by Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard (editors)
Review by Arantza Etxeberria, Ph.D. on Jan 29th 2002
A clone is a genetic replica of an organism, with a genome identical
to that of its progenitor (or of one of them), because it was
duplicated or transferred from one of its cells. We cannot say
that the organism itself is literally identical, for, in the development
of an individual, environmental factors have a lot to say. Spontaneous
biological reproduction sometimes is based in cloning: some unicellulars,
like bacteria, reproduce asexually by cell division. However most
species reproduce sexually: a genetically new and unique individual
is produced by assembling two (or more) copies of chromosomes
(but even in this group reproduction occasionally produces clones
"by chance": identical twins are an example). A clone
can be produced on purpose by splitting the growing embryo into
two collections of growing cells with an identical genome yielding
to different individuals; or by transferring the nucleus of a
given cell into the cytoplasm of an egg.
Although this may sound straightforward, there have been many
difficulties to proceed with research on this, especially when
using adult cells, whose nucleic genome has lost, in principle,
the plasticity for the required sequence of cell differentiation.
The breaking of the technological possibility and the first accomplishments
of research in this direction have brought about big expectations
to many, and also fear and disgust to others. This subject has
jumped into media in the last few years, and produced all kinds
of news and debates. The situation is not easy to summarize, because
of the complexity of the different viewpoints. Probably many of
us find that we need some background information about the issue
in order to make up our minds about it, and to attempt to form
Perhaps you have heard of Dolly, know that she is a sheep, but
have no idea of the scientific details of how she was "made".
Or you need to know about the whole biological sense of cloning,
do not understand what makes a clone biologically different from
other organisms. Maybe you are concerned about human cloning,
and want to know about the scientific possibilities of doing it,
the arguments for or against, the ethical or social implications
of this practice if it is established, or the medical advantages
it may bring, if any. Possibly you are interested in religious
concerns, and you wonder what your own practice or others have
officially said about cloning. It may also be the case that civil
regulations and policy on the whole issue are unknown to you and
need to inform about them.
All of these matters are approached in the book at hand: many
of the different reasons hold to either defend or to abhor the
progress of this research find their place in this book, so that
it can really be used as a compendium or kaleidoscope of views
on the issue. The authors have gathered a number of (generally)
short and clear articles on the different topics, previously appeared
in widely accessible publications, and have arranged them in ten
groups by subject, including an introduction to each of them.
Thus, the book tries to provide useful --and brief-- materials
for the interested reader to access information on the different
aspects of this contemporary problem.
What are the main worries? Most possibilities create both expectations
of good results and fear of abuse. Some argue that cloning may
be the only way to save species in danger (like pandas), whereas
others think that it will destroy variability. Some maintain that
cloning transgenic animals (like cows or goats) is a cheaper and
safer way of getting very costly proteins, required to cure some
conditions, than using blood products. Others worry about the
suffering of cloned individuals, especially if they are transgenic,
that is to say, if their genome has been altered before reproduction.
Some are sympathetic to the new chances open to childless couples,
whereas others consider repugnant to "Xerox people".
A general concern that we might lose the variety generated by
sexual reproduction, the process that originates unique individuals
in the biological sense. However, individuality does not depend
only on genetic uniqueness, nor the dignity of a person does depend
on their being unique or non-replaceable in this sense (although
it may be important for Darwinian biology).
A shadow of doubt is cast on the formerly widely accepted view
that scientific knowledge is free of value, and that it is society
(or the government, etc.) who is in charge of decisions involving
ethical or moral consequences. Apart from other obstacles, this
division of responsibilities is impossible if the public is not
scientifically prepared to give an opinion on scientific matters.
This book aims to overcome this situation concerning cloning.
Probably many will be glad to take advantage of all this background
information on this issue.
© 2002 Arantza Etxeberria
Arantza Etxeberria, Ph.D.,
Dept. of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque
Country, San Sebastian, Spain.