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Growing a human body part – and cloning babies

Posted by , on 4 July 2012

Last week, I attended the “Growing a Human Part” talk at the Royal Institution, with talks by John Gurdon and Helen Blau. You can read the announcement on the Node, and find the summary below in my collected tweets.

The audience at the talks was quite diverse. There was a class of high school students, and many regular attendees of RI public events. Both speakers did a great job of explaining the basics of stem cell research and the state of the field of regenerative medicine.

At the end of the evening, John Gurdon had an ethical, philosophical question for the audience. Paraphrased, the question was as follows:

Suppose a six-month-old baby dies in an accident. Skin cells of the baby are saved and frozen. Assume that the parents can’t have any more children of their own, and that there are no technological barriers to human cloning. Would you be in support of the parents using the skin cells of their dead child to generate a “twin”?

You can read below (in the Storify) how the audience answered, but what do you think?

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Categories: Discussion, Events

5 thoughts on “Growing a human body part – and cloning babies”

  1. Whichever of our wishes cleave in three bases: to can, to want, and to know.
    To know, to can and to want are equals; thus, when we have done something it means we could, knew and wanted to do so. These three cases are useful, when they are coming together. Any of these three is neither the first, nor the last one; we just need to equate them, whereas we try to do anything.
    Best wishes,

  2. First of all, thanks for the scoop Eva!

    I just wanted to give my opinion with respect to Gordon´s question: Definitely, no. I suspect a psychologist would have better words to explain this but the parents are really trying to replace their lost child with (what they think is) a copy. I doubt any good will come from this, the child will probably receive psychological stress because of the parents´ expectancy and the parents will be disappointed.
    A childs death is a terrible thing and no parent should have to bury their children. However, using science to build a ¨replacement¨ is not a solution in any way.
    I believe that this is a difficult subject and I would be very interested in reading and discussing with anyone who has a different opinion.


    1. I voted ‘yes’ myself (at the talk – I didn’t vote in the poll) even though I wouldn’t actually ever think of doing it myself. The specific scenario was such that this was the only option these parents had to have a child with their genetic material, which is important to some people. If they had had other options, I wouldn’t be supportive of it. I actually think they should just *adopt* a child, but I don’t feel I can judge people on wanting to spread their genes (which seems to be what it came down to in this case), hence the “yes”.

  3. I think knowing that this was the only reproductive option for this couple isn’t an ignorable caveat in this situation. That said, I’m leaning more towards the NO camp as a general rule.

    Though I am curious. If the child was killed as a very young baby; perinatal, before s/he could have developed much of a personality, does that mitigate the expectations of the twin, you mentioned, German?

    1. Well, I don´t really know much about babies (and I plan on not knowing for a while), but I suspect that, by six months of age the baby has done SOMETHING other than eat sleep and poop (started to crawl, laugh, etc.). I would not expect the parents (especially the mother) to forget about these things and when they began. The emotional connection the couple felt had with the first child will cause them quite a bit of grief when they realize that the ¨clone¨ is not the same as the first child. It´s not only disappointment the parents would feel, I miswrote that part of my argument, perhaps it would be more on the lines of melancholy about realizing that their first child is not ¨coming back¨.

      Agreed, the fertility problem is a caveat and I would in fact expect someone to try to clone their dead child. My point is that, from a scientific perspective, I would try to persuade them not to do it. I think that´s one of the functions of scientists in society: To give an educated assessment of a situation, preferably leaving emotions out of it so as to be as objective as possible.

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