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Reason and Revelation Volume 21 #8

Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research—Science's "Slippery Slope" [Part I]

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Two of the most hotly debated and currently controversial topics—in the fields of science, religion, ethics, and politics—are human cloning and stem-cell research. When the editors of Time screamed on the cover of their February 19, 2001 issue, “Human Cloning is Closer than You Think!,” they probably had no idea how prescient they were. The very day we were to send this issue of Reason & Revelation to the printer (August 7), two scientists, Dr. Panos Zavos of Kentucky and Dr. Severino Antinori of Italy, announced to the National Academy of Sciences Conference on Cloning in Washington, D.C. that they plan to impregnate as many as 200 women volunteers with cloned embryos—by November of 2001! Our regular subscribers know that it is our standing policy to publish the latest, most up-to-date information on such topics. For example, in May and June 1997, I authored a series on “Cloning—Scientific and Biblical Ramifications.” In the August and September 2000 issues, I penned two articles on “Cracking the Code—The Human Genome Project in Perspective.” Now, with reports arriving almost daily about proposals to clone humans, and with similar reports surfacing with disturbing frequency about scientists’ planned use of human-derived stem cells, I believe that an in-depth analysis of these two subjects is both timely and warranted. Dr. Brad Harrub (our Director of Scientific Information) and I invite your attention to these matters. Human lives, souls, and dignity are at stake!]

The news landed like a bombshell. It was completely unexpected. Hardly anyone thought it could be accomplished. Nobel laureates had suggested that it was extremely unlikely. One specialist in the field even had gone so far as to boast that it “was impossible,” while another denied that it could “ever occur.” Then, suddenly, without warning, it happened.

The February 27, 1997 issue of Nature reported it in a mundanely titled article, “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells.” An adult mammal had been cloned! “Dolly,” as the sheep came to be known, was introduced to a world awash with incredulity. Scottish embryologist Ian Wilmut and his colleagues had taken a mammary gland cell from a six-year-old Scottish Finn Dorset ewe and, via a process known as “nuclear transfer,” succeeded in placing the genetic material from that cell into a hollowed-out egg cell from a Scottish Blackface sheep. That zygote—which then contained the full complement of 54 chromosomes (as if it had been fertilized by a sperm cell)—was placed into the uterus of a second Scottish Blackface sheep that served as a surrogate mother. A few months later, Dolly was born.

Dolly and surrogate mother
Dolly (cloned from a mammary gland cell of a Finn Dorset ewe) and her Scottish Blackface surrogate mother

Scientists around the world gasped—first in complete disbelief, and then in “udder” awe. The “news” part of the story was not merely that a mammal had been cloned; that had been accomplished in the past. The news was that a mammal had been cloned from an adult cell—something that even scientists like James Watson and Francis Crick (who were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their elucidation of the molecular structure of DNA) had gone on record as stating was very likely impossible. Dr. Wilmut and his team at the Roslin Institute outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, had shown that it was possible. But, as the old adage suggests, “that was then; this is now.” It turns out that the successful cloning of Dolly was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Shortly after the details of the procedure used to produce Dolly were published, scientists began to report one success story after another using the same procedure (or ones similar to it) to clone additional mammals from adult cells, including mice (Wakayama, et al., 1998), cattle (Kato, et al., 1998), goats (Baguisi, et al., 1999), rhesus monkeys (Chan, et al., 2000), and pigs (Onishi, et al., 2000; Polejaeva, et al., 2000).

Sheep, mice, cattle, goats, monkeys, and pigs are all mammals. Remember the definition of a mammal from your high school biology textbook? Mammals are animals that: (a) are warm-blooded; (b) have an insulating body covering of hair (or fur, wool, etc.); (c) suckle their young; and (c) possess a four-chambered heart (see Hine, 1999, pp. 193-194). From a biological classification viewpoint, is a human a mammal? Yes. Then surely the next question becomes obvious: If scientists have successfully cloned sheep, mice, cattle, goats, monkeys, and pigs (all of which are mammals), can they then clone humans—who likewise are mammals? And more important, if they can, will they?

As frightening as the thought may be to many within the general populace, the simple fact is that scientists worldwide already are working on producing human clones—a fact that hardly should be surprising. Imagine the fame and fortune that await the first scientist who can announce to the world, “I cloned the first human!”

SCIENCE RUN AMOK

And so, the race is on. Shortly after Dolly was cloned, Richard Seed (who is not even a life scientist, but instead holds a Ph.D. in physics) proclaimed publicly that he was going to establish a laboratory in Chicago, Illinois, whose sole purpose was to clone humans. [Federal regulations enacted shortly after Dolly’s cloning specifically prohibit the cloning of humans in America in laboratories receiving government funds. Dr. Seed has repeatedly stated that he neither will seek nor accept any such funding; therefore, in his view, the law’s prohibitions would not apply to his efforts. However, on March 27, 2001, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mailed Dr. Seed a letter, warning him that any attempt to clone a human might place him in violation of federal regulations governing experimental medical procedures. In the July 9/16, 2001 special double issue of U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Seed offered a response to the letter when he said: “I think their purpose was to frighten me, and they did!” (as quoted in Boyce and Kaplan, 2001, 131[2]:21).]

To complicate matters, reports are beginning to surface almost daily about other scientific groups that either are attempting to take cloning one step farther or that already have done so—with varying degrees of success. Consider, for example, Clonaid, a Bahamas-based company that was established in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a colorful French race-car driver and former journalist (now known as “Rael the prophet,” head of a sect known as “the Raelians”). Under the direction of French scientist Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D., Clonaid announced early in 2001 that it was moving forward with plans to clone the very first human before the end of the year. On March 25, 2001, Dr. Boisellier testified under oath before the Subcommittee of Oversights and Investigations of the United States Congress about the company’s intention to clone a human (specifically, a 10-month-old baby boy that had died as the result of a tragic mishap at a hospital). She also discussed the progress that Clonaid was making, and its formal response to critics of human cloning (Boisellier, 2001a). On Clonaid’s official Web site, Dr. Boisellier is quoted as saying: “Our first goal at Clonaid is to develop a safe and reliable way of cloning a human being. Who, today, would be scandalized by the idea of bringing back to life a 10-month-old child who died accidentally? The technology allows it, the parents desire it, and I don’t see any ethical problems with it” (2001b). According to published reports, more than 50 prospective surrogate mothers already have been chosen to carry cloned fetuses, including Dr. Boisellier’s 22-year-old daughter, Marina Cocolios. And, Clonaid admits to having established a secret laboratory in the U.S. for the purpose of cloning humans (see Dixon, 2001). Cost, according to Clonaid’s Web site, is $200,000.

A mere two days after her testimony before Congress, Dr. Boisellier received a letter from the FDA, informing her that Clonaid could be in violation of federal regulations by attempting to clone a human. Just as this issue of Reason & Revelation was about to go to press, we received news that on May 29, U.S. Representative James Greenwood (D-PA), wrote the FDA to ask the agency to examine more closely Clonaid’s intentions. In the special double issue of U.S. News and World Report mentioned above, staff writers Nell Boyce and David Kaplan exposed the heretofore private details surrounding the FDA’s investigation of Clonaid:

...[I]n what appears to be an unprecedented probe into the sect’s activities,...Food & Drug Administration agents visited the lab recently and ordered any human cloning experiments to cease. Says one official: “There’s a timeout in force....” The crackdown marks the first time that investigators have uncovered a secret lab tied to human cloning in the United States, government sources say. Among areas under investigation are possible violations of FDA regulations that govern experimental medical procedures.... (2001, 131[2]:21-22).

But things have gotten even spookier since the technology that made Dolly possible arrived on the scene. In the May 22, 1998 issue of Science, scientists at a Worcester, Massachusetts, company, Advanced Cell Technology, reported that they had created a “transgenic” (across species lines) bovine-human hybrid embryo that consisted of a human somatic cell’s nucleus inside a cow’s egg. The researchers actually took a cell from Dr. Jose Cibelli, the lead scientist in the study, removed its nuclear-based genetic material, and placed it into a cow’s egg from which the nucleus had been removed. Once inside the bovine egg, the contents of the human cell activated and the egg began to divide normally until it had reached the 32-cell stage, at which time it was destroyed (Cibelli, et al., 1998, 280:1256-1258). One year later, New Scientist published a report about a Japanese researcher from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Setsuo Iwasaki, who removed the chromosomes from 27 cows’ eggs and implanted the eggs with nuclei from human somatic cells. His stated goal was to isolate embryonic stem cells, which would have meant culturing the hybrid embryos for a minimum of five days until they formed a hollow ball known as a blastocyst. But, Iwasaki reported, most of the embryos did not develop, and none went through more than three cycles of division (see Hadfield, 1999).

But the news does not stop at human/cow hybrids. According to the March 13, 2001 issue of the New Zealand Herald, Australian scientists at a Melbourne company, Stem Cell Sciences, reportedly produced a cloned human embryo in 1999 by combining an empty pig egg with a human somatic cell (see “Human-Pig Embryo Accusation Provokes Debate,” 2000). [Similar experiments were carried out by an American company, BioTransplant. In both cases, the resulting human cloned embryo was allowed to divide to a 32-cell stage before being destroyed.] Apparently, Australia has been home to somewhat secretive human cloning experiments for several years. Based on the fact that approximately 1% of the DNA in the human/pig hybrid would have been donated by the pig cells’ mitochondria (the “energy factories” of the cell, which contain their own extranuclear DNA), the Australian government has vehemently rejected the idea that such a hybrid could be referred to legitimately as a “human” clone, and therefore has denied most emphatically that human cloning has taken place in “the land down under” (a matter of semantics, to be sure). And so, laboratories around the world have come to realize that an organism containing 99% human genes and 1% animal genes allows them to claim, “technically,” that they are not cloning humans. This technicality, then, allows their research to continue, even though many countries worldwide (including 29 in Europe alone—see Willing, 2001) have adopted a ban on non-therapeutic human cloning. In an editorial in the July 19, 2001 issue of Nature titled “The Meaning of Life,” the editor commented on this “technicality” concerning embryonic stem [ES] cells when he wrote:

Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, Massachusetts says it is trying to generate human embryos by cloning, and then harvest ES cells from them. The company hopes to sidestep moral objections, as fertilization is not involved. Indeed, the chair of ACT’s ethical advisory board argues that an embryo created in this way is not a bona fide embryo, and suggests the term “ovumsum.” The procedure that ACT is experimenting with, known as therapeutic cloning, might one day prove useful in generating ES cells that are genetically matched to patients requiring tissue grafts. But to suggest that it does not involve the creation of embryos is misleading (see “The Meaning of Life,” 2001, 412:255, emp. added).

