The British scientist whose work cloning frogs in the 1950s led to the replication of Dolly the sheep in 1996 is now predicting human clones are very possible within the next 50 years.
John Gurdon, this year’s Nobel Prize winner for medicine, told a BBC Radio program that when he was conducting his research on frogs, he had forecast the successful replication of a mammal within 50 years, and that “maybe the same answer is appropriate” for the jump to copying humans.
Gurdon explained, “When my first frog experiments were done, an eminent American reporter came down and said, ‘How long will it be before these things can be done in mammals or humans?’
“I said: ‘Well, it could be anywhere between 10 years and 100 years – how about 50 years? It turned out that wasn’t far off the mark as far as Dolly was concerned. Maybe the same answer is appropriate.”
The scientist likened creating a human clone to the formation of an identical twin, and experts would merely be “copying what nature has already produced.”
“I take the view that anything you can do to relieve suffering or improve human health will usually be widely accepted by the public – that is to say if cloning actually turned out to be solving some problems and was useful to people, I think it would be accepted.”
Gurdon admitted, though, that it may take some time to warm people up to the notion of replicating human beings.
“I think they might not at the moment, because, you see, in-vitro fertilization has a very bad press at first, and now it’s hardly anyone would say they object to it in principle. It’s obviously beneficial. So I think the history is that when something is really useful – does good for humans – people usually support it, almost everybody as far as I know. I can’t think of an example where there is a really useful procedure which is objected to by people on purely ethical grounds even though it benefits human health.”
Gurdon is a Cambridge University scientist who gives public speeches about his work, often asking those in attendance if it’s acceptable for parents whose child is killed and they can’t have any others, to create a new baby using the mother’s eggs and skin cells from the first child, presuming the procedure is safe.
“The average vote on that is 60 percent in favor,” he said.
“The reasons for ‘no’ are usually that the new child would feel they were some sort of a replacement for something and not valued in their own right. So there are kind of psychological reservations.”
The BBC interviewer, Jim al-Khalili, interjected, “I think it may be a bit more serious than just a psychological sort of blot because the relationship we have with our children is pivotal to the way our society, our culture runs.”
Gurdon responded: “But if the mother and father, if relevant, want to follow that route, why should you or I stop them?”