent, claims curiously that the 2001 ban has now been superseded.
Whatever superseded means in this context, CORE suggests that this is simply a Machiavellian ruse to leave the door open for reproductive cloning. One of the reasons for doing this could well be to facilitate moving from research to therapy if the two-egg project mentioned above works out satisfactorily. We would be assured that it was just a one-off situation to help women suffering from mitochondrial disease, to ensure they have healthy children, but in effect it would be a variation on reproductive cloning, and more variations could easily follow.
There is already a small market worldwide in the cloning of deceased pets, so it does not take a large leap of belief to imagine that somebody might like to bring back a beloved human being as well.
What about those deceased people frozen in cryogenic tanks thanks to the peculiar initiative of the Cryonics Institute. These are certainly folk who would like to come back from the dead, and if their frozen heads cannot be resuscitated, what about using their frozen brains and a bit of reproductive cloning? It worked for mice.
In 1994 the HFEA was discussing whether it would be appropriate to use ovarian tissue from aborted babies for research into the developmental processes of the human egg. Fortunately a line was drawn against the use of potential eggs for fertility treatment, but there is no actual prohibition if the eggs are destined for research. Fetal tissue is stored in banks in the United Kingdom. Bringing back children from the dead might well appeal to some bereaved parents.
The ‘Daily Mail’ was absolutely right to raise the temperature with its coverage of the cloned mice.