Misleading indeed! When even the editors of major science journals recognize that some of this research is “misleading” (read that as “morally objectionable”), surely it is time to reassess the slippery slope on which science finds itself. If it becomes possible to create a hybrid “cross” between a human and an animal, then such technology could be used to grow “things” that possess human characteristics, yet that are not considered “fully human.” These “almost-but-not-quite-human” creatures then could be employed as “workhorses” to carry out tasks that humans no longer wish to perform—like picking cotton, working in harsh factory conditions, doing dull, repetitive jobs, etc. With current patenting laws allowing scientists exclusive rights to newly created life forms, researchers, backed by any number of deep-pocketed financiers, could be well on their way not just to fame, but to fortune as well.

CLONING—1901 TO 2001

What’s going on here? How did all of this get started? And where is it likely to lead? A brief examination of the history of cloning is appropriate, after which, we will examine current stem-cell research and the implications of both of these technologies for society today.

In biology, the noun “clone” refers to a cell or an organism that is genetically identical to another cell or organism from which it was derived. For example, some organisms (like bacteria) reproduce themselves by copying their DNA and then splitting in half. The two resulting bacteria are thus clones. The verb “clone” refers to the process of creating cloned cells or organisms. The beginnings of what we today refer to as cloning actually go back to the early part of the twentieth century—1901 to be exact. Hans Spemann (1869-1941) was a German embryologist who was a professor of zoology (1919-1935) at the University of Freiburg. In 1901, he split a 2-cell newt embryo into two distinct parts, successfully producing two different larvae. In 1914, he conducted the earliest known experiments on nuclear transfer. By using a tiny strand of baby hair, Spemann partially constricted a newly fertilized egg (zygote), thereby forcing the nucleus to one side of the cell and the cytoplasm to the other side. As the nucleus side of the cell began to divide into a 16-cell stage, the nucleus slipped over to the cytoplasm on the other side. Cell division began on this side too, and the hair knot was tightened to prevent any additional nuclear transfer. Twin larvae developed, with one side (the side with the initial nucleus) being slightly older than the other (the side with the initial cytoplasm). This proved that the nucleus from a 16-cell stage could direct the growth of another larva. From his observations, Dr. Spemann proposed removing the nucleus from an unfertilized egg and replacing it with the nucleus from a fertilized cell. In fact, he did just that, and used the nucleus from a 16-cell salamander embryo to create an identical twin. By transplanting embryonic tissue to a new location within the embryo (or to another embryo entirely), he was able to identify the agency that governs the growth and differentiation of cells. He received the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and three years later described his award-winning research in his classic text, Embryonic Development and Induction (1938).

During the early 1950s, F.C. Steward of Cornell University demonstrated how to clone plants, and produced carrots by the thousands via his procedure (see Steward, 1970). In 1952, Robert Briggs and Thomas King of the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia cloned a leopard frog using body cells from frog embryos, but allowed the organisms to live only to a tadpole stage (Briggs and King, 1952). Since then, carrots, tomatoes, fruit flies, and numerous other plants and animals have been cloned.

Then, on April 25, 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their scientific paper describing for the first time the intricacies of the double-helical structure of the DNA molecule (Watson and Crick, 1953). For this attainment, they were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine—and initiated a biological revolution. The elucidation of the molecular structure of the gene clearly ranks among the grandest scientific achievements of all time. As a result of their discovery, a new age has dawned—the Genetic Age. Prior to this discovery, many scientists viewed the Nuclear Age as the last great revolution in science. Nuclear technology tends to be viewed as either the most powerful industry for human benefit, or the most dangerous tool for human destruction ever available for mankind’s use. With the development of genetic engineering, the potential for controversy is even greater because in their experiments, researchers no longer are dealing with merely inanimate nature, but with human subjects, and the consequences are far-reaching indeed.

The same year that Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize, John Gurdon of Oxford University cloned sexually mature frogs from the intestinal cells of adult frogs (1964, 4:1-43). A year later, in 1963, British scientist J.B.S. Haldane first employed the word “clone” (Greek for “twig”) to describe Gurdon’s frog experiments in his chapter, “Biological Possibilities for the Human Species of the Next Ten-Thousand Years,” in the book, Man and His Future (Haldane, 1963). Three years later, Gurdon and Uehlinger succeeded in growing an adult clawed frog from an injection of a tadpole intestinal cell nucleus into an enucleated oocyte (which, unlike Briggs’ tadpoles, was allowed to grow into an adult), thus representing the first cloning procedure that resulted in an adult vertebrate (see Gurdon and Uehlinger, 1966; Gurdon and Laskey, 1970a, 1970b).

In 1970, Paul Berg and Stanley Cohen of the United States achieved a monumental breakthrough in genetic engineering with the first successful gene splicing (see Cohen, et al., 1973). [Splicing occurs when pieces of genetic material, such as DNA or RNA, are cut and removed and the remaining pieces are rejoined.] Together, they created the first recombinant DNA organism using techniques pioneered a year earlier by Paul Berg (who received the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of his new gene-splicing technology).

On January 22, 1973, the nine justices that comprised the United States Supreme Court issued their infamous Roe vs. Wade (7-2) decision legalizing abortion, which resulted in a moratorium on government financing for embryo research. The 1974 National Research Act, which addressed this issue (among others), contained among its provisions a temporary moratorium on federally funded fetal research either “before or after abortion.” That moratorium remained in effect until 1975, at which time the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now known as the Department of Health and Human Services) issued extensive regulations governing federally funded fetal research.

On July 25, 1978, Louise Brown, the first baby resulting from in vitro fertilization techniques, was born in Great Britain to her 30-year-old mother, Leslie, an Englishwoman who, during her nine-year marriage to her husband John, had been unable to conceive. Louise was the result of the combined efforts of Patrick Steptoe, a gynecologist in Oldham, Lancashire in Great Britain, and Robert Edwards, a physiologist from Cambridge University (see Gwynne, 1978; Napgal, 1978; and “The First Test-Tube Baby,” 1978). That same year, U.S. freelance writer David Rorvik authored, and the J.B. Lippincott Company of Philadelphia published, In His Image: The Cloning of a Man, the purported story of an eccentric 67-year-old millionaire who had himself secretly cloned (Rorvik, 1978). The book caused such a furor that the United States Congress held hearings on the veracity of the account as reported by Rorvik. In 1981, after reviewing the evidence, U.S. District Court judge John Fullam ruled the book to be fiction (Fullam, 1981, p. 2-F) and, in 1982, Lippincott was forced to acknowledge publicly that the book was a hoax (but only after making some $730,000 in sales!).

Then, in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a new, genetically altered bacterium (i.e., a non-natural microorganism) could be patented (see Supreme Court of the United States, 1980). This widely publicized case demonstrated to scientists the profitability of genetic research; living things genetically altered by man now could be patented. In 1981, Curt Civin, director of pediatric oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, discovered how to isolate and purify human stem cells. That same year, Dr. Civin discovered the first stem cell antibody, winning a patent to the entire class of cell hunters. In 1984, after extensive experiments with mice, Davor Solter of the Wistar Institute of Philadelphia claimed that the cloning of mammals was biologically impossible. The last phrase of the last line of Solter’s paper (published in Science) has reverberated through the halls of academia ever since. He wrote: “The cloning of mammals by simple nuclear transfer is biologically impossible” (McGrath and Solter, 1984, 226:1317-1319). Solter’s conclusion was accepted as “fact,” and for years to follow, funding for research on cloning was marginalized and almost impossible to obtain. [Just five years earlier, in 1979, R. McKinnelly, a professor of genetics and cell biology at the University of Minnesota who specializes in frog cloning, wrote in his book Cloning: “I never expect to witness the construction of carbon copy humans. I do not believe that nuclear transplantation for the purpose of producing human beings will ever routinely occur” (1979, p. 102).]

On the other side of the globe, in 1984, Steen Willadsen of Denmark cloned a lamb by transferring a single cell from an 8-cell sheep embryo to an unfertilized egg whose nucleus had been destroyed. Three of the four reconstituted embryos transferred to ewes’ oviducts developed into genetically identical lambs. He also mixed embryonic cells of different species to create sheep-goats and sheep-cows. Other scientists followed his example and cloned a variety of animals. His work was the first verified cloning of a mam­mal using the method of nuclear transfer. A year later, Willadsen joined Grenada Genetics, a bioengineering company, and was the first to clone a farm animal using the nuclear transfer method (when he used his cloning technique to duplicate the embryos of prize cattle). Willadsen’s work, however, still involved embryonic cells, not adult cells.

In 1986, while working at Grenada Genetics, Willadsen cloned a cow using differentiated, one-week-old embryo cells. His efforts proved that the genetic information of a cell did not diminish as the cell specialized, and that DNA could be returned to its original state. Willadsen’s work (1986) was an extremely strong influence on Ian Wilmut’s decision to attempt to clone sheep from adult cells, which he ultimately accomplished with the famous 1996 birth of Dolly.

In October 1990, the National Institutes of Health officially announced the beginning of the Human Genome Project, a massive, international collaborative effort to locate the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 genes within the human genome, and the sequencing of the estimated 3 billion nucleotides that compose that genome (see Thompson, 2000a; 2000b). In October 1993, at a meeting of the American Fertility Society in Montreal, Canada, two American scientists, Jerry Hall and Robert Stillman, touched off an unexpected controversy when they presented a paper on facets of their research in the area of in vitro fertilization techniques. At the time, Dr. Hall was the director of the in vitro laboratory at George Washington University; Dr. Stillman headed the university’s entire in vitro fertilization program. Beginning with 17 microscopic human embryos ranging from the 2-cell to the 8-cell stage, Hall and Stillman used new technology to multiply the total number of embryos from 17 to 48. Major newspapers and magazines announced the landmark event with feature articles. The New York Times ran a front-page article under the headline “Scientist Clones Human Embryos, and Creates an Ethical Challenge.” Both Newsweek and Time prepared cover stories on the Hall/Stillman experiments (see Adler, 1993; Elmer-Dewitt, 1993).

Method of producing twin embryos from a single embryo
Method by which Stillman and Hall produced twin embryos from a single embryo (after Kolberg, 1993)

Hall and Stillman wanted to increase the success rate of in vitro fertilization by finding a way to clone a single embryo into three or four embryos, which would increase dramatically the chances of a successful pregnancy. They were not attempting to produce cloned embryos to implant in a potential mother. Rather, they were examining embryos that resulted from fertilization of an egg by multiple sperm cells, and that therefore would not live more than a few days at best. Criticism, however, was quick to arrive (see Fackelmann, 1994b). Sadly, headlines in major newspapers and magazines were not always representative of the actual facts. Humans had not been cloned. An in-depth description of the process used in the Hall/Stillman experiment was published in Science News (see Fackelmann, 1994a).

In 1994, the Human Embryo Research Panel, a body convened by the National Institutes of Health, concluded that embryonic stem-cell research should be publicly funded, as long as the embryos were not created originally for research purposes. That same year, the U.S. Government published guidelines for research on transplantation of fetal tissue. Also in 1994, United States scientists M. Sims and N.L. First cloned calves from cells of early embryos (1994).

