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Stop the cloning madness

NO! THIS is the answer that the review board at Harvard and Provost Steven Hyman must give to Harvard scientists who now want a go-ahead for human therapeutic cloning. They must say "No!" to meet their responsibility of ensuring that research does not cause undue harm to human subjects, is ethical, and is scientifically sound. Human therapeutic cloning fails all three tests.

First, there is no credible scientific debate on whether human embryos are alive and human. The important debate is over whether human embryos should be killed for the gain of others. Second, given the unresolved debate about whether this research is ethical, no reviewing body could, in good faith, approve it. Finally, the research is unsound, making the destruction of human lives even more tragic. The research is unsound because it is well-established that cloned cells contain genetic defects. The Harvard scientists suggest no choice but to accept these defects and hope for the best. Well, their response is not good enough for a public that hopes so desperately for timely new therapies for incurable diseases. Their response is not good enough when there are better approaches that do not require destruction of human embryos.Adult stem cell research is predicted to beat the pants off human therapeutic cloning research when it comes to yielding significant advances in cell medicine. And adult stem cells provide better approaches. These cells that naturally function in the regeneration and repair of adult tissues pose no ethical concerns. Some stem cell biologists at Harvard, who have disparaged adult stem cells, neglect to inform the public that therapeutic cloning strategies must address the same problems that they ascribe to adult stem cells, as well as difficulties that are unique to human embryonic stem cells. I call on Harvard's institutional review board to listen carefully to what its scientists are saying and to what they are not saying. Why do scientists who promote therapeutic cloning decry reproductive cloning? These stem cell biologists, who would kill a human embryo without a second thought only to turn it into a tube of genetically defective cells, sit piously at microphones in Senate hearings and denounce reproductive cloning which has the goal of human birth.

Why is it reprehensible to even entertain the idea of reproductive cloning? Public discussion on this question has been oddly scarce.

Let's be honest. We got over the idea of in vitro fertilization soon enough. And IVF has the same feature of prospective parents choosing to have offspring with their own genes instead of adopting the potentially defective ones of others. So, although reproductive cloning might be the extreme of conceit and selfishness, IVF is certainly part of the same spectrum. What is the moral problem with reproductive cloning? Forget about the potential to exploit cloned individuals. Cloned children will be no worse off than IVF offspring except in one respect. They are likely to have genetic defects, just like therapeutic clones. So why are scientists at Harvard pushing therapeutic cloning? Simply put, they do so to support their desire to make and probe human embryos. If they could do this without harming their human subjects, then maybe it could be allowed. But they kill them.My message is not that we should embark on reproductive cloning. My message is that the same scientists who have glibly told us that we should not consider a new way of creating human life are now destroying human life daily. What madness is this? They have gotten this far by pushing their argument that destroying human embryos for therapeutic cloning is an alternative to "horrid reproductive cloning," which has potential to be life-giving! The debate may rage on for years about whether the lives of human embryos matter. But one thing is for sure. The road that the Harvard institutional review board now peers down will change all of us, in a tragic way, if they make us go down it. I am hopeful that, despite the political and social pressures they surely face, they will measure up to their responsibility and protect all human life from undue harm and wasted use, no matter how insignificant it may seem to some.

They can stop this madness today.

Dr. James L. Sherley is an associate professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

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