Cloning

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Pending bills on cloning

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An editorial by Bill Tammeus, available with his permission. Thank you, Bill, for sharing.

Date: 03/10/02
THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Edition: METROPOLITANSection: OPINION Page: B7

A moral and ethical minefield
by: Bill Tammeus
 
  Almost no one supports reproductive cloning, or the replication of existing human beings. But some lawmakers are trying to ban 'therapeutic cloning,' which could lead to cures for disease. They should wait.  
Imagine this hopeful future: Actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, walks again. Your aging mother, lost in a fog induced by Alzheimer's disease, recognizes you again and begins to make sense.
And all over the country, people suffering from Parkinson's, diabetes or heart disease are cured.
The cost of this bright outlook? It depends on how you calculate the price of what's often called "therapeutic cloning." Some say it will cost the lives of countless human beings and would be an immoral undertaking. Others say it will cost the lives of no human beings and be a boon to humanity. Still others say it can be done at the expense of some cell clumps that only theoretically could become human beings; hence, the research is justified - as long as it's strictly controlled.
Is it possible to reconcile these views? Not anytime soon. Maybe never.
One problem is that the science of cloning has raced far ahead of public understanding. So as Congress and state legislatures (including Kansas' and Missouri's) debate bills to ban therapeutic cloning, they lack an informed public opinion. That's why legislators should sit on their hands, except to ban the morally repugnant kind of cloning designed to produce full human beings. And it's why scientists should adopt a moratorium on therapeutic cloning. Maybe in a few years, we'll see more clearly how to proceed.
What should we know to help us come to a reasonable position? First, that there are different kinds of human cloning.
Reproductive cloning aims to replicate human beings. Clones would be genetically identical to existing persons. Almost no one favors this. The reasons to be against it are myriad. It would amount to manipulative manufacturing of humans. It would make children commodities who would be burdened by unreasonable expectations. And it would create designer children for arrogant and selfish ends. It should be banned everywhere.     
Therapeutic cloning, by contrast, uses the same science as reproductive cloning, but the goal is not a new person. Rather, the idea is to extract "stem cells" from the small clump of cells after they've developed for a week or two. These stem cells, at least in theory, then can be coaxed into becoming almost any of the more than 200 types of body cells and be used to repair bodies that suffer diseases.
No one yet knows whether this procedure can work in humans. Opponents say its utility doesn't matter because the process inevitably destroys a human being (albeit in early embryonic form) and that's morally unacceptable. Besides, they say, adult stem cells may offer the same benefits as embryonic cells without the accompanying moral objections. Proponents say the benefits of therapeutic cloning may well be worth the costs and that there may be morally acceptable ways to produce stem cells.     
The amount researchers don't yet know about stem cells and therapeutic cloning is vast. That's because pluripotent stem cells - those that can become almost any other kind of cell - weren't even isolated in a lab until 1998.
Research has progressed rapidly since then, but many questions remain. Even if science is allowed to use public dollars to study these areas without restrictions, it may be years before there are medically useful results. Indeed, the promise of therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research often has been oversold.  
The list of questions, based on research with animals, is almost inexhaustible. Among them: Can we overcome tissue rejection that comes from using stem cells with a different genetic makeup from the person into whom cells are transferred? Can we eliminate the tendency of embryonic stem cells to cause tumors?
Then there are more practical issues. Some opponents suggest the process of nuclear cell transfer involved in cloning would require an impossibly high number of egg donors to yield meaningful results. We also don't know whether the economics will work. Is therapeutic cloning and stem-cell work ultimately just for the rich? And is it right to devote a lot of research money to one area at the expense of other promising fields?
There are other questions. But answers aren't simple. And even if they were, simple answers are often wrong - or at least misleading.
For instance, some people contend that at any stage in its development, the embryo produced in therapeutic cloning is a full human being deserving all the legal protections other humans enjoy. This view recently was expressed by a committee of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Australia, as that country struggles with the same issues: "  ...  if we agree that it is wrong to create cloned people, how can it be ethical to create a cloned embryo, knowing full well it must be destroyed to avoid ever growing to become a human being?"
That position seems clear. But it can be more complicated than that. For instance, in the early days of an embryo's life, it's not even clear whether the cluster of cells (called a blastocyst) will develop into a single individual or twins. There comes a time called the "primitive streak" after which twinning no longer is possible and at which the embryo takes on a more sophisticated level of organization.
If people of strong religious conviction say a two-cell embryo is a full human being with a soul, the potential for there being two human beings seems to make that less clear. When does the second soul arrive on the scene? The "primitive streak" biological marker - and what's called "quickening," when the fetus gives clear evidence of having human characteristics about 40 days after conception - occur after the time embryos are destroyed in a lab to extract stem cells. so is a 100-cell blastocyst a human being in any meaningful sense? And should everyone be bound by the religious views of some?
Society must face these and other questions. Before informed public opinion forms on such issues, it's premature for lawmakers to make therapeutic cloning a crime. The science is young. New developments change it quickly.
In just the last year, for instance, scientists have used a procedure called "parthenogenesis" to create embryos that have no possibility of being implanted into a womb to become human. The processhas produced primate embryos without fertilization. If parthenogenesis produced cell clumps from human material, would they be fully human even if they never could grow into a baby?
And if you answer no, what do you do with the argument from Donald Bruce, director of the Society, Religion and Technology Project for the Church of Scotland? Bruce says parthenogenesis "irredeemably" compromises the embryo and creates even more ethical problems.
Similarly, a researcher at the University of Minnesota recently reported she has extracted an adult stem cell that may be as versatile as embryonic stem cells. If so, would therapeutic cloning be needed?
There's enough consensus now to ban reproductive cloning and allow promising research into adult stem cells to continue. But it's too soon to make therapeutic cloning illegal. Rather, it's time to pause and let public opinion catch up with the science so we can be sure the road ahead leads to creative, life-affirming results, not to a devaluation of human life.