In 1995, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell of Great Britain produced the world’s first cloned sheep, Megan and Morag, from 9-day-old embryos (Campbell, et al., 1996). In 1996, Ian Wilmut and his team of Scottish scientists took their experiments one step farther and cloned the world’s first mammal from adult cells—Dolly the sheep, which was created using udder cells from a six-year-old ewe (Wilmut, et al., 1997). Somewhat ironically, in 1996 federal money was banned for stem-cell research involving embryos. In 1997, the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center cloned two rhesus macaques, Neti and Ditto, that were created from the DNA of developing monkey embryos (Meng, et al., 1997). Also in 1997, the first human embryonic stem cells were isolated (Thomson, 1998; Gearhart, 1998), and Ian Wilmut and his colleagues created Polly, the first sheep with a human gene in every cell of its body (Schnieke, et al., 1997). Plus, University of Massachusetts researchers reported the successful cloning of cattle using fetal cells (Kato, et al., 1998). Following the announcement of Dolly’s arrival, announcements of the success of additional similar procedures began to occur at almost lightning speed.

Cloning technique used by Wilmut
Technique used by Wilmut, et al. to clone a sheep. Their breakthrough involved starving body cells of nutrients, thus interrupting the normal cycle of growth and division. In this quiescent stage, the cell can be “reprogrammed” to function as a newly fertilized egg (after Travis, 1997, 151:215).

In 1998, Teruhiko Wakayama and his colleagues reported that they had successfully cloned a mouse named Cumulina (1998). To date, approximately 50 more mice have been cloned, some through three generations. Two other momentous events occurred in 1998. The first was reported in the April 25 issue of Science News. Dolly had been bred to David, a Welsh Mountain ram, and was pregnant (see Travis, 1998, 153:263). [Actually, by the time the story got to press, Dolly already had given birth. On April 13, 1998 she produced a 6.7-pound baby ewe by the name of Bonnie. Almost a year later, on March 24, 1999, Dolly gave birth to three healthy lambs—two males and one female.] This news dispelled the idea that as a clone she might be sterile, and paved the way for future successes in the breeding of clones.

The second significant event was reported in the November 6, 1998 issue of Science, which discussed the creation of an immortal line of embryonic stem cells taken from discarded embryos donated by IVF clinics (Thomson, 1998). Shortly thereafter, scientists from Johns Hopkins announced a method of obtaining similar cells from the primordial tissue of aborted fetuses (Gearhart, 1998). In 1999, A. Baguisi and coworkers reported their successful attempts to clone goats (Baguisi, et al., 1999). Then, the April 2, 1999 issue of Science reported on the development of a line of adult human mesenchymal stem cells (Pittenger, et al., 1999).

One of the most important milestones in the cloning controversy was reported in the May 27, 1999 issue of Nature, which discussed Dr. Wilmut’s examination of Dolly’s chromosomes. Wilmut and his coworkers studied the length of the chromosome ends (telomeres) from Dolly and two other sheep produced by the same process used to clone her. It generally has been accepted scientifically that telomere deterioration is a reliable indication of a reduction in life span; the more rapid and serious the telomere deterioration, the shorter the expected life span. Wilmut and his team reported a marked deterioration in Dolly’s telomeres compared to those from non-cloned animals, and even suggested that “the most likely explanation” for the deterioration observed in these animals “reflects that of the transferred nucleus. Full restoration of telomere length did not occur because these animals were produced without germline involvement” (Shiels, et al., 1999, 399:317, emp. added).

In other words, since Dolly was cloned from the mammary gland cell of a six-year-old sheep, in essence her telomeres already were six years old and therefore deteriorated more rapidly than those of non-cloned animals. The scientists involved in this research stressed that “it remains to be seen whether a critical length will be reached during the animal’s lifetime.” That is to say, at present it is impossible to state with certainty whether the telomere deterioration will cause Dolly to die prematurely. However, these same scientists admitted that “[t]elomere-based models...predict that the nuclear-transfer-derived animal 6LL3 [Dolly’s numerical designation in the scientists’ study—BT/BH] might well reach a critical telomere length sooner than age-matched controls” (Shiels, et al., 399:317). Thus, cloned creatures may have markedly reduced life spans compared to those produced via normal, sexual reproduction. If these data are confirmed, they will have serious implications for human cloning. [In the April 28, 2000 issue of Science, a report was published which suggested that cloned calves actually had longer telomeres than normal, and thus might not be prone to an early death. Yet, the author admitted:

Why these findings are so dramatically different from those on Dolly is not yet clear.... Other scientists are more cautious, noting that aging is extremely complex and is controlled by more than just telomere length.... No one is yet able to explain the difference between Dolly and the cloned calves. It might be due to random variation, species differences, a difference in the cell type, or different methods of nuclear transfer (Vogel, 2000a, 288:586-587).

The jury still is out on the early demise of cloned organisms, but results at this point do not look promising in certain species (see, for example, Humphreys, 2001).]

On August 23, 2000, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “opened the floodgates” by publishing guidelines for the public funding of embryo stem-cell research in the United States, an about-face of its earlier position. Previously, embryo stem-cell research was funded exclusively from private sources. The NIH announcement lifted a ban that had been in place on such research since 1996. Later that year, scientists reported that they had been successful in attempts to clone pigs (Onishi, et al., 2000; Polejaeva, et al., 2000). Also in 2000, scientists performed transgenic cloning experiments, combining pig oocytes and human somatic cells (see “Human-Pig Embryo Accusation Provokes Debate,” 2000).

On January 22, 2001, Britain’s House of Lords became the first government to effectively legitimize cloning of human embryos for stem-cell research (with the stipulation that the cloned embryos be destroyed no later than 14 days after having been created). Also in 2001, two separate animal cloning studies showed that insulin-producing cells could be produced from a cloned animal embryo. In work led by Teruhiko Wakayama of New York’s Rockefeller University, in association with the Sloan-Kettering Institute, scientists created a cloned embryo from a mouse tail cell combined with a mouse egg. This fueled the debate over human cloning experiments where the aim is to produce an embryo for medical research, rather than for implantation. Similar cloning experiments were conducted by the National Institutes of Health (see Wakayama, et al., 2001).

On March 9, 2001, three cattle (Martie, Natalie, and Emily) cloned by scientists at California State University at Chico appeared to have been born healthy, but on day 12 Natalie died, and on day 15 Emily succumbed as well—both from abrupt immune system failure. Martie was reported to be failing rapidly. Project director Cindy Daley said that things “looked normal” until that Wednesday evening when she went to check on, and feed, the animals (see Cooper, 2001). While not widely reported in the news media, such events are becoming quite common in regard to cloned animals, and serve to demonstrate the potential dangers of human cloning. Many cloned animals have experienced obvious mutations, while others have died shortly after birth, even though outwardly they appeared to be quite normal (see, for example, Humphreys, 2001). As one scientist, Rebecca Krisher, assistant professor of animal reproduction at Purdue University, put it: “Almost all of these animals, if born on a farm without a vet hospital, probably would not survive” (as quoted in Cooper, 2001). In studies performed on cloned cattle by Cyagra, a Kansas company that studies commercial aspects of cloning livestock, “the company has about a 6 percent birth rate; of those calves, about half die soon after they are born” (as quoted in Cooper, 2001).

The foundation upon which cloning had perched began crumbling with the publication of an unsettling report that appeared in the July 6, 2001 issue of Science. The article documented the fact that while cloned animals may appear to be normal, and may even behave in a somewhat normal fashion, the truth is that sometimes these animals are far from normal. The report went on to announce that scientists have uncovered the first evidence that “normal-looking” clones can harbor serious genetic abnormalities, which would explain why many animals live only a few days after their birth. For scientists interested in pursuing cloning as an alternate method of reproduction, the news from researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the University of Hawaii represents a veritable bomb detonated on their very doorsteps. The first statement in a paper titled “Epigenetic Instability in ES Cells and Cloned Mice” by David Humphreys and colleagues reads as follows: “Cloning by nuclear transfer is an inefficient process in which most clones die before birth and survivors often display growth abnormalities” (p. 95, emp. added). This is not exactly the image of cloning that federally funded researchers wanted the public at large to see.

CLONING—MIRACLE OF LIFE, OR DEATH SENTENCE?

How, exactly, does cloning work? Cloning procedures currently involve the removal of an egg’s nucleus (which contains the genetic “blueprints” of the cell) in order to replace it with the nucleus from either an adult somatic (body) cell that has been “stressed” (via chemicals, radiation, nutrient deprivation, etc.) or an embryonic stem cell. Under normal conditions, cells go through a process known as “differentiation,” during which the majority of the DNA within the cell is deactivated—except for a small portion that instructs the cell regarding its future destiny. For example, once a cell differentiates, it is destined to become only a muscle cell, a neuron, a red blood cell, a fingernail cell, etc. Most scientists, of course, have no real desire to clone an entire laboratory of fingernail cells. What they would like to be able to do is to clone entire organisms. But in order to do that, they must locate newly dividing cells (e.g., stem cells) that have not yet differentiated, or they must stress older, fully formed cells that already have differentiated in order to force them to return to an undifferentiated state. In cloning, the goal is to “reset” the developmental clock of the implanted nucleus, the result being the production of a new organism that is genetically identical to the cell from which the genetic material was derived originally.

Technique used by Wilmut, et al. to clone a sheep. Their breakthrough involved starving body cells of nutrients, thus interrupting the normal cycle of growth and division. In this quiescent stage, the cell can be “reprogrammed” to function as a newly fertilized egg (after Travis, 1997, 151:215).

There can be little doubt that it is only a matter of time until someone, somewhere, attempts to add humans to the list of creatures that already have been cloned. As Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine (and an outspoken critic of religion), wrote in his 2001 volume, The Borderlands of Science: “[C]loning is going to happen whether it is banned or not, so why not err on the side of freedom and allow scientists to freely explore the possibilities—not to play God, but to do science?” (p. 77). Waiting in the wings are the rogue scientists who are more than willing to “freely explore the possibilities” (and yes, even play God in the process!). In yet another 2001 book, The Shattered Self: The End of Natural Evolution, Pierre Baldi asserted:

Thus, in time and with the proper technology, we will be able to clone any human being whose DNA is available in sufficient amount and viable form.... Of all the scenarios we have discussed, human cloning is probably the most pressing and concrete.... [H]uman cloning is essentially available today. ...Cloning, gene therapies, advanced molecular medicine, and surgical procedures such as organ transplantation, together with a better understanding and control of environmental factors, can render our bodies essentially immortal (pp. 82,121, emp. added).

That idea—of potential human immortality—has not been lost on some within the scientific community. In January 2000, Panayiotis Zavos (of the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine and In Vitro Fertilization at the University of Kentucky in Lexington) announced that within eighteen months he and Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori planned to produce an embryo—derived from human stem cells—for implantation in a surrogate mother (see “Cloning Effort,” 2000). Their plans to do just that are well under way.

