Embryo splitting caught in cloning controversy
Technique could raise odds for infertile couples
From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland
ATLANTA (CNN) -- For infertile couples, in vitro
fertilization (IVF), where egg and sperm are joined in a
laboratory, may provide their only chance to have a baby. But
the technique is still a roll of the dice.
"IVF is not as successful as we would like it," says Michael
Tucker of the Reproductive Biology Association. "On average,
only one in five or one in six of all the embryos that we
generate in the IVF lab has the potential to go to full-term
delivery as a baby."
There is a way to perhaps double those odds. But this
technique -- called embryo splitting -- isn't being used
because of all the recent hubbub over cloning.
Embryo splitting is just what its name suggests. A new,
identical embryo is split off from the original embryo made
in the IVF lab. Essentially, it is the same procedure that
happens naturally in producing identical twins.
Fertility labs across the United States have considered using
the technique, which is perfectly legal. But most have backed
off, in large part due to the backlash over Dolly, the cloned
The revelation of her existence sparked a controversy over
the potential for human cloning. However, some researchers
don't consider embryo splitting to be cloning in its commonly
"It's a matter of semantics, because you are creating an
identical twin," says Dr. Hilton Kort of Reproductive
Biology. "Cloning is creating a replica of a person or an
animal. This is creating what happens in nature every single
"The population should be aware that we have our own sets of
clones out there, and that this isn't so sinister when you're
talking about working in a laboratory to intentionally create
a second or third embryo," says Dr. Mark Sauer of Columbia
Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.
Kort and Sauer say embryo splitting doesn't present an
ethical dilemma, as long as it's not abused.
"If you're creating a second individual or second embryo for
spare parts or for storage for future use, that's a different
issue," says Sauer. "But most of those kind of abuses would
have to be very intentionally orchestrated and could easily
"We need to be sure this is a safe procedure -- medically,
ethically, in every single way," says Kort.
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