Stem Cells: A Response to Ron Reagan-Part 2
|By: ATRI Research Staff; ©2004|
|Therapeutic cloning is touted as a safe and ethical source for embryonic stem cells. But is it? This article takes a look at the science and the ethical issues surrounding therapeutic cloning.|
A Closer Look at Therapeutic Cloning
Before we go into some of the medical and ethical issues concerning stem cell research, we need to take a closer look at one controversial source of embryonic stem cells: therapeutic cloning.
If you recall, in Ron Reagan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, he said:
- Now, imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A hit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell’s nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue rejection….
- By the way, no fetal tissue is involved in this process. No fetuses are created, none destroyed. This all happens in the laboratory at the cellular level.
What is Therapeutic Cloning?
As we said in Part 1, Reagan is describing a technique knows as “therapeutic cloning.” It may also be called CRNT [cell replacement through nuclear transfer] or SCNT [somatic cell nuclear transfer] depending on the exact technique used, or where the procedure takes place.
How does therapeutic cloning differ from reproductive cloning? Apparently, the difference lies in the intended result. The Human Genome Project says this:
- Reproductive Cloning
- Reproductive cloning is a technology used to generate an animal that has the same nuclear DNA as another currently or previously existing animal. Dolly was created by reproductive cloning technology. In a process called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT), scientists transfer genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell to an egg whose nucleus, and thus its genetic material, has been removed. The reconstructed egg containing the DNA from a donor cell must be treated with chemicals or electric current in order to stimulate cell division. Once the cloned embryo reaches a suitable stage, it is transferred to the uterus of a female host where it continues to develop until birth.
- Therapeutic Cloning
- Therapeutic cloning, also called “embryo cloning,” is the production of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease. Stem cells are important to biomedical researchers because they can be used to generate virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Stem cells are extracted from the egg after it has divided for 5 days. The egg at this stage of development is called a blastocyst. The extraction process destroys the embryo, which raises a variety of ethical concerns.
We will address some of the ethical concerns shortly. Before we do, there’s an important point in there that you need to grasp. Dolly, the sheep, was cloned using the “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT) technique. Cells from an adult sheep were combined with a sheep egg to produce her. That means that adult human cells combined with human eggs create a human embryo, one that could, given the chance, result in a live birth of a human being. This is not a “potential” human; this is not a microscopic bit of protoplasm; it’s a human embryo, the earliest stage in the life of a human being.
But, as we read on the National Public Radio website in a section called “Cloning: Frequently Asked Questions”:
- The phrase cloning means different things to different people. A clone is a genetic copy of another organism. What cloning has come to mean to most people is to produce a baby animal that will become an exact duplicate of a single adult animal. That process is called “reproductive cloning.”
- But to scientists and ethicists, cloning also has another meaning: the creation of an embryo—from the genetic material of a single organism—that will never be allowed to develop beyond a clump of cells, and will never be implanted into a woman. This is considered “non-reproductive” or “therapeutic” cloning.
Does Cloning create a Human Embryo?
It would seem that no one is denying that cloning, regardless of the method, results in the formation of an embryo. Once again, the Human Genome Project says, “Therapeutic cloning, also called ‘embryo cloning,’ is the production of human embryos for use in research. The goal of this process is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to harvest stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease.”
A National Right to Life Committee Fact Sheet has this quote: “As documented in the American Medical News, February 23, 1998, University of Colorado human embryologist Jonathan Van Blerkom expressed disbelief that some deny that human cloning produces an embryo, commenting: ‘If it’s not an embryo, what is it?’”
Ethical Concerns with Cloning
If we admit—as scientists and doctors do—that cloning creates a human embryo, we must then ask the question, is it ethical to create human beings for the sole purpose of destroying them? The December 27, 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association admits, “CRNT [cell replacement through nuclear transfer, a.k.a. therapeutic cloning] requires the deliberate creation and disaggregation of a human embryo.”
Dr. David Hess, chairman of the Medical College of Georgia’s neurology department, describes the process of stem-cell harvesting from cloned embryos, then gets to the point of the issue—the ethical questions we must answer:
- Therapeutic cloning, also called “nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells,” involves removing the nucleus from an egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from an adult cell.
- This nuclear-transplanted cell with the genetic material from one parent is then allowed to divide until it forms a few hundred cells, an early embryo stage called a blastocyst.
- Stem cells are harvested from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, but this always involves the destruction of the embryo. The crux of the issue is what human status you accord this blastocyst.
- Many believe that life begins at conception, that the early embryo is endowed with a soul, that it is the image of God. Others, including some in the scientific and biotechnology community, maintain that this cloned embryo is just a clump of cells, “a thing” to be harvested and exploited.
- For most, it is a great moral leap to simply dismiss this cloned embryo as an object. Since this cloned embryo has the same potential for life as a “two-parent” embryo derived from in vitro fertilization clinics, it is morally difficult to distinguish between the two and hard to justify a protection of one and a blatant disregard for the other.
- Unlike “leftover” embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics, which were created with the intention to give life, these cloned embryos are created only to be destroyed, created as products to be strip-mined for their stem cells. In the world of biotechnology, they become mere commodities.
- But if there is any possibility that embryos could be persons then we have a duty to protect them from experiments that would destroy them.
We have already explained, in Part 1, why embryos must be considered human life. There is no logical point, other than conception, for life to begin. From fertilization (regardless of the method) to birth, only time and incubation are necessary for the growth and development of the baby. There is no point along that time line that the “blastocyst,” “embryo,” “fetus,” or whatever name is attached is anything other than human.