However, in an article titled “The God Game No More” in a July 9/July 16, 2001 special double issue, U.S. News & World Report noted that on March 27, 2001, a formal letter from the United States Food and Drug Administration was hand-delivered to Dr. Zavos, informing him that any attempt on his part to clone a human might well place him in violation of FDA regulations regarding experimental medical procedures. In response, Dr. Zavos stated that he and Antinori already have “set up two clandestine labs overseas” (see Boyce and Kaplan, 2001). And, on August 7, 2001, at the National Academy of Sciences Conference on Cloning—just two days before President Bush gave his nationally televised speech on stem-cell research—Zavos and Antinori announced their intention to impregnate as many as 200 women with cloned embryos by November 2001 (see Stolberg, 2001).

Scientists like Zavos and Antinori are being “egged on” by those who are anxious to see—regardless of the cost in human lives—exactly what might happen when scientists attempt to clone humans. As Skeptic editor Michael Shermer went on to lament:

The mass hysteria and moral panic surrounding cloning is nothing more than the historically common rejection of new technologies, coupled with the additional angst produced when medical advances fly too close to religion’s sun.... So that is what it really comes down to: the fear that science is unduly infringing on religion’s turf.

Why not lift the ban on all research into cloning—including humans—and see what happens? Let’s run the social experiment and analyze the data.... In the borderlands between science and pseudoscience, the best method to determine which fuzzy category a claim belongs is to test it. Why not do that here? (2001, pp. 75-77).

Why not? Perhaps Shermer would understand “why not” if he immersed himself in some of the latest results emerging from the laboratories of the scientists who actually are involved in the process of cloning animals on a day-to-day basis. For example, in a study reported in the July 6, 2001 issue of Science, researchers found that the techniques themselves were not the cause of the problems they were discovering in their cloned animals. Instead, the difficulties arose from the fact that the actual donor cells (i.e., embryonic stem cells) appeared to be extremely unstable in culture. During their growth and division phases, these special cells began losing important segments of DNA that instruct particular genes to “turn on” or “turn off.” While the effects of these deletions were not visible outwardly, tests in which gene expression was measured showed an entirely different story.

David Humphreys and coworkers used embryonic stem cells to provide the genetic material that was placed into egg cells. The nucleus from these embryonic stem cells was transferred to mice eggs and then placed into surrogate mothers to be carried to term. The researchers found that the DNA in mice born as a result of this procedure exhibited irregular gene expression—in other words, some of their DNA was missing. In order to confirm their suspicions that the technique itself was not at fault, the scientists then implanted other egg cells using stem cells from the same culture. As they suspected, the technique worked flawlessly. It was the stem cells themselves that were unstable. In discussing their results, Humphreys and his colleagues wrote: “Our results indicate that even apparently healthy cloned animals can have gene expression abnormalities that are not severe enough to impede development to birth but that may cause subtle physiological abnormalities which could be difficult to detect” (2001, 293:97). Dr. Humphreys and his colleagues observed that cloning already has

been used to derive live clones in several species including sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, and mice, but only a few percent of nuclear transfer embryos develop to term. Even those clones that survive to term frequently die of respiratory and circulatory problems and show increased placental and birth weights, often referred to as “large offspring syndrome” (293:95, emp. added).

This report confirmed what many already suspected—that reproductive cloning not only is inefficient, but also may be extremely unsafe. In an article titled “Don’t Clone Humans!” in the March 30, 2001 issue of Science, Rudolf Jaenisch (one of the authors of the Humphreys study on cloned mice), and Ian Wilmut (who cloned Dolly), wrote:

Animal cloning is inefficient and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Cloning results in gestational or neonatal developmental failures. At best, a few percent of the nuclear transfer embryos survive to birth and, of those, many die within the perinatal period. There is no reason to believe that the outcomes of attempted human cloning will be any different. ...Newborn clones often display respiratory distress and circulatory problems, the most common causes of neonatal death. Even apparently healthy survivors may suffer from immune dysfunction, or kidney or brain malformation, which can contribute to death later (2001, 291:2552, emp. added).

Jaenisch and Wilmut addressed the claims of Zavos and Antinori specifically, and the possibility of human cloning generally, when they wrote:

We believe attempts to clone human beings at a time when the scientific issues of nuclear cloning have not been clarified are dangerous and irresponsible. All the data collected subsequently reinforce this point of view.... If human cloning is attempted, those embryos that do not die early may live to become abnormal children and adults; both are troubling outcomes (291:2552, emp. added).

In an August 20/August 27, 2001 special double issue of U.S. News and World Report, the magazine’s well-known editor at large, David Gergen, wrote under the title of “Trouble in Paradise”:

It took 277 embryos to make one Dolly, they point out, and that was for a simple sheep. Think how many more will be required to make a human and how many deformed fetuses may result. Will we see mass abortions? Miscarriages? Human suffering? Even a monster in a laboratory?... [I]t is troubling enough that Dolly grazes nearby. If we now turn loose her human cousins, how can we possibly keep nature’s balance? (131[7]:80).

In this controversy, “keeping nature’s balance” apparently is on the minds of a lot of people—scientists and non-scientists alike. In the same issue of U.S. News in which Gergen’s article appeared, the editors also chimed in with an editorial of their own titled “Send in the Clones?,” in which they wrote:

Stem-cell research, cloning, and genetic engineering—the new frontiers of science—are creating a landscape of slippery slopes where politics, religion, science, and hope collide. The pace of discovery is so rapid that we can’t even resolve one ethical debate before another rears its head....

So far, mainstream scientists have opposed reproductive cloning because it’s just not safe. Sudden abortions, stillbirths, and gross birth defects are among the seemingly unexplainable and initially undetectable problems that arise (see “Send in the Clones,” 2001, 131[7]:12, emp. added).

Shortly after news of Dolly’s cloning was announced in February 1997, then-President Bill Clinton asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to prepare a report for him containing recommendations on human cloning. That report, presented to the President in June 1997, contained six chapters. In chapter six, the Commission listed five distinct categories of recommendations:

1. The Commission concludes that at this time it is morally unacceptable for anyone in the public or private sector, whether in a research or clinical setting, to attempt to create a child using somatic cell nuclear transfer.... The Commission, therefore, recommends the following for immediate action.
  • A continuation of the current moratorium on the use of federal funding in support of any attempt to create a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer.
  • An immediate request to all firms, clinicians, investigators, and professional societies in the private and nonfederally funded sectors to comply voluntarily with the intent of the federal moratorium. Professional and scientific societies should make clear that any attempt to create a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer and implantation into a woman’s body would at this time be an irresponsible, unethical, and unprofessional act.

2. Federal legislation should be enacted to prohibit anyone from attempting, whether in a research or clinical setting, to create a child through somatic cell nuclear transfer.

3. Any regulatory or legislative actions undertaken to effect the foregoing prohibition on creating a child by somatic cell nuclear transfer should be carefully written so as not to interfere with other important scientific research....

4. ...[W]e recommend that the federal government, and all interested and concerned parties, encourage widespread and continuing deliberation on these issues in order to further our understanding of the ethical and social implications of this technology and to enable society to produce appropriate long-term policies regarding this technology should the time come when present concerns about safety have been addressed.

5. Finally...the Commission recommends that Federal departments concerned with science should cooperate in seeking out and supporting opportunities to provide information and education to the public in the area of genetics, and on other developments in the biomedical sciences, especially where these affect important cultural practices, values, and beliefs (see Cloning Human Beings..., 1997, pp. 108-110, emp. added).

The report of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which was extensive, discussed several “domains” in regard to human cloning, not the least of which was the safety of the procedure itself. As evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin observed:

The serious ethical problems raised by the prospect of human cloning lie in the fourth domain considered by the bioethics commission, that of safety. ...It seems pretty obvious that the reason the Scottish laboratory did not announce the existence of Dolly until she was a full-grown sheep is that they were worried that her postnatal development would go awry.... Ninety percent of the loss of the experimental sheep embryos was at the so-called “morula” stage, hardly more than a ball of cells. Of the twenty-nine embryos implanted in maternal uteruses, only one showed up as a fetus after fifty days in utero, and that lamb was finally born as Dolly. Suppose we have a high success rate of bringing cloned human embryos to term. What kinds of development abnormalities would be acceptable? Acceptable to whom? (2000, pp. 166,167).

Abnormalities? What abnormalities? According to Princeton molecular geneticist Lee Silver, such occurrences very likely would be little more than figments of our overactive imaginations. The same year Dolly’s arrival was announced (1997), Silver authored his groundbreaking book, Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, in which—in a brazen attempt to defend human cloning—he wrote (incredibly!): “If safety is judged by the proportion of those lambs born who were in good health [that would be a grand total of one—Dolly—BT/BH], then the record is perfect (albeit a rather small sample size)” (p. 103, parenthetical comment in orig.). A small sample size indeed—one! Who does Dr. Silver think he is kidding? Were any other “scholar” to make such a ridiculous claim based on a statistical set of one (is there even really such a thing?), he would be ridiculed unmercifully in the halls of science—by his own colleagues! In fact, as two scientists wrote in a letter to Science in regard to Dolly, one successful attempt out of 277 “is an anecdote, not a result” (Sgaramella and Zinder, 1997, 279:635). Is it any wonder that most Americans oppose human cloning (see “Send in the Clones,” 131[7]:12), when such irresponsible pronouncements are forthcoming from scientists?

What a difference four years—and statistical sets larger than one—make! As we noted earlier, reproductive experts have cloned at least five mammals. Yet even those scientists directly involved in the research are critical of current methods and their end results. Harry Griffin is assistant director of Scotland’s Roslin Institute, where Ian Wilmut successfully cloned Dolly. In an interview on January 30, 2001, he told BBC News Online:

The success rate with animal cloning is about one to two per cent in the published results, and I think lower than that on average. I don’t know anyone working in this area who thinks the rate will easily be improved. There are many cases where the cloned animal dies late in pregnancy or soon after birth. The chances of success are so low it would be irresponsible to encourage people to think there’s a real prospect. The risks are too great for the woman, and of course for the child. It would be wholly irresponsible to try to clone a human being, given the present state of the technology (as quoted in Kirby, 2001, emp. added).

Unfortunately, maverick scientists like Zavos and Antinori are not deterred. Nor are they alone. It appears that there are those “waiting in the wings” for just the right moment to announce their own plans for the cloning of humans. In a disturbing article titled “Today the Sheep...Tomorrow the Shepherd?,” Newsweek staff writer Kenneth Woodward remarked: “Science has a way of outdistancing all ethical restraints. In science, the one rule is that what can be done will be done” (1997, 129[10]:60, emp. added). That “one rule” is what is known among scientists as the “technological imperative.” And it rules supreme in many areas of science. The famed Star Trek mantra—“to boldly go where no one has gone before”—has taken on an entirely new meaning in light of current reproductive technology. Pierre Baldi even went so far as to suggest:

In my judgment, we do not have much to fear about cloning in the short term, and we have plenty of time to think about its consequences if we begin now. It will take quite some time and debate before the first laws are passed authorizing human cloning, and it may take some time to achieve the level of technical proficiency required for its legal practice. It will take decades for the first human clone to become an adult, and for us to begin to sort out the effects of nature and nurture (2001, p. 145, emp. added).

