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Western Press Review: Hello, (Cloned) Dolly!

  • Don Hill



Prague, 26 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The advent in Roslin, Scotland, of Dolly -- the world's first cloned adult mammal -- has excited widespread press commentary. Some commentators view with alarm, others with fascination. Some trot out a non-professorial sense of humor.

For instance, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" reported that the embryologist who created Dolly named the sheep after the U.S. entertainer, Dolly Parton, because the animal "has particularly large udders for copious milk production."

WASHINGTON POST: A certain amount of awe is in order

The paper says today in an editorial: "If an early consensus can be said to have emerged in the reactions to Dolly the cloned sheep, it's that Dolly's existence and the success of the technique that made her are signals of some profound alteration in the human condition. This may of course be so, and, whether it is or not, a certain amount of awe is in order at the breaking of so long-standing and symbolic a scientific barrier as the replication of genetic identity. But it's far from obvious that the loss of that barrier must inevitably take us to a place where the issues are unreachable by the tools of morality and common sense. And this will be true even if researchers quickly solve the large number of unanswered technical questions that separate Dolly's cloning from the feared science fiction scenarios of human mass production, slave factories and carbon-copied armies."

Today's "New York Times" carries a pair of commentaries by specialists in bioethics: Daniel J. Kevles, who directs the Program in Science, Ethics and Public Policy at the California Institute of Technology; and Daniel Callahan, an author on bioethics issues and a founder of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research group.

NEW YORK TIMES: Callahan--Cloning humans would be a threat to our identity

Callahan quotes Dr. Ian Wilmut, the Scottish embryologist who cloned Dolly, as saying of the prospect of cloning a human: "There is no reason in principle why you couldn't do it, (but) all of us would find that offensive."

Callahan goes on: "I'm not so certain about that. Surely in the far future a scientist or two will try to clone humans, out of curiosity or a hope for some medical advance. Even more certain, some prospective parent will think this is the perfect way to create a child." He writes: " These impulses should be resisted, if not by law, at least by a countervailing social pressure. The message must be simple and decisive: The human species doesn't need cloning. And given the nature of parenthood and the nature of human identity, it will not benefit from it."

Cloning humans, Callahan says, "would be a profound threat to what might be called the right to our own identity. True, we are not just our genes; environment, history and cultural context matter. That's why no two people, not even identical twins, are exactly the same." He writes: "Still, engineering someone's entire genetic makeup would compromise his or her right to a unique identity."

NEW YORK TIMES: Kevles--Outlaw human cloning and it will go offshore

Kevles writes: "Scientists long have speculated about manipulating genes to produce new Einsteins, Heifetzes and Hemingways. Now impresarios can dream of cloning Kareem Abdul Jabar and raising their own Dream Team. The fantasies are endless, but they are just fantasies. People are the products not only of their genes but of their environments. Today an Einstein clone might grow up to be Steven Spielberg. Anyway, no one knows what genes contribute to the qualities we most admire and value, whether virtuosity of the pen, the pitch or the piccolo."

He says: "For now, cloning should rightly be confined to animals. But as the technology evolves to invite human experimentation, it would be better to watch and regulate rather than prohibit. Outlaw the exploration of human cloning and it will surely go offshore, only to turn into bootleg science that will find its way back to our borders simply because people want it." Kevles concludes: "As with so many previous advances in biology, today's affront to the gods may be tomorrow's highly regarded -- and highly demanded -- agent of self-gratification or health."

NEW YORK TIMES: Reproductive technologies are advancing faster than our understanding

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "The startling news that scientists have cloned an adult sheep, producing a younger, genetically identical twin of the original, is a reminder that reproductive technologies are advancing far faster than our understanding of their ethical and social implications." The Times said: "The possibility of making carbon copies of humans is no longer quite so far-fetched."

The editorial contended: "The most troubling issues involve the potential for cloning adult humans. Nightmares envisioned in literature and popular entertainment have ranged from cloning dozens of Hitlers to cloning hordes of drones to perform menial work." It concluded: "Like most technologies, cloning is bound to have both virtues and vices. But before these advances get too far ahead of us, society will need to sort through what is acceptable and what is the nightmare beyond."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The cloning could reignite Europe's periodic outcry against genetic engineering

Ralph T. King Jr. and Gautan Naik wrote in an analysis yesterday: "The last big excitement in (Roslin, Scotland), the pastoral birthplace of the world's first cloned sheep, came six years ago, when animal-rights activists burned down part of two laboratories where the pioneering research was under way." The writers said: "European biotech firms also must contend with a hostile public. It's possible that the sheep-cloning development could reignite Europe's periodic outcry against genetic engineering."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The potential human benefits of the research could be considerable

In an analysis in yesterday's edition, William D. Montalbano wrote: "Dolly the sheep, history's first cloned adult mammal, takes after her mom and grazes in pampered comfort on a research farm here."

He said: "As the next century dawns, Dolly's barnyard friends could include leaner chickens with hardier eggs and stronger legs, sheep and cows whose milk beats human diseases and pigs whose hearts and kidneys can be transplanted to humans. Ian Wilmut (discussed) the difficult mechanics of cloning Dolly by fusing a mammary gland cell from one adult ewe with the unfertilized egg of another ewe who became the surrogate mother. He talked about the potential human medical benefits of his research, which he sees as considerable, and its ethical implications -- nothing immediate but bears watching."

Montalbano quotes Ron James, general manager of PPL Therapeutics, the bio-tech company that shares the one-story institute's campus-like setting about half an hour from Edinburgh, as saying: "'Ethically, we would be wrong not to do research that would benefit mankind because it could be misused."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We are what we are

And in today's edition, sportswriter Rob Hughes extends the discussion to its ridiculous extreme. He writes: "What a week for the dreamer. It could be a short stride from the first cloned adult mammal to the reproduction of humans." Hughes says: "Sporting prowess (so far has) proved far too complex for scientific theory. I'm glad about that. Glad that sports retains its human diversity and its mystery. Unscientific it may be, but long may we continue to enjoy the memories of (inimitable sports heroes of the past) without knowing if there is a common genetic factor to their art. We are what we are."

MANNHEIMER MORGEN: The cloned sheep is a warning

The German paper says today in an editorial that Dolly is not only the further development of a gene-altered tomato, but the cloned sheep is also a warning. The newspaper says, if such experiments ever should involve human beings, mankind will be downgraded to numbers in a well-sorted spare parts department. The paper concludes that this is a frightening perspective and a serious reason to watch scientists very carefully.
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