Clouding the Issue
So, how do people like Ron Reagan, Christopher Reeve and others get away with saying that “no fetuses are created, none destroyed” during these procedures? It appears that we must first engage in a redefinition of terms. Apparently, as long as there is no intention on the part of the scientist of allowing the fertilized egg to develop to the point of birth (or even to the fetal stage, approximately 9 weeks post fertilization), then we aren’t dealing with “human embryos” or “potential humans”:
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation website has this enlightening Q&A:
- From the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR)
- 1. Whether you call it “therapeutic cloning” or “somatic cell nuclear transfer” or “nuclear transplantation,” it is still cloning—isn’t it?
- Scientists do many kinds of cloning every day, most of which is commonly accepted. Cloning has allowed scientists to develop powerful new drugs and to produce insulin and useful bacteria in the lab. It also allows researchers to track the origins of biological weapons, catch criminals, and free innocent people.
There’s a world of difference between reproductive cloning—something that should be banned right away—and therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning offers great promise for curing deadly and terrible diseases. Therapeutic cloning saves lives; it doesn’t create lives.
- 2. What exactly is therapeutic cloning?
- Better described as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), therapeutic cloning is the transplanting of a patient’s DNA into an unfertilized egg in order to grow stem cells that could cure devastating diseases. The promise of SCNT is that the patient’s body would accept these cells after transplantation.
- 3. What exactly is reproductive cloning?
- Reproductive cloning is the use of cloning technology to create a child. It entails taking a fertilized egg and implanting it into a woman’s uterus.
- There is virtual unanimity that reproductive cloning should be banned because it is unsafe and unethical.
So, you see, according to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the same procedure a.) is fine as long as the human embryos are destroyed and used for advancing science; but b.) should be banned if the intention is to allow the human embryo to continue developing to birth! As long as the human embryo isn’t “implanted into a woman’s uterus” and allowed to develop up to the live birth of the baby, it’s fair game.
Or consider this quote from the Ayn Rand Institute:
- Consider first therapeutic cloning, which opponents perversely condemn as “antilife.” Senator Sam Brownback, who has sponsored a Congressional ban on all cloning, says therapeutic cloning is “creating human life to destroy [it].” President Bush calls it “growing human beings for spare body parts.”
- In fact, therapeutic cloning is a highly pro-life technology, [!] since cloned embryos can be used to extract medically potent embryonic stem cells. A cloned embryo is created by inserting the nucleus of a human body cell into a denucleated egg, which is then induced to divide until it reaches the embryo stage. These embryos are not human beings, but microscopic bits of protoplasm the width of a human hair. They have the potential to grow into human beings, but actual human beings are the ones dying for lack of this technology.
It would seem that, although this human embryo could, given the chance, continue to the point of the live birth of a baby, we must kill it, because “actual” (!) — as opposed to what?—humans are dying!? This is hardly a “highly pro-life technology” for the baby!
And finally, Reuters News Agency gives us the word from a scientist, explaining why he must be allowed to continue his research:
- LONDON (Reuters)—The head of a scientific team that has applied for Europe’s first license to create human embryos for stem cell research said they were not trying clone babies but to help millions of people with diabetes.
- “My biggest worry is that people will not understand what we are trying to do,” said Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic, of the University of Newcastle in northern England.
- “My intention is to remove these fears—we don’t want to clone human beings,” he told Reuters in an interview. …
- “We don’t want to do reproductive cloning. We want to use cloned embryos to derive stem cells which have no possibility of developing into a baby,” Stojkovic said.
And in that he is correct: These “stem cells” have no possibility of developing into a baby. Because the human embryo from which they are “harvested” is killed in the process.
He’s right in something else too. What if people don’t understand what he is trying to do? Just go back and read this article. Substitute the word “baby” for every occurrence of “embryo” “blastocyst” and “microscopic bits of protoplasm.” Perhaps then you will understand what Stojkovic and the others are trying to do: blind us to the fact that therapeutic cloning creates a living human embryo (read “baby”) that is destroyed in the name of scientific research.
- 1 Ron Reagan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, http://www.newsday.com/news/politics/dnc/nyreagan-speech%2C0%2C6776940.story?coll=ny-top-span-headlines.
- It should be noted that reproductive cloning is fraught with problems, and has as yet not proven successful in human beings (some recent claims have not been substantiated). Even in animal experiments, at best 1-2% of cloned embryos survive. An article from the American Medical Association notes, “Animal cloning is extremely inefficient. For every 100 experiments only 1, 2 or if lucky, perhaps 3 appear to produce a viable offspring. Even then it’s survival beyond the perinatal period is unlikely. There is no solution to this quagmire in the foreseeable future. And thus there is no reason to believe that any different outcomes will occur if and when human cloning begins. ‘Will society be forced to observe oversized babies (often referred to as ”large offspring syndrome”), placental malfunction leading to embryonic death, severe respiratory and circulatory problems, immune dysfunction, or kidney/brain malformation, leading to later death before it is understood that these are the results that will occur from human cloning experimentation?’” (“Why We Should Not Clone Humans,” http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/4560.html)
- NPR, “Cloning Frequently Asked Questions,” http://www.npr.org/news/specials/cloning/faq_blanknav.html
- http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml, emphasis added.
- Robert P. Lanza, Arthur L. Caplan, Lee M. Silver, Jose B. Cibelli, Michael D. West, Ronald M. Green; “The ethical validity of using nuclear transfer in human transplantation”; The Journal of the American Medical Association 284, 3175-3179; Dec 27, 2000.
- David Hess, M.D., “Therapeutic Cloning Ignores Fate of Embryos”. Emphasis added.
- Dr. Phil Jones, “Therapeutic Cloning and Stem Cells,” CMF [Christian Medical Fellowship] Files, #12 (2001). Dr. Jones is a medical researcher in Oxford, England.
- Alex Epstien, “Cloning is Moral,”
- Patricia Reaney, “Scientist Defends Therapeutic Cloning,”