Why Shoukhrat Mitalipov opposes human reproductive cloning

Shoukhrat MitalipovPeople have been confused about human cloning issues in the last few weeks on a number of levels.

The confusion has come along with the excitement, concern, and increased interest in cloning lately since the lab of Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov reported a few weeks back in Cell the astonishing feat of successful human embryonic stem cell cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a watershed moment for the stem cell field.

One area that people seemed confused about is just who is in favor of human cloning and specifically which kind of cloning (recall that there are two kinds, “reproductive” as in Star Wars kind of cloning and “therapeutic cloning” where you just make embryonic stem cells–I have a nifty diagram here that shows the difference).

I have to say that an Oregonian article (in which I was also quoted) has added a bit to the confusion.

The passage in question in the article by reporter Nick Budnick that got people scratching their heads was this one (where “he” refers to Dr. Mitalipov):

He hasn’t figured out his own take on human cloning, but medical need should trump all.

A number of people have contacted me after reading it wondering what my thoughts were on one particular point: is Dr. Mitalipov really undecided on human cloning in general?

My gut feeling was that the newspaper article may have gotten this point wrong so I contacted Dr. Mitalipov.

He kindly cleared up the matter for us with the quote below that he said I could post on the blog (note that “him” here refers to the Oregonian reporter, Nick):

“Of course, I am interested to study the potential of SCNT for generating patient specific ESCs. 

But I told him that I am opposed to reproductive cloning! The main reason is that reproductive cloning in animals has been associated with high embryonic and fetal losses. Thus, it would be unethical to apply this technology to humans. Nick then asked what if the cloning technology will be improved to the accepted IVF levels. My response was that I am not aware of any medical reasons for patients/parents that would justify reproductive cloning. I said I would leave that to decide to the society and particularly to potential patients. “
I want to thank Dr. Mitalipov for this clarification and for explaining why he is opposed to reproductive human cloning.