Fertility Specialists back warnings on human reproductive cloning

14th August 2003
Human reproductive cloning is not ethically or practically acceptable according to the British Fertility Society1. The Society has spoken out in support of an article in the current edition of Human Fertility that highlights the scientific hazards of cloning.

Writing in the current edition of the journal Human Fertility, Dr Lorraine Young (Nottingham University) highlights some of the practical problems and uncertainties which would surround the cloning of humans2. She says that there are 3 main areas of concern:

Cloning (or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer) has now been achieved in sheep, cow, mouse, cat, rabbit, goat and pig, prompting the discussion of whether this technique should now be used in humans, for example to treat infertile couples. Dr Young points out that in all species so far studied, the numbers of pregnant females producing live babies is very low (usually 2-10%, exceptionally 20%). This means that many women would have to endure a huge miscarriage rate before a single cloned human baby is born. The reasons for death during pregnancy are not known, but are likely related to severe malformations of the fetus.

Birth defects
While cloned offspring have been born that appear normal at and soon after birth, many have also been born with very severe defects. The incidence and appearance of these defective offspring is entirely unpredictable and there are no appropriate screening methods available for use at present.

Long-term health
The oldest SCNT cloned animal was Dolly, who at six years at her death was no-where near her natural lifespan. Cloned mice develop problems such as obesity in old age. Before cloned people are considered, the long-term health implications of cloning need to be much more carefully studied. Treating infertility with a cloned offspring who faces an uncertain future is not a responsible parental choice.

Dr Young says “There are of course serious ethical concerns over whether or not reproductive cloning should be considered at all, but even if these were overcome there are practical problems which would stop responsible scientists from pressing ahead. There are too many unknowns, and this kind of experimenting on children is not acceptable.

Professor Alison Murdoch, Chair of the British Fertility Society, said “British Fertility Society members would support the conclusions which Lorraine Young has reached. We want to work within an accepted ethical framework, and as a Society we don’t support this type of cloning. Dr Young’s conclusions show that it’s not only morally questionable to try to clone a human, it’s also practically unacceptable.

1The British Fertility Society is a national multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine.
2Human Fertility Volume 6 No 2 pp 59-63