FORBES | Twenty-five years ago, the scientific breakthrough of mammalian cloning marked a monumental moment in medicine and science. Anticipating the collision it would have with ethical decision making in medicine, I, the only physician-scientist in the U.S. Senate at the time, journeyed to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to personally visit Sir Ian Wilmut at his research lab at the Roslin Institute.
Professor Wilmut just months before in 1996 had cloned a sheep from an adult somatic cell, shocking the world. This was the first successful attempt of its kind. All over the world people were wondering: would we be cloning a human being next? We talked science, we talked ethics, and we talked about his creation’s potential impact on altering the course of human history. I also met and examined the cloned sheep, Dolly, in her stall.
Dolly, named after Tennessee’s own Dolly Parton, was a Finnish Dorset sheep cloned from a single, adult mammary gland cell. Her creation, birth, and short life were scientific feats that immediately sparked global concern and discourse on the increasingly complex moral and ethical dilemmas posed by a sudden discovery of life-manipulating science.
Wilmut and colleagues published their achievement in February 1997, having kept Dolly secret for seven months. We, as a society, were quickly forced to answer difficult, probing questions. A few months later on the Senate floor, I borrowed a question that the Washington Post editorial board had posed a few years before: “Is there a line that should not be crossed even for scientific or other gain, and if so where is it?”