Baldi did admit, however: “Before human clones are produced, we should ask ourselves whether it is ethical for human beings to precisely determine the genome of another human being” (p. 144). Determining (actually “predetermining” would be a more accurate term) the genome of another human being is indeed no small matter. Newsweek’s Woodward observed: “Perhaps the message of Dolly is that society should reconsider its casual slide toward assuming mastery over human life. Do we really want to play God?” (129[10]:60).

IS HUMAN CLONING ETHICAL?

The specter of numerous laboratories around the country filled with maimed, malformed, malingering human embryos that grow into “abnormal children and adults” is not exactly the image of cloning that most people envision when they think of cloning. Yet according to those researchers who are on the cutting edge of the technology, that may be exactly what we will see if we tread on this slippery slope in our attempts to “play God.”

In an article summarizing the August 2001 National Academy of Sciences Conference on Cloning in Washington, D.C. for Time magazine, Michael Lemonick discussed some of the potential consequences of “playing God” via reproductive cloning.

Most of the scientists who gathered in Washington earlier this month to talk about human cloning agreed that cloning an entire human being—besides being morally questionable—was fraught with technical obstacles. After all, research into animal cloning has already shown that for every apparent success like Dolly the sheep, there are hundreds of failures, including many badly deformed creatures that were usually miscarried (2001, 158[8]:56, emp. added).

Having discussed just such horrendous possibilities in his book, The Impact of the Gene, it was hardly with a cavalier attitude that science writer Colin Tudge admitted:

But whether we like it or not, the human clone and the designer baby, the reinvented human being, will stay on humanity’s agenda for as long as science itself is practiced. With such power before us, we have to ask as a matter of urgency, what is right for us to do. Some have suggested that these new technologies raise no “new” ethical issues, a point that largely depends on what is meant by new. They certainly raise the ethical ante. After all, we cannot be held morally responsible for events that we cannot control, but we are answerable for those that we do control. In the normal course of events, we cannot control the genetic makeup of our offspring. We do have some influence, because we choose our mates carefully, but the process of genetic recombination during the formation of eggs and sperm ensures that the genetic details of our offspring are not ours to specify. But if we clone children, or engineer their genes, then we are prescribing their genome. Our responsibility, then, for all that befalls them, far outstrips that of any parent. Noblesse oblige. It is too casual by far to say there are no new issues. We must look deeper (2000, pp. 307-308, emp. in orig.).

Indeed, we must “look deeper”—for several reasons. We must force ourselves to realize that once the genie is out of the bottle, we will not be able to put it back. Science never goes backwards. Never! In his book, Designing Babies, Roger Gosden addressed this point when he wrote:

The march of scientific knowledge pauses from time to time, awaiting the discovery of a new theory, technique, or instrument, but it never retreats. Its discoveries can never be destroyed like a canvas that offends or a music score that grates. Hence the fear that an uncomfortable fact discovered today is bound to be applied sooner or later, possibly for ill (1999, p. 17, emp. added).

Medical ethicist Leon Kass of the University of Chicago (the physician selected by President Bush on August 9, 2001 to head the President’s Council on Stem-Cell Research) observed: “We Americans have lived by...the technological imperative—if it can be done, it must be done...” (2000, p. 105, emp. added). Do we honestly believe that we can “clone now, but remedy the consequences later”—and somehow do it with impunity? As long ago as 1967, in an editorial in Science, Marshall Nirenberg of the National Institutes of Health cautioned:

Man may be able to program his own cells with synthetic information long before he will be able to assess adequately the long-term consequences of such alterations, long before he will be able to formulate goals, and long before he can resolve the ethical and moral problems which will be raised (as quoted in Walters and Palmer, 1997, p. 141).

Or, as Kass put it: “Here we surely should not be willing to risk everything in the naïve hope that, should things go wrong, we can later set them right” (2000, p. 105). Evolutionist and Nobel laureate George Wald of Harvard decried the fact that

DNA technology faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on the Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms. ....It is all too big and is happening too fast. So this, the central problem, remains almost unconsidered. It presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face. Our morality up to now has been to go ahead without restriction to learn all that we can about nature. Restructuring nature was not part of the bargain. For going ahead in this direction may be not only unwise, but dangerous (1979, pp. 127-128, emp. added).

Any way you slice it, human reproductive cloning is not only unwise and dangerous, but patently unethical as well. Ask any knowledgeable ethicist, Christian or otherwise, and he or she will confirm that two important principles come into play in experimentation on human beings.

Is the Experiment to the Subject’s Benefit?

The first principle is that basic medical ethics requires the experiment be to the subject’s benefit. Even avid cloning proponent Lee Silver was forced to admit:

A basic principle of medical ethics is that doctors should not perform any procedure on human subjects if the risk of harm is greater than the benefit that might be achieved. In the case of cloning, this principle would oblige physicians to refrain from practicing the technology unless they were sure that the risk of birth defects was no greater than that associated with naturally conceived children (1997, p. 103).

Is the risk greater? In the chapter he authored on “Cloning Human Beings: An Assessment of the Ethical Issues Pro and Con” for the book, Clones and Clones, Dan Brock answered that question in a very clear fashion: “There is no doubt that attempts to clone a human being at the present time would carry unacceptable risks to the clone” (1998, p. 157). How true! As things stand now, laboratory procedures for cloning humans scarcely would benefit the cloned embryos. Ian Wilmut and his colleagues attempted 277 fusions between donor cells and unfertilized eggs. Only 29 of those fused cells became embryos and were introduced into (13) ewes. Of those 29, only one became pregnant and gave birth to Dolly. What if the same failure rate held true for the cloning of humans? Or, for the sake of argument, suppose that somehow the failure rate could be cut in half (in other words, out of 29 human embryos, “only” 15 died during the process)? Would that then be ethically and morally acceptable? It would not! With human cloning—if the 1-2% success rate of scientists’ efforts today is any indication—the failure rate could be staggering. Producing human embryos—with the full knowledge in advance that many more of them will die than will live—is, to use the words of evolutionist Gunther Stent, “morally and aesthetically completely unacceptable” (as quoted in Howard and Rifkin, 1977, pp. 125-126).

Interestingly, at times atheists and theists alike acknowledge the major thrust of such arguments. Evolutionist Richard Lewontin, for example, admitted:

Of course, the technique will get better, but people are not sheep and there is no way to make cloning work reliably in people except to experiment on people.... Even if the methods could be made eventually to work as well in humans as in sheep, how many human embryos are to be sacrificed, and at what stage of their development? (2000, pp. 165-166).

As long ago as 1975, medical ethicist Paul Ramsey suggested that we cannot even develop the kinds of reproductive technologies being discussed here “without conducting unethical experiments upon the unborn who must be the mishaps (the dead and retarded ones) through whom we learn how” (as quoted in Restak, 1975, p. 65, parenthetical item in orig.). Sir John Polkinghorne, in an article on “Cloning and the Moral Imperative,” wrote:

An attempt to use a similar procedure to produce a cloned human person would undoubtedly also require a large number of trials before success was achieved and would involve similar uncertainties about long-term consequences. In contrast to the work that led to the birth of the first IVF baby, the procedures would be the result of radical human manipulation and not simply the facilitating of a natural process. Putting it bluntly, it would inevitably require the production of “experimental human beings.” This, in itself, is morally unacceptable. If the profound respect due to an unimplanted embryo requires that experimentation cease at 14 days [as required by British law in Polkinghorne’s home country—BT/BH], how would a much more extended series of experiments in utero be ethically justifiable? These procedures might have as their intended end a desirable purpose, such as the birth of a healthy baby who might otherwise suffer from a severe mitochondrial disorder, but the manner in which this had become feasible, through a sequence of experiments of this kind, would have been ethically tainted. The end would no more justify the means than it would, say, in the case of a fetus conceived naturally but with the intention of providing suitable material for the treatment of Parkinsonism in a close relative.... Not everything that can be done should be done (1997, pp. 41,42, emp. added).

Leon Kass put it another way: “The good things that men do can be made complete only by the things they refuse to do” (2000, p. 106, emp. added).

In addition, there is more to this matter than merely “perfecting” the cloning method itself. As a case in point, consider the scenario that evolutionist Mark Ridley presented in his 2001 volume, The Cooperative Gene:

But could human cloning ever become widespread: could most, or even all, human reproduction become clonal? At this stage, the Darwinian answer has to be: probably not. We need sex. We may need it to clear our harmful mutations. A sub-branch of human beings who went in for clonal reproduction would also be signing their progeny up for a mutational meltdown. They would undergo rapid genetic decay, as mutations accumulated faster than they could be eliminated. I do not know how many generations it would be before every offspring was so loaded with genetic defects that it would be dead; the details would depend on the exact cloning procedure, but cloning could not last long on an evolutionary timescale... My forecast is that the clone would be sick, and destined to collapse under the burden of its own copying errors (pp. 253,354, emp. added).

Is it to the clone’s benefit to be born “abnormal” thanks to a “mutational meltdown” that has the potential to make it into a monster with gross birth defects? To ask is to answer. Truth be told, the scientific facts surrounding cloning do not paint a pretty picture. Rather than being viewed as a “miracle of life,” it may well be that cloning should be portrayed instead as a death sentence.

Has the Subject Given “Informed Consent”?

There is a second equally important medical principle involved in the potential cloning of people. In any experiment performed on a human, the subject must know the risks beforehand and give “informed consent.” [Note the important difference here between an “experiment” and a routine medical procedure (such as surgery).] One of the saddest events ever recorded in American medical history provides an excellent case study in this regard. During the forty years between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service sanctioned the so-called “Tuskegee Experiments” in which 399 poor men from Macon County, Alabama who were known to have syphilis were studied to determine the effects of this debilitating condition. The government doctors in charge of the study never told the participants that they were infected with this disease (the men were told they had “bad blood,” and that they could be cured if they entered the research program voluntarily). Even though the doctors knew that the disease was fatal if left untreated, and even though antibiotics were available that could have saved the lives of the 399 Alabamians, those men were denied access to such antibiotics. Nor did the scientists involved ever obtain “informed consent” from the men for their experiments, as required by United States law.

Instead, they were patronized, prodded, and poked in what can only be called one of the most shameful medical experiments ever perpetrated on Americans by Americans. As a result, almost all of the men died a cruel, agonizing death—with their tormenters recording every moment for posterity in the name of “scientific research.” What was the rationale offered in later years for the experiments, once the scheme finally was uncovered? Those responsible claimed that they wanted to provide knowledge of the disease in the hope that it might prevent the physical degradation and death so often associated with syphilis victims. And, of course, they wanted to secure information that could be used to slow, or halt, the “moral degradation” associated with contracting a venereal disease in the first place. Laudable goals, to be sure; but the end results did not justify the means through which they were accomplished!

