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DON'T Let The U.S. Government Ban Therapeutic Cloning

March 2002

By Saul Kent, Director, Life Extension Foundation


If The Human Cloning Prohibition Act (S.790) is passed by the U.S. Senate, it will be a crime for scientists such as Dr. Michael West to conduct therapeutic cloning research. Dr. West would face up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for pursuing a technology that could lead to cures for heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease as well as the ability to extend the healthy human life span.

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act bans all forms of human cloning as well as the importation of therapies developed from cloned human embryos. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback. It was sponsored in the House by Florida Republican Dave Weldon, where it passed on July 31, 2001 by a margin of 265-to-162, after only two hours of emotionally-charged debate.

Among the reasons given by legislators in The House for their desire to ban cloning were the following, as reported in the Washington Post.

"Anything other than a ban on human cloning would license the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in human history," said North Carolina Republican Sue Myrick.

"This House should not be giving the green light to mad scientists to tinker with the gift of life," said Oklahoma Republican J. C. Watts, Jr.

"Cloning is an unholy leap backwards because its intellectual lineage and justifications are evocative of some of the darkest hours of the 20th century," added House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

Therapeutic cloning vs. reproductive cloning

Image with Caption
Advanced Cell Technology, Inc., Worcester, MA.

Almost all U.S. legislators are opposed to cloning genetic duplicates of human beings (reproductive cloning). This opposition is echoed by the public. A USA TODAY/CNN/ Gallup poll of 1,025 adults conducted Nov. 26 and 27 found that 88% disapproved of cloning humans, whereas 54% supported cloning human embryos to create stem cells for medical treatment (therapeutic cloning), with 41% opposed to the practice. The Weldon/Brownback bill bans both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Debate on the issue in the Senate is expected to begin in February or March. President Bush has said he will sign the Human Cloning Prohibition Act if it is passed by the Senate.

While many in government want to ban therapeutic cloning, this new technology is supported by most scientists and organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, as well as by a majority of the public, because of its potential for developing breakthrough treatments for today's "incurable" diseases.

Therapeutic cloning would work in the following manner. First would be the transfer of the nucleus of a somatic cell, such as a skin cell, into an egg cell whose nucleus had been removed. Then the egg would be induced to begin dividing into an embryo carrying the identity of the donor. When the embryo reached the blastocyst stage, a ball of about 100 cells, embryonic stem cells would be harvested from its inner layer. These cells would be grown in tissue culture and then transformed into young neurons, heart cells, liver cells, pancreatic cells-perhaps even into tissues and organs-for therapeutic transplantation into the donor. Since the transplanted cells would be the same tissue type as the donor's cells, they would not be rejected by the donor, which would eliminate the dangerous side effects and need for toxic drugs required in transplantation today.

Several of these steps have already been achieved in mice. Dr. West's company (Advanced Cell Technology) recently announced they had taken the first step towards therapeutic cloning by creating cloned human embryos.[1] Although these embryos stopped dividing at the 6-cell stage, the fact that they divided at all indicates that the company is moving towards the creation of larger embryos containing stem cells. Let's take a look at the arguments used by those who would criminalize therapeutic cloning.

Should human embryos be used for medicine?

At the core of the opposition to therapeutic cloning is the contention that early-stage embryos are human beings and that it is morally wrong to use them for research and medical purposes, even if doing so will eventually save millions of lives. This doctrine is an extension of the position held by the Catholic Church (and some others) that abortion is "murder of the innocent" and "against the will of God."

The fact that therapeutic cloning requires deliberate creation of embryos for research and medicine rather than for reproduction further upsets opponents of the practice. They believe this is immoral. It is a variation of the Catholic position that sex should always be engaged in for reproductive purposes not just for pleasure, and that birth control is immoral because it interferes with the reproductive process. Here are some quotes from some of the more vocal critics of therapeutic cloning.

Syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams in the Washington Post:

image "With the ability to create life in a lab, man takes a place alongside God. Just one thing. We're not God. Plainly, exerting our will over the very creation of human life propels science well beyond our ability to reason, ethically and morally. Into this moral vacuum rushes human egotism, or the desire to exert our will over every aspect of our surroundings.

