Photo/IllutrationIn this Jan. 22 file photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua sit in a lab at the non-human primate research facility of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. (Xinhua via AP)

When Dolly the cloned sheep was born in Britain in 1997, the news sent mega-shockwaves around the world. It not only stunned scientists, but also perturbed politicians and religious leaders profoundly. They surmised that further advances in this field of research would eventually lead to human cloning.

The Vatican issued a statement to the effect that humans have a right to be born naturally, not in a science lab and demanded that human cloning be banned.

Following European and U.S. examples, Japan also banned it by law.

Two decades after Dolly the sheep, we now have two cloned monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. Their birth was announced in a scientific journal by a team of Chinese researchers, one of whom also told a British newspaper that this was part of their medical research, and that the cloning technique could, in principle, be applied to humans.

This is certainly huge news. But I cannot help feeling that its impact is much less than when Dolly was born. Perhaps we have since become inured to the role of science in human life. For instance, in-vitro fertilization is quite common now, and the creation of "designer babies" by gene manipulation has become a subject of debate.

Your clone is like your identical twin who is much younger. Some people find it highly doubtful that anyone would really want their own clone, and I share their skepticism.

However, it disturbs me that it was China that succeeded in cloning the two monkeys. China is a country that applies its own standards to what it does. The question now for the international community is where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not.

The scientist who created Dolly recalled in his book about a phone call from parents who had just lost their child and asked if it would be possible to bring the child back to life.

At that time, it was still impossible, the scientist replied.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.