Cloning--especially the question of human cloning--is one of the most contentious issues in modern society, involving questions of ethics, religion, science and technology. There are two types of cloning: therapeutic, which involves cloning embryos and extracting stem cells, and reproductive, the creation of a human life form. Much conflict centres on therapeutic cloning, while most scientists and much of the public regard reproductive cloning as unethical. Cloning raises not only moral and ethical issues, but also political and economic ones.
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Therapeutic cloning relates to the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cells hold great potential for medical advances that could lead to cures for such diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Tay-Sachs. Many religious conservatives oppose stem cell research because it involves destruction of embryos. For many conservatives, destruction of embryos is similar to abortion, in that both, in their view, involve destroying life. Therapeutic cloning has the potential to become even more contentious an issue in American politics than abortion, as it could lead to the creation of embryos solely for the purpose of extracting stem cells for transplant into patients.
If embryonic stem cells live up to their promise, leading to advances in the understanding and treatment of many diseases, biotechnology and pharmaceutical interests would likely have a huge demand for such cells. This could create an economic market for embryonic cells, leading to so-called embryo farms, in which embryos are cloned for the purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells to be used to produce new treatments and therapies for a range of diseases. In such a market, cloning would likely be necessary to meet the demand for stem cells. This raises again the ethical issue of creating human embryos that will be destroyed later. Because extracting the stem cells involves destroying embryos, a future in which facilities produce embryos for use by biotechnology firms will further arouse opposition from opponents of abortion and stem cell research.
The "Slippery Slope" Debate
Opponents of stem cell research view therapeutic cloning as a the first step in a slippery slope, leading to scientists cloning human life forms and carrying them to term. Although therapeutic cloning creates many political divisions, there is greater consensus on the question of reproductive cloning. Conservative organisations and many scientific interests are united in opposition to reproductive human cloning, regarding it as unethical, in part because of the potential risks for the well-being of the cloned life form.
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