"We cannot allow such egotism to obscure the moral consequences of destroying human embryos. Scientific advancement alone is no justification for the destruction of human life. Murder is murder whether it occurs in a science lab or on the street.

"Such subtleties were lost on Nazi scientists, who routinely experimented with humans. . . In terms of moral consequences, their experiments formed this century's most frightful travesty of human dignity."

Attorney William Saunders, Jr. of the Family Research Council stated the following in testimony to Congress:

"Certainly, every cell in the human body is not a human being. . . . But once a single-cell embryo or zygote has been created, whether by sexual reproduction (the exclusive means until now) or by asexual reproduction (as with cloning), that embryo is a living, distinct, genetically complete human organism which, unless interrupted, will direct its own integral growth and development through all the stages of human life-from embryo to infant to teenager to senior."

Law Professor Robert P. George in The Wall Street Journal:

image "Modern science shows that human embryos. . .are whole, living members of the human species. . . It is not that a human embryo merely has the potential to 'become a life' or 'become a human being.' He or she. . . is already a living human being. . . . The being that is now you or me is the same being that was once an adolescent, and before that a toddler, and before that an infant, and before that a fetus, and before that an embryo. To have destroyed the being that is you or me at any of these stages would have been to destroy you or me."

What is a human being?

Opponents of therapeutic cloning insist that, once an egg has been fertilized, it should have all the rights of an adult person. That an early-stage embryo doesn't just have the potential to develop into a human being, but that it is a human being. They consider the use of a 100-cell blastocyst for medical purposes equivalent to the murder of an adult. That's why they're in favor of criminal penalties for anyone who conducts therapeutic cloning research. And that's why they would consider anyone who developed a cure for cancer with therapeutic cloning to be a criminal.

But what about their belief that a 100-cell blastocyst is a human being? Is that a valid definition of what it means to be human? The practice of abortion, where far more advanced embryos are destroyed in pregnant women, is legal in the United States. The legality of abortion is based upon the concept that the embryo/fetus doesn't have the rights of a person, even though many of them have a brain and other vital organs. With therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, we have microscopic embryos of about 100 undifferentiated cells, which haven't yet been implanted in a woman and which were not created for that purpose. Are these balls of cells human beings? Here is what some advocates of therapeutic cloning have to say about it.

Virginia Postrel, editor-at-large of Reason magazine in the Dec. 5, 2001 issue of The Wall Street Journal:

image "Most Americans don't believe we should sacrifice the lives and well being of actual people to save cells. Human identity must rest on something more compelling than the right string of proteins in a petri dish, detectable only with high-tech equipment. We will never get a moral consensus that a single cell, or a clump of 100 cells, is a human being. That definition defies moral sense, rational argument and several major religious traditions."

This view was supported by Nobel laureate David Baltimore, PhD, President of the California Institute of Technology in The New York Times:

image "Critics of stem-cell research allege that embryos… should be accorded all the protections available to a fully formed person. To me, a tiny mass of cells that has never been in a uterus is hardly a human being-even if it has the potential to become human."

Let's take a closer look at the blastocyst embryo (from which embryonic stem cells can be harvested) that opponents of therapeutic cloning consider to be a human being. None of the 100 cells in a blastocyst has yet been transformed into specialized cells. So the blastocyst embryo not only has no organs, it has none of the cells which make up organs. Its only link to a human being is the fact that it has (in its nuclear DNA) the blueprints for the development of a person. But this person can only develop if the blastocyst is implanted in the uterus of a woman.

Without a brain or any other organs, the blastocyst has clearly never been conscious or aware of its environment. It cannot feel pain or suffer in any way. Without any experience, the blastocyst has no memories or sense of self. It is merely a clump of blank cells containing a program for the development of a human being, not a human being itself. And a clump of blank cells cannot be an "innocent victim of murder."

Is therapeutic cloning against the will of God?

Most of those who proclaim that therapeutic cloning is immoral aren't content to base their claim on their own very human opinion, they also usually invoke God in the matter. Since therapeutic cloning is against the will of God, they assert, it is clearly immoral for anyone to pursue it.

But who determines the will of God? Or even if God exists? Should it be religious leaders? Should it be based upon the teachings of the Bible? The Talmud? The Koran? Or some other religious text? Or should it be based upon what the individual believes?

