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Released September 10, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Human cloning has a ring of evil to it, due in part to its portrayal as the practice of mad scientists or diabolical conspirators in movies and television shows. But a renowned medical ethicist believes alternate forms of human reproduction can benefit mankind if further research is conducted to make the practice safer.

"There's a kind of juggernaut against reproductive has tremendous negative publicity," said Dr. Gregory Pence, a longtime member of the faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a noted authority on medical ethics. Tuesday, he presented "Who's Afraid of Human Cloning?" at the first University Forum lecture series of the fall 2003 semester at The University of Southern Mississippi.

Pence said that after 50 years of science fiction at the movies, on television and in books, "We've been conditioned to think that everything associated with cloning is bad. The doctors and scientists involved with it are always portrayed as evil, so it's no wonder we don't trust them."

The backlash against cloning and alternate human reproduction comes despite the success of reproduction of humans through test tubes, which has resulted in thousands of births for people unable to have children by normal reproduction. "The whole debate vanished (after the first test-tube birth)," he said, noting that the general response was "Hey, it's just another way to make a baby."

Pence was one of only a few bioethicists in the country to oppose President Bill Clinton's ban on human cloning. He has testified on cloning before the House of Representatives and has published articles and books on the subject, including Who's Afraid of Human Cloning? (1977) and more recently, Brave New Bioethics (2003).

Some of the moral arguments against human cloning have included opposition to the concept of creating "designer babies," free of imperfections or with desirable traits, or as a way to continue a family lineage when natural reproduction efforts have failed. "Who has the right to decide where the line (in a family) ends?" he said.

"Why accept what the roulette wheel of fate throws your way ?" he said. "We all know how cruel fate can be."

Pence also expressed his support for stem cell and embryo research as a way to find cures for diseases, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, despite the argument that their use in research is an affront to human life.

"The benefits outweigh the possible loss or disrespect for life," he said. "Potential (for life) is not the same as a baby…not every acorn becomes an oak tree."

Jill Coyle, a Southern Miss senior from Biloxi majoring in biology, said she was glad Pence discussed the moral aspect of cloning and didn't criticize those who had philosophical differences with the practice. "He just explained why he thought it (cloning) was acceptable," Coyle said.

Pence believes there is still much more research to be done on human cloning before the practice can be made safer. To do that, more work needs to be done in the field of animal cloning, he said. He cited some benefits of animal cloning, which include improved livestock, advances in medical research and the ability to save endangered species.

"That's where the action (animal cloning) is," he said, noting there is little complaint about animal cloning because of the profitability and the numerous medical awards it has received.

In the meantime, changing attitudes about human cloning is necessary before any advances in research can be achieved. "Cloning (itself) isn't evil, it's what people do with it," he said.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM