Arthur Caplan reports on a closed-door meeting at the Vatican, where Church leadership made it clear it will continue to throw its ethical might and even its money into the debate about where to get stem cells and how best to study them.
The left ventricular assist device that will keep blood pumping through Dick Cheney’s veins for the rest of his life would not have been invented if not for government-funded R&D at the National Institutes of Health.
The FDA’s myopic focus on early-stage testing and lack of emphasis on phase four human clinical trials has led to many safety-related drug recalls in recent years, meriting a reexamination of our regulatory system.
Recent investigations into performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports has driven debate over the substances in the public square. But when making decisions about steroids, one size does not fit all, and there’s more to consider than just “did he or didn’t he?”
A team at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, Oregon has succeeded in cloning twenty macaque monkey embryos. The techniques they used to achieve this monumental breakthrough in cloning work should also work for making human embryos. Could this breakthrough pave the way to a new source for embryonic stem cells?
News has broken that a team at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton, Oregon has succeeded in cloning twenty macaque monkey embryos. The techniques they used to achieve this monumental breakthrough in cloning work—the same as were used in making Dolly the sheep, but with fewer toxic chemicals—should also work for making human embryos.
But no one who is in a position to actually try to apply to humans what the Oregon scientists did with monkeys has any interest in using cloning to reproduce or mass produce people. While the Oregon research team did make monkey embryos, they could not get a viable pregnancy from any of them. This means that cloning to create adults is still very hard to do and certainly very dangerous to try.
The real goal of this work is to see if human embryos can be cloned using the Oregon technique—not to implant the cloned embryos into wombs, but to try and then manipulate them in lab dishes to see if they can provide viable sources of embryonic stem cells.
Up until now the fight about the ethics and funding of embryonic stem cell research has presupposed either making human embryos using sperm and egg or using already existing embryos left over, unclaimed and unwanted, at in vitro fertilization clinics. Cloned embryos would be a better source.
Why? Because if you make a cloned embryo by putting DNA from your own skin or other body cell into an egg, then you can make embryos whose stem cells can be used to repair diseases and injuries that may afflict you without fear of them being rejected by your body’s immune system as foreign tissue. This would let people use their own cells as repair kits to make stem cells that could then be used to repair damaged hearts, severed spinal cords, or worn out parts of the brain that result in Parkinsonism.
Some will argue that none of this research should be permitted in humans. Won’t cloning human embryos make it too tempting to use them for reproduction as well as research? And isn’t it murder, some will say, to clone human embryos to then destroy them by harvesting stem cells from them?
With proper legislation—such as that enacted in Britain and a handful of other countries—which prohibits putting cloned human embryos into a woman’s body, then this will be just as effective a prohibition on reproductive cloning as prohibiting the creation of cloned human embryos. While in principle the case against cloning ourselves is less persuasive then many think, it is still far too dangerous to try at present. Without proof that reproductive cloning works safely in monkeys, a ban on reproductive cloning of humans makes good ethical sense.
It is true that the creation of stem cells means destroying a cloned embryo. But a cloned embryo in a lab dish has no ability or potentiality to develop into a person. It is at best a potential, possible person—not an actual one. Since it is already known that nearly all cloned embryos are so miswired that very few are capable of becoming a healthy adult organisms, they are actually the moral entity of choice when it comes to embryonic stem cell research. Those who argue for more research to develop disabled embryos as alternatives to using human embryos could hardly do better than cloned human embryos.
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