Advancements in human cloning will lead to a scary black market problem, leading scientists warn.
While it remains illegal in most countries, including the UK, scientists have reached a point where they are able to clone human embryos on a grand scale.
However, it is legal for scientists to follow certain therapeutic cloning procedures, if the sole purpose of it is to study cells.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 allows scientists to study the effects of therapeutic cloning – which is where a nucleus is taken from a cell and transferred to an egg which has also had its nucleus removed, with the new cells used as replacements for damaged or diseased tissue which could help irradiate disease in the future.
Nonetheless, as it is still not available as a common treatment, this could lead to a black market, according to Dr Charles Foster, a Fellow of Green Templeton College and a Research Associate at the University of Oxford.
He told Express.co.uk: “I expect that there will be a black market [around therapeutic cloning].
“The appropriate caution of the regulators when faced with potentially new uses of therapeutic cloning is likely to be seen by desperate patients and relatives as inappropriately restrictive.”
He adds that therapeutic cloning will eventually become commonplace, but that it could lead to great ethical dilemmas.
Theoretically, humans could have cells taken from them to create a ‘clone’ which would be used to harvest organs and thus beat disease.
Dr Foster continued: “If therapeutic cloning were used to produce individuals from whom organs or tissues could be harvested, there would be concerns about instrumentalization: the person would not have been created because she was wanted for herself, but because a particular type of tissue or organ was wanted.
“We simply don’t know what that would do to the psyche of the cloned person, or to the network of relationships that would be produced by her birth.”
He argued that this “would produce a whole new set of relationships between humans”, which no one has the knowledge to understand.
While he argues that therapeutic cloning might become common, reproductive cloning – where cells are cloned to produce a genetically identical being – will never catch on.
Dr Foster states: “I doubt that human reproductive cloning will ever be common.
“There is an almost universal visceral distaste for reproductive cloning. Although that might diminish, I doubt it will disappear.”
Scientists in China have recently announced that they will open a mass-cloning factory by the end of the year, where they will be producing livestock, and hope to be mass-producing one million cows every 12 months by 2020 for human use.
This move is likely to spread around the globe as it is a cheaper alternative to farming, and Dr Foster believes that the financial benefits will outweigh the ethics.
Dr Foster added: “I think – and fear – that [cloning of animals could become more common than natural reproduction].
“The commercial pressures to produce carefully engineered meat are strong.
“Cloned meat could therefore become cheaper than normally produced meat, and I’m not convinced that consumers will be prepared to pay the price difference for meat produced by natural reproduction.”