Human embryo cloning criticised from many fronts

Posted: Jan 31, 2002 12:00 AM
At a press conference in Washington last week, National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson laid out what is at stake in what he calls "the most significant pro-life issue to face Congress during the immediate future": whether "human embryo farms will be permitted to start up in the United States."

But human cloning is not just a pro-life issue, either. Judy Norsigian, the self-described radical feminist co-author of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," is one of many liberals arm-in-arm these days with people such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Richard Doerflinger. "I had a little joke with them," Ms. Norsigian told a reporter. "I said, 'You know, this may be the only issue on the face of the Earth we ever agree on.'"

Last spring, the United Methodist Church, a pro-choice mainline protestant denomination, voted to oppose cloning because, as Assistant General Secretary Jaydee Hanson testified to Congress last spring, "the prevalent principle in research that what can be done should be done is insufficient rationale and should not be the prevalent principle guiding the development of new technologies."

The debate has intensified since a Massachusetts biotech firm announced it had cloned several human embryos who died in the earliest stages of life. Last summer, by a whopping 103-vote margin, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban human cloning. By equally whopping margins, the American people solidly agree. When asked last June, "Should scientists be allowed to use human cloning to create a supply of human embryos to be destroyed in medical research?" 86 percent of Americans polled by International Communications Research said no.

The people protesting the effect of money on politics in the wake of the Enron scandal ought to look at the political club that well-funded corporations are wielding to turn back anti-cloning legislation. The embryo farming lobby (sometimes misidentified as the biotech lobby) wants Congress to approve so-called therapeutic cloning, in a bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and backed by Democratic heavyweights such as Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Ted Kennedy. The "moderate" Feinstein cloning bill would actually, as Doug Johnson explains, "impose an unprecedented federal mandate that a certain class of human individuals must be killed, with severe penalties for noncompliance." If any wayward researcher, having cloned a human being, actually tried to allow that human being to live in a woman's womb, "the government would intervene to ensure that every human embryo dies." Pro-cloning and pro-death, too!

Advocates of the Feinstein bill have tried to portray human cloning as a necessity, a kind of magic potion that will cure all sorts of diseases. But the truth is that scientists do not even know if embryonic stem cells will be the most useful kind. We can get stem cells from a variety of sources, including a new type of promising stem cells, "multipotent adult progenitor cells" from adult bone marrow. Dr. Catherine Verfaillie and her colleagues at the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota have used the marrow cells to give rise to cells of bone, cartilage, fat and skeletal muscle, and to cells that resemble nerve and liver cells, according to a review of the research published in the Jan. 26 issue of New Scientist magazine.

Adult stem cells like these are at least equally likely to hold the key to new miracle cures. The time and money spent on human embryo cloning may well be a blind, as well as evil, alley, delaying the cure while killing the cloned human being. If we bar one evil door, human creativity will open a hundred other paths.