 
- Bill Tammeus  is a member of The Star's Editorial Board. His essay column appears on Saturdays. To reach him, call (816) 234-4437 or send e-mail to tammeus@kcstar.com.

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Pending bills on cloning 

·        The U.S. House of Representatives last year passed a bill (HR 2505) that would ban both reproductive and therapeutic cloning.

·        An identical bill (S 1899), sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, now is being considered in the Senate.

·        Competing Senate legislation (S 1758), sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, would prohibit reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning.

·        So would similar legislation (S 1893) sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, and Sen. Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania.

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EXTRA CLONING

This legislation is on the congressional Web site, http://thomas.loc.gov/
In Kansas, House Bill 2736 would ban both types of cloning. More information about this is at the state's legislative Web site, http://www.kslegislature.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi.

Two bills in the Missouri legislature would forbid both types of cloning. They are HB 1449 and HB 1028. More information about each bill is available at www.house.state.mo.us. the cloning issue on the Web.
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TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CLONING:

www.nih.gov/news/stemcell    . The National Institutes of Health site contains a primer on stem cells as well as other information, including a glossary.

www.sciam.com/explorations/2001/112401ezzell/how.html. The Scientific American magazine site shows how therapeutic cloning is done.

www.advancedcell.com. Site of Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., a company that announced last year it had conducted experiments to clone human embryos.

www.nationalacademies.org. The National Academies provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter. Search on "cloning" to find a January 2002 National Academy of Science report urging that reproductive - but not therapeutic - cloning be banned.

www.stemcellresearch.org. Site of "Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics," an organization opposed to therapeutic cloning.

www.all.org/abac. American Bioethics Advisory Commission, a division of the American Life League, contains material by scholars and ethicists opposed to embryonic stem-cell research. Many foreign countries are wrestling with cloning, too. Britain, for instance, recently adopted rules that would allow therapeutic cloning. An easy way to find helpful Web sites is to do a search on the term "therapeutic cloning" on www.google.com.  

Bill Tammeus, Editorial page columnist The Kansas City Star 1729 Grand Blvd. Kansas City Mo. 64108

816-234-4437

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…who once wrote:“The FAA says the drop in airline passenger travel will continue another year. No surprise. Most travelers refuse to fly again until their luggage returns.”

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For more Tammeus, visit http://www.kansascity.com and click on Opinion.

For information on my new book, now out, visit the University of Missouri Press site at http://www.system.missouri.edu/upress/fall2001/tammeus.htm

For a good time, also visit the National Society of Newspaper Columnists at http://www.columnists.com

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