Stem Cell Research and a Ban on Human Cloning

Satisfactory Essays
Stem Cell Research and a Ban on Human Cloning

Some biotechnology companies claim that a ban on producing human embryos through cloning would stall important research in generating "stem cells" to cure a variety of diseases [Cong. Record, 2/5/98, S425]. To put this claim in perspective:

1. Cloning is desired as a source of "customized stem cell lines" which would be an exact genetic match to each individual patient with a given disease. But this would require each individual patient to undergo somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce one or many living human embryos who genetically are the patient's identical twin sisters or brothers. These embryos would then be destroyed to provide embryonic stem cells.

Two methods of obtaining the cells have been described. In one, the embryo is allowed to develop normally for a week or two to the blastocyst stage, at or after the usual time of implantation in the mother's womb; then this embryo, consisting of hundreds of cells, is dissected for its stem cells. The other method is to introduce molecular signals into the embryo's environment to "trick" its cells into departing from normal development and instead producing "a mass of undifferentiated tissue," which can then be reprogrammed into various kinds of cells [Lee Silver, Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World (Avon Books 1997), p. 128]. In either case, the living embryo is destroyed.

2. This avenue for providing medical benefits has been described even by supporters as "largely conjectural" (J. Kassirer and N. Rosenthal, in New England Journal of Medicine, March 26, 1998, p. 905). President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission called it "a rather expensive and far-fetched scenario." The Commission observed: "Because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialized cells or tissues for transplantation into patients."

The Commission outlined three alternative avenues for promising research using stem cells that do not involve human cloning, two of which do not use human embryos at all (Cloning Human Beings: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, June 1997, pp. 30-31).

The Commission's Alternatives

The alternatives outlined by President Clinton's Commission are as follows:

1. Generating "a few, widely used and well characterized human embryonic stem cell lines, genetically altered to prevent graft rejection in all possible recipients.
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