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The health risks of cloning

Cloning has leapt from science fiction to science fact. Once merely the realm of imagination (a duplicate Elvis, a rink full of Gretzkys, or an army of Hitlers), the science of cloning, for medical advance or for reproduction, has raced ahead of public policy and ethical debate. From cloned cows to UFO cults, for better or for worse, Canada finds itself in the centre of the clone age.

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How safe is cloning? Take a look at Dolly's twins; two sheep that were born at the same time as Dolly but died soon after. Or at the cloned mice born with heart defects, or the animals that grossly overgrow, have reduced birth weights, or live for a while and then die unexpectedly. As we hear in this clip, there are serious fears that there is something fundamentally unsound with the process of cloning.
. Kevin Eggan studies cloned mice at MIT's Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass. In 2001 his team found that genes may be disrupted when undifferentiated "stem cells" are cultured in the lab, causing the health issues seen in clones. He believes this is a good indicator that human cloning is a bad idea. Dolly's creator, Ian Wilmut, said the research supports his belief that human cloning would be too unpredictable and should be universally banned.

. Tim Caulfield is research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta and a member of several advisory committees on Canadian biotechnology. He supports international regulation on human cloning experiments.

. Canada still has no laws on cloning. Bill C-47, the Human Reproductive and Genetic Technologies Act, would have banned human cloning, sex selection, and selling sperm, ova and other genetic material. It passed first reading in the House of Commons, but died when a federal election was called in the spring of 1997.
• After the announcement of Dolly's existence a second bill, C-247, aimed specifically at banning human cloning was introduced. That bill failed on second reading.

. The federal government did place a voluntary moratorium on nine controversial issues, including human embryo cloning, but private laboratories are not forced to respect these guidelines.
. A third bill, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, was introduced in 2002. It would ban human cloning, cloning stem cells, growing human embryos for research, sex selection, making inheritable human genetic changes, creating people with animal DNA, or buying or selling sperm, ova or human reproductive material.

. A 1997 Angus Reid poll indicated that 72 per cent of Canadians believe creating human clones without brains to use for body parts would be unacceptable. (1,516 people were surveyed; the company predicts with a 95 per cent certainty that the results are within 2.5 percentage points of what the entire Canadian adult population would have said if polled.)

. A 1998 CTV/Angus Reid poll indicated 46 per cent of Canadians believed that carefully regulated therapeutic cloning (for things like transplants and drug experimentation) would be acceptable. Sixty-five per cent said cloning is like "playing God"; 87 per cent said cloning to create a baby exactly like the parent would be unacceptable. (1,000 Canadians were surveyed; 95 per cent certainty that results are within 3.2 percentage points of what all adult Canadians would have said.)
Medium: Radio
Program: This Morning
Broadcast Date: April 4, 2001
Guest(s): Tim Caulfield, Kevin Eggan
Host: Shelagh Rogers
Duration: 19:42

Last updated: February 17, 2012

Page consulted on June 27, 2014

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