Perhaps it was a case such as the Tuskegee experiments that was on the mind of Lori Andrews when she commented in her book, Future Perfect:

[U]nder the medical model, little attention is actually paid to informed consent. This is thought to be tolerable since people seek medical services when they already have a health problem and physicians are presumed to be acting in the patient’s best interest by providing services.... Unlike other areas of law, where the standards of behavior are externally imposed, in medicine the standard of care is set by the profession itself.... Currently, most genetic services are regulated by the medical model. Under it, physicians are the source of information about genetic tests (2001, pp. 23,24, emp. added).

The sad fact that some researchers within the scientific/medical community today do not adhere to the ethical standard of informed consent is no justification for not obeying the law, however. Two wrongs do not make a right.

In the case of human cloning, however, the tiny embryo being produced (and that more often than not is likely to die) could not provide informed consent, even if the researchers involved in the experiments actually decided to obey the law. As Kass noted:

...[A]ny attempt to clone a human being would constitute an unethical experiment upon the resulting child-to- be. As the animal experiments (frog and sheep) indicate, there are grave risks of mishaps and deformities. Moreover, because of what cloning means, one cannot presume a future cloned child’s consent to be a clone, even a healthy one. Thus, ethically speaking we cannot even get to know whether or not human cloning is feasible (2000, p. 88, emp. added).

Dr. Kass’ point is well made. Even if we could perfect the technology (a big “if,” to be sure!), that still would not alleviate the problem of informed consent.

At every turn, then, the problem of the ethics of cloning rears its head. Little wonder Rob DeSalle and David Lindley admitted: “We hardly dare to think of the ethical difficulties such achievements would bring in their wake” (1998, p. 104). And yet we must think on these matters! As Pierre Baldi correctly observed:

Many bioethics texts share the same conservative punchline: we ought to be extremely careful and proceed very slowly with biotechnology, because we must preserve our notion of humanity and of who we are (2001, p. 136).

Interestingly, President Bush echoed that same phrase—“proceed very slowly”—in his August 9, 2001 speech to the American people on human cloning and stem-cell research (which we will discuss at length in next month’s installment). In fact, the feature article in the August 20, 2001 issue of Time was titled “We Must Proceed with Great Care” (see Gibbs and Duffy, 2001)—which was a direct quote from the President’s televised speech when he said that after many months of deliberation, “I have decided that we must proceed with great care” (Bush, 2001).

President Bush was absolutely correct to urge “great care.” As Gina Kolata pointed out in her book, Clone: “If we really want to stop human cloning, it might be argued that any forays in this direction are tentative steps down a slippery slope” (1998, p. 234, emp. added). That “slippery slope” has been the topic of much discussion since Dolly’s arrival. Roger Gosden observed: “Probably no subject in medical science receives more critical attention from both government and the press than reproductive biology and genetics” (1999, p. 17). And with good reason! As Kass has reminded us:

Changes are now being considered that would improve the very germplasm, the permanent heredity, of these “created” clones. Traits thus made inherent would be potentially transferrable to every succeeding generation. This goes beyond fantasizing about Bionic Man to conjuring up the dream of Designer Man.... We have here a perfect example of the logic of the slippery slope, and the slippery way in which it already works in this area... We should allow all cloning research on animals to go forward, but the only safe trench that we can dig across the slippery slope, I suspect, is to insist on the inviolable distinction between animal and human cloning (2000, pp. 128,96,103, emp. added).

We could not agree more!

ENTER THE STEM CELLS

The incredible brouhaha created by global cloning efforts has spawned equally incredible scientific scenarios—which are turning into reality even as we write this series of articles. Researchers generally distinguish among four types of genetic applications. Somatic cell therapy refers to efforts to correct the functioning of a defective gene in an individual’s body cells or to replace it and thus cure the disease that it causes. Germ-line interventions alter germ (reproductive) cells, thereby making changes that affect the next generation through the present generation’s progeny. Enhancement genetic engineering entails using genetic engineering to produce (in already healthy individuals) improvements such as greater height, increased strength, or sharper memory. Eugenics involves systematic efforts to breed superior individuals, in this case through genetic selection or alteration.

Scientists are absolutely enthralled with the possibilities they see on the horizon of treating (or preventing) all kinds of diseases or creating “replacement” organs. Plus, people around the world are clamoring for “designer babies.” With the new technology that is becoming available on almost a daily basis, apparently the sky is the limit. As one Web site promised: “Come [to our facility] and return to your country pregnant with the child of your dreams” (see Boisellier, 2001b). Under the heading, “Designer Baby,” the October 16, 2000 issue of Time reported a real-life scenario about that very thing—the child of your dreams.

A Colorado couple—the Nashes—had a daughter, Molly, who desperately needed a bone marrow transplant—preferably from a genetically matched sibling. But the Nashes had no other children. So, using presently available in vitro fertilization techniques, they set out intentionally to create a “genetically matched” brother or sister for Molly—with the specific goal of using the newborn’s stem cells (derived from the umbilical-cord blood shortly after birth) to treat Molly’s condition. In late 1999, the IVF procedure was carried out, and in early October of 2000, as Time reported, researchers working at the Fairview University Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, successfully transferred the stem cells from the newborn’s (his name is Adam) umbilical cord to Molly. The Time writer acknowledged, however:

The Nashes’ decision has prompted inevitable questions about the ethical implications of parents’ choosing their offspring’s features as if they were options on a minivan. But even as the issue is debated, the practice is catching on. Already, 300 IVF babies in the U.S. have been born after the same genetic-screening procedure the Nashes used.... Welcome to Brave New World, Molly and Adam (Park, 2000, 156[16]:102).

Unfortunately, it is not just Molly and Adam that are entering a “Brave New World.” The rest of us are being dragged—kicking and screaming—into that Huxlian alternative cosmos as well.

So where is all this leading? And why the sudden interest in “stem cells”? While employing “stressed” body cells (e.g., mammary gland cells from an adult, such as those used to clone Dolly the sheep) has no ethical overtones (when used in non-human cloning procedures), the use of certain human stem cells does. Stem cells are the body’s “blank slates”—sometimes referred to as “magic seeds.” As such, they have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in a laboratory culture to produce more stem cells, or to give rise, under specified conditions, to a veritable plethora of other cells. [Humans have over 250 cell types; Baldi, 2001, p. 147.] Stem cells are known to exist in three varieties. Totipotent stem cells possess an unlimited capability to specialize into any type of cell necessary—extraembryonic membranes and tissues, postembryonic organs and tissues, etc. [The embryo itself is totipotent.] Pluripotent stem cells are capable of giving rise to most, although not all, tissues found within an organism; generally, their potential for future development has not yet been “locked in.” Multipotent stem cells are committed to giving rise to cells that have a particular function. For example, blood stem cells give rise only to red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Skin stem cells give rise only to the different types of skin cells (melanocytes, keratinocytes, fibroblasts, etc.).

Sources and Functions of Stem Cells

In the past, stem cells generally were obtained from four main sources: (1) umbilical-cord blood from a newborn’s afterbirth; (2) adult bone marrow and/or brain tissue; (3) aborted fetuses; and (4) “discarded” embryos that no longer are “needed”—and thus will be destroyed—after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

Are there potential benefits that could inure from the use of stem cells? Yes, there are. When asked in an interview, “What are the potential benefits of researching these cells,” bioethicist Alta Charo of the University of Wisconsin (who is a member of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to the President), responded:

They could help regrow heart muscle after a heart attack. They could regrow brain tissues that could be an answer to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. They could be used as a therapy for burns or to regenerate skin and would help in developing new drugs (2001, 56[8]:101).

But why is this the case? The answer lies in the way stem cells “differentiate.” In his book, The Genetic Inferno, John Medina explained the procedure.

[T]he cells in your cheek have the genetic instructions for your heart, your liver, your big toe, in fact every tissue in the body. Sixty million copies of everything, truly an exercise in redundancy.

If that extraordinary fact is true—and it is—you can ask an important question of your mouth: why is a cheek cell always a cheek cell? If that cell truly has all the genetic information to make every tissue, why isn’t every tissue in your cheek? Even if you wound the inside of your mouth, you won’t grow back a foot, but rather other cheek cells. So not only is there selectivity, there is also memory. How does it all occur?

The answer to that question is beginning to be understood at a refined level, and it is the reason why scientists are so delighted. It turns out that all the genes necessary to make a cheek cell are turned on in a cheek cell, and all the other genes are repressed, rendered nonfunctional. The same is true of a liver cell, where all the genes necessary to make a liver function correctly are active, and everything else (including any cheek cell genes) is turned off. This idea of turning genes on and off is exciting because we are learning how nature does it, and are in kind learning to turn them on and off ourselves (2000, p. 16).

In his intriguing book, Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth-Century Science (about the tiny fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster used in so many research programs), Martin Brookes elaborated on the idea discussed by Medina.

The ability of genes to be turned off and on could account for the range of cell identities. But the deeper question still remained: Who was throwing the switches in the first place? Who was overseeing and organizing the whole operation? Who was the architect?...

To understand the overall picture of genes and development, think of the body in terms of everyday geography. Instead of the body, for example, think of a map of the United States. At the beginning of development, there is just a basic country. Then a group of control genes swings into action, dividing the outline into north, south, east, and west. A second group of genes, the “state” genes, if you like, is responsible for directing the division of the country into fifty states. Of course, the same “genes” will be present in all states. But in Texas, only the “Texas” genes are switched on, while in Maine, only the “Maine” genes are switched on. Next, the “county” genes become active, dividing each state into a collection of counties. After counties, yet another group of control genes directs the formation of towns and cities within each county, and so on (2001, pp. 61,66, emp. added).

The fact that embryonic stem cells—at such an early juncture in their lives—are undifferentiated (what Brookes referred to as a “basic country”) makes them both valuable and widely sought after. Within them lies the potential, for example, to grow heart muscle that could be used to repair the damage brought on by a heart attack. They could be used to regenerate skin cells as a therapy for burn patients, or pancreas cells to treat diabetics. They could grow into fresh new brain cells that might restore brain functions in conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. And so on.

Pro-life groups have no problem whatsoever with scientists harvesting stem cells for use in research or in procedures intended to help cure certain diseases (such as diabetes) when those stem cells are derived from either the umbilical-cord blood of a newborn or adult bone marrow and/or brain tissue. Harvesting such cells does not kill an already-living human being.

However, the minute quantities of cells that can be obtained from umbilical-cord blood, and the complexity of obtaining such cells from adult tissues, have made these two practices unpopular. Plus, scientists fear that stem-cell lines from adults may lose their potency over time because they do not always grow well in culture settings. In addition, researchers are uncertain as to whether stem cells derived from adults will prove to be as versatile as embryonic stem cells. Scientists have learned that the earlier they obtain stem cells, the less likely those cells are to have undergone any differentiation. As a result, scientists involved in stem-cell research generally prefer to use cells derived from the earliest possible (embryonic) stages of development, rather than from the umbilical cord blood of newborns or tissues harvested from adults. Therefore, the use of stem cells from aborted fetuses and discarded embryos from “leftover” IVF procedures now is viewed as a practical necessity since those two sources guarantee large quantities of undifferentiated cells.

