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Book Review - Cloning
by Michael Ruse and Aryne Sheppard (editors)
Prometheus, 2000
Review by Arantza Etxeberria, Ph.D.
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 an opinion.

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.