Scientists vs. The Public: The Cloning Controversy

In this century, we are unlikely to face biomedical issues more complex and controversial than that of human cloning coupled with embryonic stem cell research. Sorting through facts, suppositions and even fantasies is a challenging endeavor that can become bogged down in rhetoric. With the stakes so high—promises of cures and therapies for a host of devastating diseases and medical conditions set against impassioned disputes about when life begins—the cloning debate has evolved beyond the realm of scientific discourse and into the spotlight of public opinion.

Unfortunately, this intense scrutiny has resulted in the misrepresentation of facts and the twisting of scientific opinions as statements about cloning are often taken out of their appropriate context. In an attempt to counteract this damaging trend, The Science Advisory Board decided to poll its members about some of the most controversial aspects of the cloning debate. In reporting this information, a concerted effort was made to provide the background necessary to obtain a balanced scientific perspective. As an “honest broker” of the biomedical community, The Science Advisory Board is uniquely positioned to present the collective views and opinions of scientists on the fundamental questions defining cloning research: Should it be allowed? What therapeutic applications are acceptable? How should research be funded? Who should regulate the research?

To ensure that these scientists had a common language when speaking about cloning, technical terms were defined at the outset of the study. These definitions were based upon the guidance of leading biomedical and science policy organizations. For the purposes of this study, therapeutic cloning, technically referred to as Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, is the process by which a somatic cell is fused with an enucleated oocyte. The nucleus of the somatic cell provides the genetic information, while the oocyte provides the nutrients and other energy-producing materials that are necessary for development of an embryo. In contrast, reproductive cloning is intended to create a specific animal or human by the cloning of embryos.

Should It or Shouldn’t It?
The majority of scientists surveyed believe that human therapeutic cloning research should be permitted. Furthermore, 68% of the scientists state that there should never be a complete national ban on all human therapeutic cloning research. Only a small minority (less than 10%) thinks that such research should not be allowed. Of the remaining 90% of the scientists polled, they can be segregated into three points of view:

The “emphatic yes”
The scientists espousing no concerns regarding human therapeutic cloning were twice as likely to agree that this type of research should be permitted than those who believe that that human therapeutic cloning is a slippery slope to the acceptance of human reproductive cloning. This difference can be partially explained by their formative experiences. These individuals claim that their opinions on cloning were much more influenced by their education than by their ethical framework.

The “yes, but…”
In contrast, the scientists worried that human therapeutic cloning opens the door to human reproductive cloning assert that their opinions were influenced almost in equal measure by both their education and ethical framework. These individuals would be much more willing to welcome the addition of both clergy and theologians to the make-up of a bioethics review board to address issues surrounding cloning research than would scientists who expressed no concerns about human therapeutic cloning

The “undecided”
Although it appears as if the scientific community’s opinions on the legality of cloning is decisiveæeither for or againstæ30% of respondents are currently undecided because they either need more information or think the issue is too complex to commit either way. The opinions of almost half of these scientists would most likely remain unchanged even when countries other than their own legalize human therapeutic cloning research into medical treatments (e.g., South Korea, Great Britain).

In addition, these undecided scientists are unlikely to be influenced by the status quo regarding existing human embryonic stem cell lines. In fact, the vast majority of scientists do not embrace the argument that there are enough human embryonic stem cell lines already to make therapeutic cloning unnecessary.

While there is general consensus among the scientists as to the most appropriate applications of human therapeutic cloning and its regulation, there is less agreement among those polled as to whether therapeutic cloning opens the door to even more controversial research. The majority of scientists expressed a willingness to accept the use of reproductive cloning for research purposes if it does not involve human embryos, but when it comes to using the same technology for domesticated animals (i.e., pets and livestock) there is a strong aversion to it. Finally, most scientists make a stark utilitarian distinction between human embryos created by therapeutic cloning (for treating diseases) and those that might be created by reproductive cloning technology.

However, despite this inclusive attitude, scientists perceive a great divide between their own ability versus the public’s ability to fully grasp the technical details of cloning that they believe will be necessary to make informed decisions. Scientists think that the scientific community is most worried that such research would not be as carefully monitored and regulated, as it should be (i.e., process-centered). The top two concerns scientists perceive for their community regarding reproductive cloning are that there is no clear regulatory and/or monitoring authority and there are not enough research ethics protections.

In contrast, scientists assume that the public is much more concerned with the implications of reproductive cloning as interpreted through their personal moral and ethical framework (i.e. belief-centered). The top two concerns scientists perceive for the public regarding reproductive cloning is that it is against God’s will and that manipulating human life should be off limits to science.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

26 thoughts on “Scientists vs. The Public: The Cloning Controversy”

  1. “at three a child does not have a proper personality or a true sense of self” WHAT???? Are you out of your mind?! Obviously you’re not a mother and I don’t think you even have morals. Of course it wouldn’t be the same you idiot!

    This is not only about dogmas, it’s about SOULS. But I imagine you don’t know what that is after all…

  2. Firstly, imagine that you are a mother, you find out that your child will die within three years of it being born (this is after it has been born) if you had the technology, you would clone that child and it would be the same, as at three a child does not have a proper personality or a true sense of self.

    Also, you can claim nothing as ‘god’s work’ because god is a subjective human construct.
    Have a nice day you ignorant dogma stricken fool.


  3. Dude,cloning a body organ to save some ones life is cool,…but cloning a human being is GODs work!!!!

    -David laws

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