But this “practical necessity” has developed into a roiling controversy because of some of the sources of the non-adult stem cells that are being recommended for use in research programs (specifically, sources such as aborted fetuses and soon-to-be-discarded IVF embryos). In fact, emblazoned across the front cover of the July 9, 2001 issue of Newsweek were the words, “The Stem Cell Wars.” In her feature article (“Cellular Divide”) in that issue, staff writer Sharon Begley commented that using stem cells from aborted fetuses and/or discarded IVF embryos has resulted in “the latest embryo war” (138[2]:24).

The argument set forth by those who support embryonic stem-cell research is that fetuses are being aborted by the thousands every day in America (conservative estimates, place the number upwards of 4,000/day!). And, leftover IVF embryos are becoming available in similar (or larger!) numbers. So, why not make “good use” of these aborted fetuses before they reach the landfill? Why not “retrieve” the extra, unwanted, soon-to-be-discarded embryos produced by IVF clinics that never will be used? After all, these represent invaluable sources of ready-made stem cells that otherwise would be destroyed. As paralyzed Hollywood star Christopher Reeve (of the Superman movies) remarked, in his view it would be unethical to let healthy embryos “be tossed away as so much garbage when they could help save thousands of lives” (as quoted in Chapman, 2001). The banner across the front cover of the July 23, 2001 issue of Time heralded “Stem Cells: The Battle Heats Up,” and in his feature article, staff writer John Cloud spent five full pages discussing the controversy and laying out the options presently available to researchers (158[3]:22-26).

The Sanctity of Human Life and Science’s “Slippery Slope”

There are those who insist that such non-adult sources are the very ones we ought to be using in research efforts (especially IVF “left-over” embryos). In his volume, Clones, Genes, and Immortality, John Harris suggested that “it would not be wrong” to use unwanted embryos left over from IVF procedures “so long as the embryo is not in fact implanted” (1998, p. 63). Hubert Markl, current president of the Max Planck Society, wrote a stinging article for the “Commentary” section in the August 2, 2001 issue of Nature, under the title of “Research Doesn’t Denigrate Humanity,” in which he wrote:

This all boils down to the eternal question, “What is a human being?” ...Every human being is new, unique and developed from a fertilized egg cell. However, the fertilized egg is far from being a human being in the full sense of that word: it can be called a human being only if the word is given a meaning totally different from its usual definition. When we refer to an organism as “human,” this is an expression of self-reference, the meaning of which is stipulated not by nature but by humans themselves. “Human” is a culturally defined attribute, not a purely biological fact....

A human being is made not at conception but when the zygote becomes implanted.... [T]here is no biological reason to attribute complete personhood to a few-celled embryo simply because, in interaction with a mother organism, it has the ability to become one (2001, pp. 479,480, emp. added).

And so—if we are to understand these two scientists correctly—were the embryo to be allowed to attach itself to the uterine wall, then it would be wrong to employ it in any given research procedure. But if it is not allowed to implant, then there would be nothing wrong with destroying the embryo by robbing it of its stem cells. [One cannot help but wonder, upon seeing statements such as these, what makes it “right” to destroy the embryo seconds before it attaches itself to the womb, but “wrong” to destroy it seconds after it implants? Furthermore, think for a moment (from the viewpoint of those who defend such a position) about how this argument simultaneously would apply to those cells harvested from aborted fetuses—which represent embryos that most definitely have “already implanted.” Such a procedure—given their own definition—would be “wrong”!]

Pro-life supporters object (and rightly so!) to any procedure that results in the death (like aborting a fetus) or destruction (like dissecting an IVF embryo) of a human being—regardless of the potential for good that may result from being able to use the harvested cells for such noble purposes as the alleviation of suffering or the extension of life. In her article titled “Cloning: Where Do We Draw the Line?” in the August 13, 2001 issue of Time, Nancy Gibbs properly assessed the pro-life position when she wrote:

For strict pro-lifers the issue is straightforward: an embryo at any stage of development is a human life, worthy of protection, and any kind of research that entails destroying an embryo to harvest its cells is immoral, no matter how worthy the intent. It involves using people as means; it turns human life into a commodity and fosters a culture of dehumanization that we accept at our peril (158[6]:20).

While many scientists today adhere to the “technological imperative” that we mentioned earlier (the idea that whatever can be done, will be done), they have failed to realize that the end does not always justify the means! We can retrieve stem cells from aborted fetuses. And we can obtain stem cells from discarded IVF embryos. But that is not the point. The question is: should we? Is it right to abort fetuses in the first place? Is it right to create by in vitro fertilization thousands of “extra” embryos that we know never will be permitted to grow into an adult human? John Cloud summarized the issue quite well when he wrote in his July 23, 2001 Time article:

Stem cells derived from human embryos could lead to cures for some of humanity’s most devastating illnesses—but to get to the little knots of magic tissue, we have to destroy the embryos, which might otherwise one day become babies (158[3]:22, emp. added).

Yes, those aborted fetuses and discarded embryos “might otherwise one day become babies”—a reality that United States President George W. Bush artfully acknowledged in his carefully crafted August 9, 2001 speech on funding of stem-cell research by the federal government. During that speech, he stated:

Research on embryonic stem cells raises profound ethical questions, because extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys its potential for life. Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic potential of an individual human being....

At its core, this issue forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science. It lies at a difficult moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages.... Embryonic stem-cell research is at the leading edge of a series of moral hazards.... [W]hile we must devote enormous energy to conquering disease, it is equally important that we pay attention to the moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryo stem cell research. Even the most noble ends do not justify any means....

I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator. I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your President I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world. And while we’re all hopeful about the potential of this research, no one can be certain that the science will live up to the hope it has generated.

Eight years ago, scientists believed fetal tissue research offered great hope for cures and treatment—yet, the progress to date has not lived up to its initial expectations. Embryonic stem-cell research offers both great promise and great peril. So I have decided we must proceed with great care (2001, emp. added).

Indeed, we must proceed with great care! We are dealing not merely with the lives of those in this generation, but with the lives of those who will compose the next generation as well. And, truth be told, on January 22, 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand, it took the first step on the slippery slope toward the dehumanization of every American. As newspaper columnist Cal Thomas put it: “A nation that will not protect babies at the moment of their birth is not likely to acquire a latent morality on the way to exterminating them at ever-earlier stages” (2001). Or, as Time writers Gibbs and Duffy commented in their “We Must Proceed with Great Care” (August 20, 2001) article: “This is biology spilled down a slippery slope” (158[7]:15, emp. added). A slippery slope indeed! No amount of impassioned or inflamed rhetoric on the part of those who support research using aborted fetuses or left-over IVF embryos can alter the fact that the tiny “knots of magic tissue” known as stem cells could—given an opportunity—one day become babies.

When Does Life Begin?

Life—contradictory claims by eminent scientists notwithstanding—begins at conception. When the gametes join to form the zygote that will grow into the fetus, and when the full complement of chromosomes necessary to produce and support life combines, it is at that moment that the formation of a new body begins. It is the result of a viable male gamete joined sexually with a viable female gamete, which has resulted in the formation of a zygote containing the standard human chromosome number—46. The embryo is growing, and is alive. It is not just “potentially” human; it is human!

As it develops, the embryo will move through a variety of important stages. The first step in the embryonic growth process—which eventually results in the highly differentiated tissues and organs that compose the body of the neonatal child—is the initial mitotic cleavage of that primal cell, the zygote (the cell resulting from the union of the sperm and egg). At this point, the genetic material doubles, matching copies of the chromosomes move to opposite poles, and the cell cleaves into two daughter cells. Shortly afterwards, each of these cells divides again, forming the embryo. [In both humans and animals, the term “embryo” applies to any stage after cleavage but before birth (see Rudin, 1997, p. 125).]

As the cells of the embryo continue to divide, they form a cluster of cells. These divisions are accompanied by additional changes that produce a hollow, fluid-filled cavity inside the ball, which now is a one-layer-thick grouping of cells known as a blastula. Early in the second day after fertilization, the embryo undergoes a process known as gastrulation in which the single-layer blastula turns into a three-layered gastrula consisting of ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm surrounding a cavity referred to as the archenteron. Each of these layers will give rise to very specific structures (see Wallace, 1975, p. 187).

Within 72 hours of fertilization, the embryo will have divided a total of four times, and will consist of sixteen cells. Each cell will divide before it reaches the size of the cell that produced it; hence, the cells will become progressively smaller with each division. By the end of the first month, the embryo will have reached a length of only one-eighth of an inch, but already will consist of millions of cells. By the end of the ninth month, if all proceeds via normal channels, a baby is ready to be born. As one biologist (and author of a widely used secular university biology textbook) noted:

As soon as the egg is touched by the head of a sperm, it undergoes violent pulsating movements which unite the twenty-three chromosomes of the sperm with its own genetic complement. From this single cell, about 1/175 of an inch in diameter, a baby weighing several pounds and composed of trillions of cells will be delivered about 266 days later (Wallace, 1975, p. 194, emp. added).

Is it alive? Of course it is alive. In fact, herein lies one of the most illogical absurdities of arguments set forth by those who defend abortion. They opine that the “thing” in the human womb is not “alive.” If it is not alive, why the need to abort it? Simply leave it alone! Obviously, of course, from their perspective that is not an option because, as everyone is well aware, in nine months that developing fetus will result in a living human baby. The truth of the matter is that human life begins at conception and is continuous, whether intrauterine or extrauterine, until a person’s death. The fact that the zygote/embryo/fetus is living is critically important when answering the question, “When does a person receive his or her soul?” When James observed that “the body apart from the spirit (Greek pneuma) is dead” (2:26), the corollary automatically inherent in his statement is the fact that if the body is living, then the spirit must be present. Since at each stage of its development the zygote/embryo/fetus is living, then it must have had a soul/spirit instilled at conception. No other view is in accord with both the biblical and scientific evidence.

The Ethics of Stem-Cell Research

Medical ethics requires that any experiment on humans be to the subject’s benefit. It hardly is to the benefit of the tiny embryo to be ripped apart as it is “mined” for its mother lode of stem cells. Nor is it to its advantage to be washed down the drain and drowned in the early hours of life! Are these tiny embryos human? If one of them were traveling down a woman’s Fallopian tube or implanted in her uterus instead of floating in a Petri dish, it would be considered unquestionably human. Yet somehow because it now is capable of being manipulated outside the safety of the womb its “humanness” ceases? With what kind of incongruous logic do we reach such a conclusion? In his response to the manner in which IVF procedures are carried out, ethicist Allen Verhey commented:

Even if one did not hold that the human being’s history begins with conception, respect for human life is nevertheless violated here...because here human life is created in order to be destroyed. Here the procedure demands from the very beginning the intention to kill those intentionally fertilized but not chosen (1978, p. 16).

