Industrialized Human Cloning Looms
By Helen Hull Hitchcock
The US biotechnology industry is pressuring citizens to finance its expansion into human cloning for research -- by law. So far, the industry is succeeding very well, as “Proposition 71” in California, which provided a $3 billion bond for the purpose, demonstrates.
In Missouri, the industry has spent more than $13 million in recent months in a propaganda campaign to get a proposed Amendment to the Missouri Constitution on the ballot this November that would force taxpayers to fund research on embryonic stem cells, and would prohibit any limitations whatever on producing cloned embryos to supply the material for experimentation. Furthermore, the proposed amendment that would add a new section to the state constitution, the “Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative”, would be virtually unalterable because of the language in which it is written.
Millions have been pumped into the industry’s promotional campaign to get this amendment passed by Missouri voters -- financed primarily by a Kansas City biotech company, Stowers Institute for Research, which intends a $300,000 expansion as soon as the Constitutional Amendment is passed. Stowers Institute states that it was founded in 2000 “with the expectation of adding 600,000 square-feet of research space every decade in perpetuity”. (emphasis added) Though it has an endowment of $2 billion, planning for the expansion was halted, says Stowers, “in the face of persistent legislative threats to criminalize important forms of stem cell research deemed critical to the Institute’s mission of conducting world-class biomedical research”.
(See - www.stowers-institute.org/WhatsNew/pr2006/PR062006.asp).
What “forms of stem cell research” does Stowers fear will be criminalized? According to Stowers President and CEO, William B. Neaves, it is “Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer” -- in a word, cloning. In his article, “Stem Cells from Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer: Research to Unlock the Body’s Potential for Self-Repair” (Missouri Medicine, January-February 2005; c.f., Stowers web site - www.stowers-institute.org/MediaCenter/docs/NeavesSomaticCellFeature.pdf.), Dr. Neaves says that while “reproductive cloning” to create a fully developed human clone “should be outlawed”, if SCNT were outlawed, “[t]he Stowers Institute would be forced to pursue research in regenerative medicine in another jurisdiction. All citizens would eventually experience the consequences of such a drastic restriction on life-improving medical research”. If Missouri voters do not amend the State Constitution to finance Stowers’ efforts, they threaten to take their business elsewhere.
The obvious economic bias that benefits exclusively one industry is hardly the most significant sign that something is seriously amiss with the ethics of those who devised Amendment 2.
This is the language that will appear on the ballot:
OFFICIAL SUMMARY OF THE INITIATIVE DRAFTED BY THE MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to allow and set limitations on stem cell research, therapies, and cures which will:
• ensure Missouri patients have access to any therapies and cures, and allow Missouri researchers to conduct any research, permitted under federal law;
• ban human cloning or attempted cloning;
• require expert medical and public oversight and annual reports on the nature and purpose of stem cell research;
• impose criminal and civil penalties for any violations; and
• prohibit state or local governments from preventing or discouraging lawful stem cell research, therapies and cures?”
(Emphasis added. See Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures web site www.missouricures.com/facts.php)
But this brief ballot summary of the proposed Amendment 2 uses deceptive phrasing to catch voters off-balance.
The actual amendment states that “any stem cell research permitted under federal law may be conducted in Missouri”. It seems to prohibit human cloning in its list of “limitations”:
“(1) No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being”.
That seems plain enough. But read on. The amendment later defines “cloning” thus:
“Subsection 6, (2): ‘Clone or attempt to clone a human being’ means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being”.
This is a false definition of cloning. To clone means “to create a genetic copy of”; and this “genetic copying” takes place at the moment a cell from one human or animal (containing genetic material only from that person or animal), is transferred into an emptied egg cell -- the procedure called “Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer” (SCNT). This cloning procedure precedes implanting the cloned cells into the uterus, of course. It is precisely by this process that Dolly the sheep was produced -- though, significantly, no human embryonic stem cells have been produced by this method (as the scandals involving false claims in Korean experiments by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk revealed).
Amendment 2 also solemnly assures us that
“(2) No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research”, and “(3) No stem cells may be taken from a human blastocyst more than fourteen days after cell division begins; provided, however, that time during which a blastocyst is frozen does not count against the fourteen day limit”. (Emphasis added.)
This too is misleading. Note that this does not prohibit in vitro fertilization clinics from overproducing blastocysts. Obviously not all the tiny human embryos created will be implanted in their mother’s uterus -- the rest are frozen. Does this create an incentive for fertilization clinics to produce more human embryos than can be used for the primary purpose in order to supply “material” for experimentation?
In fact, the amendment explicitly states [¶6(13)(ii)], that the definition of “stem cells” includes those “embryonic stem cells (including but not limited to stem cells derived from in vitro fertilization blastocysts and from cell reprogramming techniques such as somatic cell nuclear transfer)”.
There are more serious questions and concerns:
• What is the realistic human value of the research? Many in the biotech community are now expressing reservations about the likelihood of ever finding a way to use embryonic stem cells to cure diseases. (Far more promising is the use of “adult” stem-cells, e.g., from bone-marrow or umbilical cords.)
• The potential exploitation of women in order to “harvest” their eggs (oocytes) for the researchers’ experiments.
• The creation of human embryos for the express purpose of using them as objects of research.
