Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Given the moral and ethical issues raised by the prospect of human cloning, President Bill Clinton issued a directive banning the use of federal funds for research into the cloning of human beings and referred the issue to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission for study.

Summary of Event

In July, 1996, the first successfully cloned mammal, a sheep called Dolly, Dolly (cloned sheep) was created by scientists through the method of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Somatic cell nuclear transfer Immediately, interest in using the method to replicate human beings intensified among scientists and researchers around the world. President Bill Clinton moved quickly to stem the rush toward such experimentation in the United States by proposing the Cloning Prohibition Act, which would ban human cloning for a period of five years. The intent was to give the scientific community and others time to evaluate the implications of such experimentation. Cloning;human National Bioethics Advisory Commission [kw]Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning (Mar. 4, 1997) [kw]Federal Support for Human Cloning, Clinton Rejects (Mar. 4, 1997) [kw]Human Cloning, Clinton Rejects Federal Support for (Mar. 4, 1997) [kw]Cloning, Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human (Mar. 4, 1997) Cloning;human National Bioethics Advisory Commission [g]North America;Mar. 4, 1997: Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning[09650] [g]United States;Mar. 4, 1997: Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning[09650] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 4, 1997: Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning[09650] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Mar. 4, 1997: Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning[09650] [c]Science and technology;Mar. 4, 1997: Clinton Rejects Federal Support for Human Cloning[09650] Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;cloning Frist, Bill Kennedy, Ted Seed, Richard

Scientists had been experimenting with cloning for many years before the amazing creation of Dolly. The potential benefits of such research were many; they included the possibility of producing replacement skin, cartilage, bone, and nerve tissues to treat people with burn, accident, and spinal cord injuries. Cloning had already increased agricultural production and led to advances in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and other medical disorders. The exciting possibilities of SCNT stimulated considerable interest in the scientific community.

However, when human cloning appeared to become a distinct possibility after the successful experiment that resulted in Dolly, enough opponents denounced such interference with the “natural order” of things that President Clinton believed the issue was too troubling to ignore. He moved to ban the use of federal funds for such research until the government, along with scientists and other interested parties, could consider the issue of human cloning from all standpoints, including the ethical and moral implications. Saying that any discovery touching on human creation is a matter of morality and spirituality as well as scientific inquiry, he turned the matter over to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) for study. President Clinton had created the NBAC in 1995 to give advice and recommendations to government entities on bioethical issues and clinical applications. The commission was composed of law professors, doctors, psychologists, and other scientists.

In May, 1997, the NBAC reported on its findings concerning cloning. It noted that although the cloning of a sheep was an impressive breakthrough, 277 failed attempts had preceded the creation of Dolly, a healthy cloned sheep. The cloning of a human being would be far more complicated and risky. There was no way of knowing, for example, whether a cloned baby would have chromosomes that matched the donor’s in terms of age. In other words, it was unknown whether a cloned human would age more rapidly than normal, to match the age of the donor, or whether he or she would be quickly afflicted with heart disease or some other debilitating, age-related disease.

The NBAC thus recommended continuing the moratorium on human cloning, although it noted that it did not wish to interfere with other scientific research. It suggested that cloning experiments aimed at creating specific tissues—such as muscle, nerve, and skin—should probably be allowed. The commission stated that both privately funded and federally funded sectors of the scientific community should abide by the ban on human cloning until such time as all aspects of the debate could be examined and understood.

The decision to ban human cloning became the subject of debate among politicians, scientists, and religious leaders, many of whom believed the cloning of a human being to be the “ultimate blasphemy.” Some scientists in the private sector felt hamstrung by the ban and even threatened to leave the United States to pursue their work in more welcoming countries. Richard Seed, a Chicago physicist and longtime proponent of alternative methods of procreation, vowed to clone a human before a federal law could be passed to prohibit it. Seed, one of the first to perform a successful transplant of a human embryo from one healthy female to a surrogate, had been practicing the technique of embryo transfer since the early 1980’s on prize cows. He believed that cloning humans would be the next step in helping infertile couples to have children, and he calculated that about 15 percent of women who could not conceive by alternative methods would be willing to try human cloning.

Members of the U.S. Congress were largely supportive of the ban on human cloning. Several senators, including Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, sponsored a bill to prohibit “implanting the nucleus of a cell of a body other than the eggs or sperm . . . into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed” (the SCNT technique). Frist, who was himself a surgeon, believed this bill would not interfere with ongoing in vitro and embryo research, and would thus allow scientists and researchers to continue to do cloning research that did not involve human cloning.

Ian Wilmut, who cloned an adult sheep named Dolly, in his laboratory. The Scottish scientist believes that it would be inhumane to experiment with cloning humans.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Others members of Congress, however, opposed the ban on human cloning, believing that many Americans suffering from fatal diseases might benefit from cloning research. Democratic senator Ted Kennedy was one who proposed legislation that would allow cloning experimentation to create muscle, skin, and nerve tissue that could contribute to the study, treatment, and possible cure of certain diseases. Similar to what President Clinton proposed, this legislation would allow the cloning of molecules, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), cells, tissue, and animals, just not humans.

Early in 1998, many countries throughout the world—including Sweden, Finland, France, Greece, and Italy—signed an agreement to prohibit any kind of technique that would attempt to create a human being identical to another human being, living or dead. The United Kingdom, however, declared itself “open” to the new cloning technology and did not sign on to the international agreement.


The creation of Dolly the sheep through cloning opened up debate concerning the vast possibilities of cloning technology. Scientists noted the promise of cloning for medical research, in the search for cures for diseases and infertility, while the idea that scientists might soon be able to replicate the DNA and genetic makeup of a person raised many questions about the moral and ethical ramifications of doing so. Images of a modern Frankenstein’s monster or of reproducing the genius of an Albert Einstein or a William Shakespeare undoubtedly occurred to many, as did concerns about the actual consequences of such an undertaking.

Debates on human cloning continued into the twenty-first century, and in the United States, the two sides remained entrenched in their positions. Many American scientists moved abroad to continue experimentation for which U.S. federal funding was denied, and others found private funding to allow them to continue their work. Cloning;human National Bioethics Advisory Commission

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andrews, Lori B. The Clone Age: Adventures in the New World of Reproductive Technology. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Discusses the wide-ranging concerns regarding genetic manipulation and some of the possible results of human cloning, including legal issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoge, Warren. “U.S. Drops Effort for Treaty Banning Cloning.” The New York Times, November 20, 2004. Relates how, after trying to convince other members of the United Nations to ban human cloning worldwide, the United States gave up when the members could not agree whether to limit therapeutic and reproductive cloning or ban it outright.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kolata, Gina. Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead. New York: William Morrow, 1998. A science journalist provides a clearly written history of cloning as well as discussion of the implications of the technique for humankind.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pence, Gregory E. Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning? Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. Offers explanations of arguments both for and against human cloning and examines the philosophical issues involved, which are similar to those offered for and against in vitro fertilization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stolberg, Sheryl G. “House Backs Ban on Human Cloning for Any Objective.” The New York Times, August 1, 2001. Discusses the human cloning ban, which made no distinction between reproductive and therapeutic research, and notes the religious and moral issues that obstructed the medical considerations.

Berg, Gilbert, and Sanger Develop Techniques for Genetic Engineering

Willadsen Clones the First Farm Animal by Nuclear Transfer

Genetically Engineered Food Reaches Supermarkets

Wilmut Clones the First Large Mammal from an Adult Cell

First Embryonic Stem Cell Line Is Derived

Completion of the Sequencing of the Human Genome Is Announced

Categories: History