September 22, 2011 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

If and when reproductive cloning becomes a reality, there will be plenty of takers. Many families would greatly benefit if cloning could eventually become an additional highly effective strategy for assisted reproduction.

Reproductive cloning would be useful for couples in which one or both partners are infertile. A significant proportion of women in the United States have difficulty becoming pregnant — at present approximately 8% of women in the U.S. have had an infertility-related medical office visit.1 Of course infertility affects men, too. More than 2 million American men have been diagnosed with infertility.

At present the primary assisted reproductive technology for infertility is in vitro fertilization (IVF). Eggs are fertilized in a petri dish and allowed to develop for several days. One or more embryos are selected and placed in the mother’s uterus. Gestation will proceed if implantation is successful. Eggs and/or sperm may be obtained from the prospective parents or may be donated. Alternatively, an existing embryo may be donated if both partners are incapable of producing viable gametes.

Obtaining eggs for IVF is not a benign procedure. A cycle of hyperovulation is induced during which the woman takes a series of drugs and hormones. These medications cause the ovaries to swell significantly and result in the maturation of many eggs at one time. Side effects may be merely uncomfortable or cause significant distress and possibly even death. If the IVF process does not result in a viable pregnancy, the woman may choose to undergo additional cycles of ovarian stimulation. One IVF procedure costs approximately $15,000 to $25,000.

An immediate benefit of reproductive cloning is that one cycle of hyperovulation and egg retrieval would be sufficient. It might even be possible to undergo egg retrieval without ovarian stimulation. In this case only one or two eggs would be obtained, representing the yield of a normal ovarian cycle.

The availability of reproductive cloning would completely change the landscape of assisted reproduction. Prospective parents, one or both of whom is infertile, would no longer need to depend on donated gametes to achieve a pregnancy. As long as one of the parents could produce a viable egg, the partner would serve as the cloning source — the DNA donor. Reproductive cloning would allow parents to have children to whom they are both genetically related, avoiding the necessity of obtaining donated DNA from a friend or even an anonymous source.

Reproductive cloning would also be of great benefit for same-sex couples, as well as for those prospective parents who are at risk for transmitting a genetic disease. At present the greatest obstacles to successful human cloning are the moral and ethical pitfalls of human experimentation. These are formidable hurdles.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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