Panel discussion focuses on ethical issues of cloning

Andrew Carter

Recent biotechnical advances, such as the cloning of the Dolly the sheep in 1997, have brought technical, ethical and legal issues surrounding technologies such as cloning into mainstream conversation.
In light of this recent conversation, the Minnesota Association for Human Genetics held a panel discussion titled, “Seeing Double: Scientific, Ethical and Legal Issues of Human Cloning.” The panel discussion, attended by 150 people at the Science Museum of Minnesota, was chaired by three University professors: Alan Hunter, Jeffrey Kahn and Susan Wolf.
Hunter, the associate dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, discussed the technical matters surrounding cloning.
“You can inject genes into the egg to make it do something than it was otherwise programmed to do,” Hunter explained.
He then went on to amaze the audience with a host of slides depicting animals which had never existed before the advent of genetic technologies, such as an animal that was a half goat and half sheep genetic piecemeal.
“You can say we’re playing God,” Hunter said. “We’re creating new species.”
Hunter also urged the audience not to leave all decisions about cloning and other technologies to a non-technical legislative body.
“There has to be something in place so people can learn in order to make the right kind of decision,” Hunter said. “Don’t be paralyzed by fear. Act by being informed.”
Kahn, the director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics, spoke about what that kind of decision would look like. He argued that society must not get incensed over media-hyped science fiction fantasies, like the idea that Ross Perot would clone himself 100 times.
“We must overcome misguided concerns so we can deal with the real ethical issues which will be facing us,” Kahn said.
Kahn also gave the audience firsthand experience with the complex ethical hair splitting that surrounds bioethical issues.
He demonstrated that the majority of the audience disagreed with using human embryos to genetically engineer such things as replacements hearts, but then pointed to new research which allowed these technologies to be created with cow embryos and asked the audience to consider if they still had ethical dilemmas.
Wolf, an associate professor of law at the University, then informed the audience how these ethical dilemmas work their way into current legislation. Wolf argued that it has not been a smooth transition.
“This area of law is a disaster. This area is a textbook on how not to make law,” Wolf said. “It’s law based on knee-jerk reaction to current media trends and a general lack of information.”