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Cloning's Future

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With the birth of cloned mice in Hawaii and cloned cows soon to be born in Japan, the art of carbon copying adult mammals is developing rapidly. Many wonder if humans will be next.

No need to panic. Cloning scientists are right when they reassure us that this prospect is remote. They have only begun to enter this forbidding scientific wilderness. The unknowns loom larger than the small knowledge they, so far, have gained.

But scientists who urge us to put aside "groundless fears" while they pursue their way uninhibited are misguided. Just because a new research technology generates important scientific knowledge does not justify exploiting that technology in unwise ways. Where potential for abuse exists, society should debate - and, if necessary, guide - the direction such research takes.

That's no excuse for mindless hype or ill-considered research bans. Humans have cloned other species for millennia. Every gardener who transplants cuttings is a cloner. More recently, zoologists have learned to divide embryos to produce multiple births. That kind of cloning now is standard animal husbandry.

What's different about the new work is the use of genetic material from adult mammals to make carbon copies of the original. Researchers say they know nothing that, in principle, would prevent using this technique on humans, however distant that possibility might be. We - scientists, government officials, legislators, people generally - need to start thinking about that possibility now.

How far should humanity go in the direction of human cloning? Scientists who want to be left alone should remember that their work can affect the entire race.

Many scientists agree that copying full-grown humans would be unacceptable. How about using the cloning process to supply someone with a new heart or other organ? Researchers predict they will be able to rechannel the embryo's normal development to grow such a bodily part. But such technology would raise challenging questions. Does an embryo clone have rights? If so, does the medical benefit to the donor outweigh the right of the embryo to fulfill its human potential?

And perhaps more important, is man made in his own image, materially, or, as the Bible tells us, in the image and likeness of God, spiritual?