Dr. Verhey’s statement was made in 1978 in regard to strict in vitro fertilization techniques. Now, more than two decades later, it has taken on an entirely new meaning. Why so? In the July 2001 issue of Fertility and Sterility, scientists from the famous Howard and Georgeanna Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, Virginia, announced that they had paid women volunteers from $1,200 to $2,000 each to donate their eggs—eggs that then were fertilized with donor sperm cells to produce living embryos that subsequently were destroyed intentionally in a procedure that robbed them of their precious stem cells.

Of the 162 eggs collected and inseminated by donor sperm, 50 embryos were successfully created. The researchers destroyed 40 of those to get the stem cells that resided inside. Until now, scientists had derived embryonic stem cells mainly from “excess” embryos donated from infertility treatments occurring at IVF clinics. That was not true in this particular case, however. Rather, researchers approached donors and informed them that their eggs and sperm would be used specifically to develop embryos for stem-cell research (see “Virginia Lab Harvests Stem Cells Created for Research,” 2001).

In the July 23, 2001 issue of Newsweek, Debra Rosenberg and Karen Springen reviewed the Jones Institute’s research.

The ethics of the experiment immediately rang alarm bells. Until now most researchers have proposed using frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertility treatments as a source of stem cells. Creating embryos so they can be destroyed was something else, even though the researchers obtained informed consent from the egg and sperm donors (2001, 138[4]:6).

When Dr. Verhey suggested—as long ago as 1978—that “here the procedure demands from the very beginning the intention to kill those intentionally fertilized but not chosen,” he likely had no idea how prescient his statement would be in regard to events occurring more than twenty years later. Now, as a result of the efforts of the Jones Institute, the creation of the embryos has nothing whatsoever to do with the production of life, but rather with the destruction of life. Now, we actually have reached the point in science where we are creating life in the laboratory for the sole purpose of destroying it!

And so, the argument that we merely are “making good use” of embryos left over as a result of IVF procedures—embryos that would have been discarded anyway—no longer holds sway. In fact, now, for all practical intents and purposes, it is a moot point. We no longer need those embryos. Why use frozen specimens when we can produce fresh ones at will—as we need them?

The thought of creating life to destroy it even upsets some of those who otherwise support stem-cell research. In the June 23, 2001 issue of Time, Charles Krauthammer authored an essay titled “Mounting the Slippery Slope” in which he lamented the current ongoings in science.

Had we not all agreed that it is unethical, a violation of the elementary notion that we don’t make of the human embryo a thing—to be made, unmade and used as a mere instrument for others?...

A day after the news from Norfolk, we learned that a laboratory in Worcester, Mass. (the very same lab that three years ago produced a hybrid human-cow embryo) is trying to grow cloned human embryos to produce stem cells—but could be used to produce a full or (even more ghastly) partial human clone. What other monstrosities are going on that we don’t know about?...

People are horrified when a virgin hill is strip-mined for coal; how can they be unmoved when a human embryo is created solely to be strip-mined for its parts?

What next? Today a blastocyst is created for harvesting. Tomorrow, researchers may find that a five-month-old fetus with a discernible human appearance, suspended in an artificial placenta, may be the source of even more promising body parts. At what point do we draw the line?... [We] owe posterity a moral universe not trampled and corrupted by arrogant, brilliant science (2001, 158[3]:80, emp. added).

Krauthammer is correct in his assessment. Barring governmental intervention, cloning human stem cells likely will become as routine as paying women to donate their eggs, or paying men to donate their sperm, to produce embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them in order to harvest their stem cells. That phrase, “barring government intervention,” is critically important.

Legal Guidelines for Stem-Cell Research

In the United States, prior to the decision by President Bush on August 9, 2001 to allow limited research on stem cells using solely those lines already in existence, two distinct sets of guidelines addressed the status of research on human embryos—both of which militated against their use in research. The first was the 1994 Report of the Human Embryo Research Panel; the second was a group of regulations regarding research on transplantation of fetal tissues (section 498A of the Public Health Services Act). Both sets of guidelines specifically prohibited the use of public funds for research on tissues derived from human embryos.

Late in 1998, however, Harold Varmus, who at the time was the director of the National Institutes of Health, decided to allow funding of pluripotent stem-cell research. In response to his decision, in February 1999 seventy members of Congress signed a letter calling upon the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse Varmus’ decision and impose a ban on stem cells from human embryos or fetuses. In July 1999, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission recommended federal funding not only for research on human embryonic stem cells, but also for the production of cell cultures, even at the cost of sacrificing embryos. The White House, however, eventually adopted a more conservative position which suggested that research on embryonic stem cells “is permissible under the current congressional ban”—a position that backed the NIH interpretation of current laws allowing government funds to be spent to study, but not to derive, stem cells from embryos (derivation could occur only in private laboratories).

In late 1999, the NIH issued new guidelines for research on embryonic stem cells. Those guidelines, reported in the December 10, 1999 issue of Science, were as follows: (see Vogel, 1999, 286:2050-2051):

Deriving new cells from embryos Prohibited
Research on privately derived cell lines from embryos Prohibited
Deriving new cell lines from fetal tissues Allowed
Research that would use stem cells to create a human embryo Allowed
Combining human stem cells with animal embryos Prohibited
Use of stem cells for reproductive cloning Prohibited
Use of stem cells for reproductive cloning Research on stem cells derived from embryos created for research purposes Prohibited

Then, in August 2000, the NIH revised the above guidelines (as reported in Science, September 1, 2000; see Vogel, 2000b, 289:1442-1443) to state that NIH -funded researchers could work on embryonic pluripotent stem cells derived by privately funded researchers, provided that:

Embryonic stem cell lines are derived only from frozen embryos created for fertility treatments (viz., IVF procedures).

The decision to donate the embryos is separated from fertility treatment.

Embryo donors are told they cannot accept financial or other compensation and that the cells may be used indefinitely, possibly even for commercial purposes (embryo donors may be identified, if they are notified in advance).

No stem cells may be used for research if those cells have been derived from nuclear transfer technology (i.e., cloning).

On January 28, 2001, Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health, asking the NIH to submit a report on the current status of the science involved in stem-cell research. The 168-page, heavily illustrated document, produced in compliance with Secretary Thompson’s request and titled Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions, was released on June 10, 2001 (we were able to obtain a complete copy just as this article was about to go to press). The report encourages federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research (see Stem Cells: Scientific Progress..., 2001).

Many scientists are loath to restrict their future experiments to already-existing stem-cell lines, due mainly to the fact that they do not believe current lines offer enough genetic diversity. Plus, cutting off the source for any future stem cells, scientists say, would limit severely the diversity that is required to make the stem-cell research applicable in all cases since each stem-cell line varies subtly from all others and researchers have not yet determined which ones are best. Cell biologists believe that even if there are as many as 60-65 cell lines available worldwide (the number identified by the NIH), that still would be too few to ensure successful therapies for many diseases. They also note that several of the existing cell lines do not grow well in culture, rendering them impractical for important research efforts.

Is Stem-Cell Research a Panacea?

Adding to the controversy is the fact that we now know that embryonic stem cells can be disadvantageous when injected into the body, since they may produce tumors resulting from rapid growth. In the words of Michael Shamblott, a researcher in John Gearhart’s laboratory at Johns Hopkins University: “Injected into the body, stem cells can produce tumors” (see “New Lab-Made Stem Cells May be Key to Transplants,” 2000).

Critics of stem-cell research point out, accurately, that the cells for this research still come from the destruction of human embryos. In a feature article in the July 30, 2001 issue of U.S. News & World Report on “Matters of Life and Death,” Terence Samuel commented on this gruesome fact and presented the view of one conservative United States senator (Sam Brownback of Kansas) when he wrote:

Stem cells are elemental human cells that can generate many different kinds of human tissue.... Opponents contend that extracting cells for research kills the embryos and therefore kills the children that might have developed from the embryos. It is, in their eyes, a simple act of murder (2001, 131[4]:16).

The fact that the destruction took place in the past does not lessen the dastardly nature of the deed; nor does it justify the use of the cells merely because the humans that provided them are not being killed now. As Gene Tarne, spokesman for the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, observed: “The stem-cell lines are derived from destroying embryos, whether that was yesterday or next week” (as quoted in Wadman, 2001).

The sad part of all of this is that the destruction of embryonic stem cells is completely unnecessary. There are acceptable alternatives. As Kelly Hollowell observed:

The best sources of stem cells are (1) from our own organs—termed adult stem cells or tissue stem cells; (2) cord blood (the small amount of blood left in an umbilical cord after it is detached from a newborn); (3) bone marrow stem cells which have been demonstrated to make more than blood but also bone, muscle, cartilage, heart tissue, liver, and even brain cells; (4) and neuronal stem cells which can be stimulated to make more neurons, or to take up different job descriptions as muscle and blood.

Bone marrow and cord blood are already successfully being used clinically, while clinical use of embryonic stem cells is years away. Current clinical applications of adult stem cells include treatments for cancer, arthritis, lupus and making new corneas, to name a few (2001, emp. added).

CONCLUSION

The potential legalization of the wanton destruction of human embryos represents a Pandora’s box of evils about to be thrust upon society. Medical ethicist Paul Ramsey has suggested that we cannot even develop the kinds of reproductive technologies being discussed here “without conducting unethical experiments upon the unborn who must be the mishaps (the dead and retarded ones) through whom we learn how” (as quoted in Restak, 1975, p. 65).

If a person shoots an eagle—the symbol of our country—the American judicial system will throw him in prison and toss away the key. That same system will stop a multi-million dollar dam in the state of Tennessee to save an inch-long snail-darter fish, or fly a former President of the United States to the northwest sector of America to discuss the fate of a spotted owl. Yet should some scientist intentionally destroy a human child in its most defenseless, embryonic stage, such an act not only is viewed as desirable and beneficial, but simultaneously is countenanced as legal. The Proverbs writer stated: “There are six things which Jehovah hateth; Yea, seven which are an abomination unto Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood” (6:16-17, emp. added). What blood could be more innocent than that of a tiny infant—regardless of whether it is in an embryonic in vitro state or a prenatal in vivo stage?

Faithful Christians must oppose such atrocities in a forthright (yet, of course, non-violent) manner. It is not an option for Christians to choose whether or not to care for those who cannot care for themselves; God’s Word contains specific commands regarding such actions on our part (Leviticus 19:32; James 1:27; Isaiah 1:23; Romans 15:1). Ignoring those commands, and remaining apathetic to the horrors around us—potential or real—invariably produces evil fruits. It is sad indeed to think that we have come to such a point in America’s history. Yet here we are—at a time when scientists have stated publicly that they are willing to destroy human embryos in ever-increasing numbers in order to achieve their stated goals. Sad times!

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