by Richard M. Doerflinger
April 26, 2002
Working around the clock, dedicated professionals have developed a way to advance medical progress and change the way we all view human life.
A technical term for this breakthrough is "lying."
Proponents of human cloning have used evasions and euphemisms since the question of banning this practice arose in Congress. Now that the U.S. Senate is poised for a final vote, they have brought out the big guns: Hollywood glitz and outright deception.
These are featured in a new television ad, aired during the primetime show "West Wing" on April 24. It features the homey characters "Harry and Louise," stars of the political ads used to kill the Clinton health care plan. But this time, H & L are out to promote a culture of death.
Talking in their kitchen, the characters express outrage that the Brownback/Landrieu cloning bill "puts scientists in jail for working to cure our niece's diabetes." They name other diseases whose cures would be outlawed: "Cure cancer, go to jail," is the way Harry sums it up. And when Harry asks whether the practice at stake is "cloning," Louise answers: "Nooo... uses an unfertilized egg and a skin cell." As the ad ends they are writing to Congress against the bill.
Let's start with that last point. As anyone knows who has read about Dolly the cloned sheep, "an unfertilized egg and a skin cell" is exactly what is used to do cloning. The procedure used to create Dolly is called by scientists "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT) — and while some want to use it to make human embryos who would be born alive, others want to make cloned human embryos to kill them for their stem cells. The Brownback/Landrieu bill would ban use of this SCNT procedure to make human embryos for either purpose.
The TV ad is sponsored by Hollywood bigwigs and others calling themselves CuresNow. The group's own action alert warns that the Brownback/Landrieu bill "would ban all cloning including SCNT." So they know their ad is lying when it says the bill is not about cloning.
What about that niece with diabetes? Well, she better not count on a cure from embryo cloning. After more than twenty years working with mouse embryonic stem cells, all researchers can show from their diabetes research is dead mice. Animal trials using adult stem cells, however, have reversed diabetes in mice. New Harvard research shows that mice's own adult pancreatic stem cells can bounce back and reverse diabetes, once the autoimmune defect that makes the body kill off its own insulin-producing cells is repaired. And about two dozen diabetes patients in Canada and the U.S. have thrown away their insulin needles, thanks to progress in using adult islet cells to supply the needed insulin. None of these advances poses a moral problem.
As for cancer, the chief connection to embryonic stem cells is that these cells have a disturbing tendency to form cancerous tumors when injected into animals. By contrast, adult stem cells have already helped hundreds of thousands of patients with leukemia and other cancers.
The ad ends with a statement from Louise that is absolutely true, but not in the way the ad wants you to think: "They can stop human cloning without stopping lifesaving research."
You bet they can. They can pass S. 1899, the Brownback/Landrieu bill, and support promising and ethically responsible research that doesn't destroy lives but saves them.
(Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)