Thus far, the only religious body that has publicly opposed therapeutic cloning is the Catholic Church. None of the Protestant Churches have taken an official position on therapeutic cloning, nor have any Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist organizations. Moreover, there are indications that some religious leaders are favorable to therapeutic cloning.

Rabbi Gerald Wolpe of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York was quoted as saying (in USA Today, July 19, 2001) that he had received hundreds of phone calls from retired people in Florida who wanted to know if he knew of any embryonic stem cell research that might help relatives with Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Here is what Rabbi Wolpe had to say about embryonic stem cell research and Judaism:

"In Jewish law, healing is a religious obligation. An embryo outside the womb has no legal status in Judaism. Of course, it has a moral component, so you can't use it without sensitivity, but in this case there is a question as to whether the element that would be used for research can even be called an embryo. It is at such a primitive state. As a result, for many people of the Jewish faith, human embryonic stem cells represent a genuine hope for treating devastating diseases."


Most of those who proclaim that therapeutic cloning is immoral aren't content to base their claim on their own very human opinion, they also usually invoke God in the matter. Since therapeutic cloning is against the will of God, they assert, it is clearly immoral for anyone to pursue it. But who determines the will of God? Or even if God exists? Should it be religious leaders? Should it be based upon the teachings of the Bible? Or should it be based upon what the individual believes?

Dr. Maher Hathout, a cardiologist and eminent Muslim, who serves as a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, has said that: "Muslims regard abortion as wrong, but they also hold that life does not begin until the fertilized egg attaches to the womb's wall, which would not preclude research on embryonic stem cells."

So it's quite possible that the leaders of some of the world's religions will endorse therapeutic cloning. But even if they don't, the position of a religion's leadership doesn't necessarily reflect the opinions or practices of its members. For example, the Catholic Church holds that contraception, abortion and sex outside of marriage are all immoral, but surveys have shown that millions of Catholics engage in all three practices.

The claim that therapeutic cloning is against the will of God is the invocation of the ultimate authority figure in an attempt to stop therapeutic cloning research in its tracks. It's the same tactic that's been used to oppose many human advances such as airplanes, automobiles, computers and, in medicine, heart transplants, artificial organs and in vitro fertilization. All these advances (and others) were eventually accepted by most members of society as innovations that have improved the quality and length of human life. What was once considered a challenge to God's will soon became part of God's plan.

Why therapeutic cloning is morally right

Which brings us to the realization that it is up to us to determine the ethics and morality of new practices such as therapeutic cloning. It is up to us to focus on the key issues involved in therapeutic cloning and how they're likely to affect us as individuals and society as a whole. It is up to us to decide who is likely to be hurt and helped by therapeutic cloning. And it is up to us to make the right choices in developing therapeutic cloning.

There are two sets of rights being debated here. Those who want to ban therapeutic cloning want to protect the rights of the blastocysts that scientists create to provide embryonic stem cells for the generation of young cells, tissues and organs for transplant. Life Extension, on the other hand, is seeking to protect the rights of patients suffering from heart failure, stroke, cancer, diabetes,Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, Parkinson's disease and other killers and cripplers.

Self-proclaimed advocates of "morality" are arbitrarily defining rights for microscopic balls of 100 cells, while millions of people of all ages suffer and die from lethal diseases, and billions of people suffer from the ravages of aging.

The development of transplantable cells, tissues and organs is our brightest hope for the treatment of "incurable" diseases. It is also our best bet for the reversal of aging, either through the transplantation of young healthy cells into aging bodies, or as a new vehicle for anti-aging gene therapies.

There is no comparison between the alleged "rights" of microscopic balls of cells grown from patients who need treatment and the rights of those patients. We're talking about the real possibility of ending the suffering and saving the lives of millions. . . perhaps billions. . . of living, breathing people just like you and me. We're talking about young cells, tissues and organs that may be able to reverse the pathologies of disease and aging. We're talking about new therapies that could extend the healthy human life span for decades… perhaps for centuries.

That's why the pursuit of therapeutic cloning is morally right. That's why banning and criminalizing therapeutic cloning would be a crime against humanity. And that's why it is imperative for everyone who loves life to protest the bill to ban cloning that is working its way through Congress.