In Brief

Cloning monkeys: the ethical dilemma behind the miracle

Identical macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born eight and six weeks ago in Chinese lab

Chinese researchers have cloned two monkeys using the same method that birthed Dolly the sheep - a technique that raises moral and ethical questions about the possibility of cloning humans.

Chinese researchers employed the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technique to create two identical long-tailed macaques, who have been called Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, born eight and six weeks ago respectively, according to the journal Cell. Since Dolly was created in an Edinburgh lab in 1996, scientists have cloned almost two dozen kinds of mammals, including dogs and cats using this method - and have also created human embryos

The Chinese team, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience, in Shanghai, hope to produce genetically uniform animals to research human diseases.

But some critics “view it as a major step towards the creation of tailor-made humans”, Sky News reports. They warn that the possibility of cloning humans comes with its own set of complex set of ethical, moral and legal dilemmas.

Chinese researchers have tried, but so far failed, to produce healthy babies from adult cells. Michigan State University scientist Jose Cibelli told US media that continued attempts could be considered “criminal”, because the number of failed pregnancies would cause pain and potential medical problems for surrogates.

However, as the procedure becomes more efficient, society could face other ethical dilemmas.

Marcy Darnovsky, of California’s Center for Genetics and Society, told the Associated Press (AP) that it would be unethical to subject a cloned child to “the psychological and emotional risks of living under the shadow of its genetic predecessor”, reports The New York Times.

But supporters insist there may be benefits to cloning humans.

The strongest argument would be to allow grieving parents to produce a genetic duplicate of a dead child, Henry Greely, a Stanford University law professor, told AP. Greely doubts whether that would be reason enough to get the procedure approved, however, at least for “decades and decades”.

The cloning of the two macaques has not only triggered a debate about human cloning, but has also reignited the debate about animal cruelty.

“Cloning is a horror show: a waste of lives, time and money - and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of animal rights group Peta, in a statement yesterday. “Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90%, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”

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