March 27, 1997
The Honorable William J. Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
The recent cloning of a sheep from the genetic material of an adult cell has riveted the world. Previously, researchers had reported using genetic material from animal embryos to create new organisms. But, as you observed, this latest development raises profound new issues. When two individuals are created from the same embryonic genetic material, identical twins result. We are quite familiar with identical twins in our everyday lives. However, "Dolly" raises new prospects for which we are not so adequately prepared. While our everyday lives may include identical twins of the same age, we have never experienced identical twins substantially different in age, indeed, perhaps alive during entirely different periods in history. In our everyday lives we may decide to procreate a child and wait in wonder and awe to see the unique individual he or she will turn out to be. We do not, on the other hand, have experience creating a child where part of that decision may include an evaluation of the life, health, character and accomplishments of an adult from whom we will take the genetic material that will become the child's entire genetic makeup.
These new prospects challenge some of the most fundamental concepts we hold about ourselves as social and spiritual beings. These concepts include what it means to be a parent, a brother or sister, a family. We believe that it was in response to this moral and spiritual challenge that you requested the nation's biomedical research community to agree to a voluntary moratorium on the cloning of human beings until the National Bioethics Advisory Commission can review the meaning of this scientific breakthrough. We share your desire for a reflective examination of the moral issues raised by Dolly. We support this moratorium on cloning human beings.
In the days since the announcement of Dolly, the potential benefits to be derived from cloning procedures in agricultural and laboratory animal species have been widely discussed. Cloning, the duplication of specific genes and individual types of cells -- is an essential tool in biotechnology. The techniques involved are integral to the process used to produce breakthrough medicines, diagnostics and vaccines to treat heart attacks, various cancers, kidney disease, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and other diseases. More than 100 million people worldwide have already benefited from biotechnology medicines and vaccines.
There is also valuable research into cloning human cells, organs and other tissue. This could produce replacement skin, cartilage and bone tissue for burn and accident victims. This avenue of study may produce cells for cancer therapy and result in ways to regenerate retinal or spinal cord tissue. Research is also under way to develop replacement internal organs in transgenic animals for human transplantation.
Perhaps even more important, human cells used in a subset of the cloning procedures -- that is, procedures that by themselves could not create a new human being -- could provide profound new insights into how genes control human development. These fundamental insights, in the decades ahead, will provide the basis for even greater biomedical advances in the service of humanity.
Mr. President, we are pleased to report that the Board of Directors of the Biotechnology Industry Organization fully supports your call for a moratorium on research efforts undertaken for the purpose of cloning a human being while the National Bioethics Advisory Commission considers the implications of Dolly. But we firmly believe that research involving duplication of cellular material has such enormous potential benefits for society that it should proceed without hindrance. Accordingly, we ask you to oppose, as we do, any hastily drafted laws to ban the cloning of human beings that may, however well intentioned, inadvertently also ban this valuable research.
Henri A. Termeer
Carl B. Feldbaum