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October 3, 2011 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Reproductive cloning (RC) has the potential to provide great happiness to many people around the world. When available, this newest assisted reproductive technology (ART) will enable infertile couples to have children to whom they are genetically related. RC will also be of significant benefit to many other couples and individuals.

Those interested in reproductive cloning include many couples who do not have problems related to fertility. For example, RC opens up the possibility of having healthy children for couples who fear transmitting genetic diseases to their kids. Additionally, RC would make it possible for female same-sex couples to have children without the necessity of seeking out a sperm donor. Even single individuals could have children with the assistance of RC. A single woman could serve as both the DNA source and the egg donor. Her child would be her later-born identical twin. A single man, having secured a donor egg and the services of a surrogate mother (potentially the same woman), could provide the DNA for his own child.

Current ARTs are effective for couples concerned about transmitting genetic disorders to their children. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) addresses these issues directly. For example, a couple may want to avoid having a child with cystic fibrosis (CF). If both parents are heterozygous for CF (i.e., each parent carries one “normal” gene and one CF-related gene — each parent is a “carrier”), each of their children has a 25% chance of developing cystic fibrosis. PGD allows the couple to select an embryo who will not develop into a child who has CF. PGD, although not an infallible procedure, takes a lot of the guesswork out of the process of reproduction. Of course, such “guesswork” is a natural part of the process of sexual reproduction.

In the case of couples in whom one partner has CF and the other partner is heterozygous, sexual reproduction would result in 50% of their children (on average) having the disease. With PGD for these couples, more than one round of ovarian stimulation may be necessary. In other words, any given set of embryos might be composed of only those who have cystic fibrosis. In a scenario in which the man was heterozygous, sperm selection could choose only those sperm with a “normal” gene for the CF characteristic. In this case all the embryos produced would be carriers.

In all of these cases reproductive cloning — in conjunction with genetic recombination techniques — would make the process of having a child much easier. Individual eggs could be obtained from the mother, avoiding ovarian stimulation and hyperovulation. A cell from the father or mother, as needed, could be obtained and the CF gene(s) removed. That set of DNA would be fused with the enuculeated egg to produce a viable embryo which is CF-free.

Of course, none of this technology is available as yet. These are very early days regarding cloning research. It’s important to have wide-ranging discussions of the ethical concerns and implications of reproductive cloning well in advance of the development of the techniques themselves.

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.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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