Ever since embryonic stem cells were first extracted from human embryos in 1998, biotechnologists, abetted by a compliant media, have promised they would soon lead to miraculous medical cures for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
First, we were told, all that would be needed were stem cell lines extracted from “surplus” embryos “left over” from in vitro fertilization procedures, a procedure that destroys the embryo. Then, when fears were raised about auto-immune tissue rejection, we were told that what we really need is so-called “therapeutic cloning.”
(Proponents insist this be distinguished from “reproductive cloning,” cloning from which a baby would be brought to term and delivered. But both use an identical technique. The only difference is that laws promoting “therapeutic cloning” mandate that the new human life be destroyed.)
The premise of this dubious argument: because the DNA of the cloned embryo and patient will be almost identical, once biotechnologists learn to make cloned embryos of patients, the clones can be destroyed for their cells and tissues for use in medical treatments without worrying about rejection.
What hokum. There is a myriad of practical and ethical obstacles that almost surely make “therapeutic cloning” a pipe dream.
Scientists haven’t yet been able to successfully clone a human embryo to the one-week stage where stem cells would be sufficiently developed for extraction. Moreover, it is completely unsafe at this time to use embryonic stem cells derived from any source in human subjects because they tend to cause tumors.
More importantly—and this is the great story that the Establishment Media insists on all but ignoring—adult stem cells and other non-embryonic tissue therapies continue to advance toward human use at a breathtaking pace. Indeed, not only have the animal studies been remarkable, but human patients have also already been treated successfully with their own stem cells in medical trials.
Consider this very partial list of adult and other non-embryonic stem cell success stories that you probably didn’t read in your local newspaper:
- Brain function in five human patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease was partially restored using a natural body chemical known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). One year after the infusion of GDNF, all patients had clinical improvement of motor function and the ability to perform activities of daily living.
- In another Parkinson’s case, a patient treated with his own brain stem cells appears to have experienced a substantial remission with no adverse side effects. Dennis Turner was expected by this time to require a wheelchair and extensive medication. Instead, he has substantially reduced his medication and rarely reports any noticeable symptoms of his Parkinson’s. Human trials in this technique are due to begin soon.
- It now appears that cells taken from a patient’s own bone marrow or blood are able to restore cardiac function. In Michigan, sixteen-year-old Dimitri Bonnville, who was shot through the heart with a nail and suffered a heart attack, has experienced marked improvement in his heart’s ability to pump blood after being treated with his own blood stem cells. (This was such big news that even the New York Times covered it.) Meanwhile, in Brazil, four out of five heart transplant candidates treated with their own bone marrow stem cells are reported to no longer need new hearts.
- Harvard Medical School researchers reversed juvenile onset diabetes (type-1) in mice using “precursor cells” taken from spleens of healthy mice and injecting them into diabetic animals. The cells transformed into pancreatic islet cells. The technique will begin human trials as soon as sufficient funding is made available.
- Severed spinal cords in rats were regenerated using gene therapy to prevent the growth of scar tissue that inhibits nerve regeneration. The rats recovered the ability to walk within weeks of receiving the treatments. The next step will be to try the technique with monkeys. If that succeeds, human trials would follow. This is tremendous news that cannot come close to being matched by “therapeutic cloning” experiments in animals. A new era appears to be dawning in which our own cells will be the sources of very potent medicine. Rather than having to choose between morality and the wonders of regenerative medicine, it increasingly looks like we can have both, since with adult stem cells no human lives are taken nor are humans created and exploited as mere “products.”
“Clone and Kill”
To fully understand the moral stakes involved, we need to take a closer look at what “therapeutic cloning” would actually entail. The process would involve creating a cloned embryo of a patient in need of medical treatment using the somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning technique [SCNT], the same one used to create Dolly the cloned sheep.
Here’s how the process would work in theory, if I were the patient to receive therapeutic cloning. First, the nucleus from a woman’s egg would be removed. Biotechnologists would then extract “somatic cells” from my body, for example, skin cells. (All cells in the body are known as somatic cells, except for “germ cells” from testes in males and ovaries in females.)
Next, the nucleus from one of my skin cells would be removed and inserted into the empty space in the egg where its nucleus once was located. This would result in an egg having the full human complement of 46 chromosomes rather than the usual (functionally) 23. This means that the 23 chromosomes contributed to a new life by sperm would not be needed.
The genetically modified egg would then be stimulated with an electrical current. If the cloning procedure worked, a new human life would commence that would, in essence, be my identical embryonic twin. From the point of its “inception” (my term), the cloned embryo would develop identically to a natural embryo. And, just like a natural human embryo that I had fathered would not be “me,” neither would the cloned embryo made from my DNA. Indeed, just like his natural counterpart (being made from my DNA, the cloned embryo would be male), the cloned embryo would be a unique, individual, self-contained human life.
But rather than being created to be born, cloned embryos created for “therapeutic cloning” would be made for the purpose of being killed and their body parts harvested. Hence, “clone and kill,” as this cloning is more accurately described, would be utterly immoral.
