This is really an amazing event. In terms of biotechnology, it may not be the Moon landing (that would be an actual cloned human being walking around) but it's at least Sputnik, and maybe Yuri Gagarin.
1. In the most literal, scientific sense, I think this is human cloning indeed. However, in a less formal sense, I don't think the world will use the term "human cloning" until a cloned baby is born. Make no mistake; that will happen someday, maybe within my lifetime. It will make headlines around the world, and the people who do it will be famous (or infamous) in history books for a very long time. I can remember when news of the first human in vitro
fertilization which resulted in a baby hit the world like a shockwave. We've had "test tube babies" since 1978, and the world seems to be more or less comfortable with them.
2. Personally, I do not see a moral problem with this procedure. Here is what happens (from your first article):
To produce a clone, scientists slip the genetic material from a patient's cell into an unfertilized egg from another person whose genetic material has been removed. The genes from the patient's cell take over, directing the egg to divide and develop into an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient, rather than the egg donor. About five days later, when the cloned embryo contains about 100 cells, stem cells appear, looking like a ball of cells encased in a sphere.
In my opinion, an embryo with about 100 cells, although it is certainly living, is not yet at a developmental state where it is worthy of ethical consideration. Of course, this gets us tangled up in the eternal debate about abortion. I can only restate my own opinion. Although the embryo, in the very early stages of development, is certainly alive, and is "human" in the adjectival sense (as any collection of human cells is "human"), it is not yet a "human being" in the ethical sense. Therefore, abortion in the very early stages of pregnancy can be ethically acceptable, but abortion in the very late stages of pregnancy can only be ethically acceptable when there is no other way to save the life of the mother.
3. Based on what I said above, I see no reason to ban it. What should be regulated would be any attempt to allow the embyro to develop to a stage where it could be considered a human being worthy of ethical consideration. (Creation of a cloned baby, for example.) The reason for such regulation would be the fact that experience with other species has shown that cloned animals often have genetic defects, at least at this stage of biotechnology. Here's a typical news story about this from some years ago:Genetic defects found in cloned animals
Scientists have found further evidence that cloned animals tend to harbor genetic defects that will disrupt their development and lead to abnormalities, strengthening the rational that reproductive cloning of humans should be banned.
I would pretty much agree with this, but I would add the words "until this problem is solved" at the end of the sentence. If the creation of human clones were safe, I would not have an ethical problem with it, although it seems like a foolish waste of resources. Despite all the nightmares depicted in science fiction, a clone would just be a human being. There is no shortage of human beings. The only reason I have seen suggested for creating cloned babies -- infertility which cannot be treated in any other way -- seems insufficient a rationale to me. (I have to admit that I do not share with most other people the desire to biologically reproduce myself, so perhaps I am lacking in empathy for those who cannot produce a child in any other way.) I would not ban such a procedure, but I would advise against it, and would not suggest that public funds (or insurance funds, for that matter), be allowed to pay for it.
4. Funding by the US Government for the very limited
form of human cloning of this type would be acceptable, just like any other kind of public health research. Given the current culture of the United States, however, it seems very unlikely to me that this will happen in the near future. Again, from your article:
Seven states ban cloning for any reason and 11 have laws that prevent embryonic stem cell research . . .the federal government will not pay for the creation of new stem cell lines.