Q&A on Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) Cloning
QUESTION: I’ve heard people say they are opposed to human cloning, but they support somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). What is the difference?
ANSWER: In simple terms, there is no difference. Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is the process used to produce a clone. There is, however, more to this issue.
Many developments in the fields of cloning and stem cell research are hard to understand, and the confusing terms don’t help. Let’s start with some explanations of these words. Somatic cells make up most of the cells in your body but do not include the reproductive cells. The term “nuclear” refers to the nucleus of the cell that is being transferred. SCNT is accomplished by taking two cells – an egg cell from a female and a somatic cell from the person or animal to be cloned. The nucleus of the egg cell is removed and discarded. The nucleus from the somatic cell is then transferred to the egg cell. The egg cell and its new nucleus are fused together with the expectation it will grow. If cell division and growth is accomplished, the clone’s life has begun.
There is another aspect worth noting. Some people use these terms to differentiate between two types of cloning called reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning results in the birth of a baby so it is sometimes referenced as “human cloning.” Therapeutic cloning is rightly called “clone and kill” because after the clone is created, it is allowed to live for only a few days until the embryonic stem cells can be harvested. When discussing therapeutic cloning, the benign term SCNT is used to avoid the imagery of baby clones being born in the process.
Regardless of terms or intent, cloning is currently a process that is very inefficient and leads to numerous deaths for a potential single “success.” Whether the cloning of animals should continue is debatable, but when talking about human cloning, we cannot justify the process in light of the Biblical principles that demand we protect human lives rather than intentionally destroying them (Exodus 20:13; Genesis 9:5,6).
(This question is specifically applicable to the topic of stem cell research because therapeutic cloning is a method that might produce the huge number of embryonic stem cells that are desired for future research.)