Many members of Congress, supported by President Bush, have attempted to outlaw all human SCNT, whether for use in reproduction or therapeutic cloning.
Toward this end, the House of Representatives twice passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fl.) in lopsided bi-partisan votes. President George W. Bush is eager to sign the legislation into law if it ever reaches his desk.
Before that can happen, however, it must pass the United States Senate, where companion legislation introduced by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is pending.
Unfortunately, Brownback/ Landrieu is currently stalled in the United States Senate thanks to a competing phony cloning ban introduced by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.). Under Hatch/Feinstein, human SCNT would be explicitly permitted under law for use in embryonic stem cell research. To prevent cloned babies from being born, the bill would prohibit implantation of cloned embryos into a woman’s womb and further require that the cloned embryo be destroyed before the 15th day (unless frozen).
This bill is advertised as a “compromise” because it would ban “reproductive cloning.” But it would actually be a surrender. Not only would it give the formal imprimatur of the United States to cloning human life but also, for the first time in history, the law would authorize the creation of a category of humans who could only be used as objects to be experimented upon, exploited for body parts, and destroyed.
Unfortunately, because of the false promise of medical cures, Hatch-Feinstein has attracted enough support to prevent Brownback-Landrieu from achieving the level of support necessary to pass.
New Jersey Falls Off an Ethical Cliff
Meanwhile the radical depth and scope of the cloning agenda is beginning to come clearly into view at the state level. At the end of last year, New Jersey enacted pro-human cloning legislation that is one of the most despicable laws ever written. Not only was human SCNT legalized by statute in the state but also biotechnologists in New Jersey have been authorized legally to implant cloned human embryos into wombs, gestate them for up to nine months, and then destroy them for use in research.
Yes, you read it right: Senate Bill 1909/Assembly Bill 2840, which was signed enthusiastically into law by Gov. James McGreevy (D) on January 4, 2004, explicitly permits the gestation of cloned fetuses.
First, the law explicitly authorizes human SCNT. Second, unlike the Hatch/Feinstein approach, it does not prohibit the implantation of cloned embryos into wombs. This is important because if an action is not illegal, by definition, it is legal. Finally, the legislation pretends to be anti-cloning by criminalizing the “cloning of a human being,” as a “crime in the first degree.”
But this supposed limitation is meaningless. Because of the way that the term “human being” is defined in the law, the license to clone, implant, gestate, and experiment on unborn human life is virtually unlimited. Here is the key sentence:
“As used in this section, ‘cloning a human being’ means the replication of a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material [the SCNT cloning process] through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages into a new human individual.” (My emphasis.)
Read these words carefully. A crime is only committed if the cloned fetus is actually born alive and becomes a “new human individual.” Or to put it another way, New Jersey law would make a woman who gave birth to a cloned baby a felon but would not punish her gestating her baby through the ninth month. Thus, New Jersey law actually requires abortion if the unborn child is a clone.
And to prove this is not a mistake or an anomaly, when the bill appeared doomed earlier in the year, its sponsors refused to amend the bill — say by prohibiting implantation — instead opting to delay its consideration until after the November 2003 election.
Additionally, nearly identical legislation was also introduced unsuccessfully last year in Texas. One bill might be a mistake but two is a definite pattern.
Why would biotechnologists want a license to clone, gestate, kill, and harvest? A cow cloning experiment performed by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) could offer a clue.
ACT researchers implanted a cloned cow embryo using the SCNT process. The cloned embryo was implanted into a second cow’s uterus and gestated for several weeks to the point that the developing cloned fetus developed a nascent kidney. At that point, the fetus was aborted, the fetal kidney harvested, and then grafted back onto the cow that had been used to supply the DNA for the cloning procedure.
When the organ was not rejected by the animal and produced urine, the media proclaimed it a “therapeutic cloning success.” Thanks to the new law, such an experiment using a human clone would be perfectly legal in New Jersey.
It is important to reemphasize that this kind of macabre cloning experiment cannot yet be done in humans. Biotechnologists are still unable to create human cloned embryos, at least to the point where they could be implanted in a womb. In this sense, the New Jersey law has outpaced the technology, so it is not yet too late to undo the damage.
Still, the law was passed for a definite reason. Clearly, at least some in the biotechnology industry foresee a time when it will be profitable to engage in cloned human fetal vivisection.
New Jersey is a wailing warning siren. Countries the world over are beginning to confront the danger. Some have already outlawed all human SCNT, including Australia, Norway, Taiwan, South Korea, and, soon, Canada. The issue is also being debated in multinational bodies such as the European Parliament and the United Nations.
The U.S. is trying to take the lead, here. Unfortunately, the failure of the United States Congress to pass a ban on human SCNT has hampered our effectiveness.
In the meantime, legislation will be introduced in several states to outlaw all human cloning. With the biotechnology industry literally spending millions of dollars to defeat these efforts, it is urgent that all who oppose human cloning contact their federal and state legislators and insist that they want all human cloning banned.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.