By Richard M. Doerflinger
March 28, 2003
When the U.S. House of Representatives was debating a ban on human cloning in February, Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) – prime sponsor of the bill and a medical doctor – made a startling statement. Replying to those who would allow cloning of human embryos to use their embryonic stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes, Dr. Weldon pointed out that there are no studies even in animals showing a success from such "therapeutic cloning."
The ban on cloning passed the House, and now is before the U.S. Senate. But Dr. Weldon's comment sparked a vociferous reaction from several scientists who support cloning human embryos for research. One of them, Dr. Paul Berg, called Weldon's comment "asinine"; another, Dr. Robert Lanza, questioned the validity of his medical degree. Both said there were numerous studies showing the benefits of "therapeutic" cloning.
But none of the studies they cited do any such thing. Some studies dealt with embryonic stem cells, but none of those used cloning. And one study did involve cloning – but that one didn't use embryonic stem cells.
(For details see the web site of the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, http://www.stemcellresearch.org/pr/pr20030310.htm.)
Actually just two studies, in all of medical literature, show "therapeutic" benefits from cloning. One, published in Nature Biotechnology last July, involved efforts to supply new kidney tissue to cows. But it required taking the cloned cow embryos to the fetal stage and aborting them for their stem cells. The authors (including Dr. Lanza) said: "Because cloned cells were derived from early-stage fetuses, this approach is not an example of therapeutic cloning and would not be undertaken in humans."
The other study appeared in the journal Cell last April. This time, researchers found they had to use cloning and genetic engineering to produce a newborn mouse and harvest its adult stem cells to treat the original mouse's immune deficiency.
So are these scientists admitting that their claims for "therapeutic cloning" were oversold? Not at all. They're broadening their agenda, so cloned humans can be developed past the embryonic stage for use as organ farms. In at least eight states this year, scientists and biotechnology companies are promoting legislation to advance "research involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells, and human adult stem cells from any source, including somatic cell nuclear transplantation."
"Somatic cell nuclear transplantation" is the cloning procedure that created Dolly the sheep. Embryonic germ cells are obtained from fetal humans around eight weeks old. And adult stem cells are, of course, obtained from born humans. So what does this language mean?
It means the cloning debate is not just about embryos anymore. It means the groups who swore last year that they oppose "reproductive" cloning (putting cloned embryos in women's wombs) now favor it, to get better stem cells for "therapeutic" cloning.
Now we are debating whether a laboratory procedure should be used to produce an entire class of human beings whose only destiny (at every stage of development) is to be exploited for cells that others may find useful. Our policymakers need to wake up and smell the coffee, before we all wake up in Brave New World and wonder how we got there.
Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.