• The fundamental concept of cloning human beings. The method of creating new human embryos for these experiments involves removing the nucleus of the woman’s egg so that it will provide a neutral medium. The emptied egg cell is then implanted with a cell (called a “somatic cell” from another person, so that the embryo that develops will carry only the genetic information of that person. This “nuclear transfer” procedure is, by definition, cloning, even if the clone is to be destroyed at an early stage and is never allowed to become a baby.
Many people have overwhelming confidence in the “miracles” of modern technology, and in science to find morally and ethically acceptable answers to all these concerns. Most people are no more knowledgeable about cellular biology than they are about space exploration, and thus are vulnerable to grossly exaggerated claims about potential benefits to mankind from experiments with human embryos -- and are easily persuaded to regard any criticism of these proposals as scientifically unsophisticated, or as solely religious concerns.
So people may ask, what if it takes twenty years to develop ways of controlling the development of cells from cloned embryos into the desired cells to implant into a diseased organ? So what if it takes many more years to control the wild multiplication of these cells once they are implanted in a brain or a pancreas or a spinal cord? Wouldn’t finding a cure for fearful diseases like cancer or Alzheimer’s be worth all these years, the “harvesting” of eggs from the ovaries of countless women, and the sacrifice of millions of human embryos? Don’t we have to think in long-range terms? If we can put a man on the moon, can’t we expect science to discover a way to use cloned human embryos to cure dreadful diseases? (Building a city on Venus is a more apt comparison, so remote is the possibility of curing diseases using embryonic stem cells. However, our expectations of “conquering space” are far more realistic now than they were in the last century.) Can’t I be “pro-life” and vote for this amendment?
Senator Jack Danforth, a Republican and an Episcopalian priest from St. Louis, served 18 years as US Senator from Missouri, and has always claimed to be “pro-life”. He is one of Amendment 2’s strongest supporters, and Stowers Institute capitalizes on this. An Associated Press story of September 15 described Danforth as “waging a passionate and personal fight to support embryonic stem cell research and its potential to cure ailments like Lou Gehrig’s disease, which claimed the life of his older brother Don in 1999. He has taken a leading role in championing a Missouri ballot initiative this year that would protect all federally allowed stem cell research in the state. The measure is opposed by many church and anti-abortion groups”. (“Danforth urges Republicans to end Christian right’s influence”, by Sam Hananel.)
The story quotes Senator Danforth: “No theologian, however learned; no church council, however authoritative; no bishop or archbishop, however holy will ever persuade me that protecting a frozen embryo that will never see the light of day should take precedence over my brother Don”.
Is Senator Danforth truly unaware that the amendment expressly permits cloning of human beings to provide “material” for the biotech industry? Does he realize that his brother Don could not have been cured, no matter how many of his own tiny clones were sacrificed? Perhaps he does not fully realize what he is “passionately supporting”.
But precisely this kind of emotional overload and twisting of facts is cynically used in the multi-million dollar advertising campaign to promote Amendment 2. It will be hard for many people to resist. No one can fail to sympathize with the heart-wrenching plight of the sweet child with a terminal illness -- but to imply that voting for Amendment 2 will help her or those who love her is utterly false. The message of these commercials is that to vote against the amendment is to vote against the child.
The propaganda campaign is deliberately deceptive (and speaking of ethics, how ethical is it to use images of suffering children to advance one industry’s agenda?) The amendment’s statement that “No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being” is a flat-out lie. A recent editorial supporting Amendment 2 frankly acknowledged this. After a rally led by Senator Danforth in August, Henry J. Waters, III, publisher of the Columbia Daily Tribune, wrote:
Let us freely admit that the procedure used to produce human stem cells for research is cloning, but not in any way part of a process for creating human babies. The distinction should be clear.
Society is not yet ready to condone laboratory procreation of humans. The ballot initiative specifically prohibits using embryos produced for research from being used for human procreation.
Mr. Waters deplored that “a sturdy band of religious activists believes to destroy one of these never-to-be-human Petri-dish organisms is the same as abortion, which is the same as murder”. And he concluded his editorial, “Individuals should be allowed to believe what they want, but making public policy is something else”. We agree in part with his conclusion. People can also disbelieve what they want. But “making public policy” to clone human life is precisely the issue.
If Amendment 2 is passed, all government actions that could discourage cloning and embryo destruction will be unconstitutional:
“7. The provisions of this section and of all state and local laws, regulations, rules, charters, ordinances, and other governmental actions shall be construed in favor of the conduct of stem cell research and the provision of stem cell therapies and cures. No state or local law, regulation, rule, charter, ordinance, or other governmental action shall (i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by this section to be conducted or provided, or (ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies and cures.”
Note this language carefully. It not only permits of every kind of stem cell research, but it also makes it unconstitutional for any future law to put any limits whatsoever on the stem-cell research industry.
The bishops of Missouri have attempted to address these matters. Last November they attempted forestall the petition for the Amendment. In April they appealed a Court judgment on the “ballot title” or summary, which is all the voters will read in the voting booth. “We are very concerned with the deceptive wording of the human cloning initiative”, stated Deacon Larry Weber, Executive Director of the Missouri Catholic Conference. “Missouri voters have a right to know that somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is human cloning and this initiative will enshrine human cloning and the destruction of human life in the state’s constitution.”
Every bishop in Missouri has made a statement on this issue (accessible on the Missouri Catholic Conference web site - www.mocatholic.org/StemCell-Cloning/SCHCDex.htm), and they have asked every parish in the state to hold an educational session on the proposed amendment. The Missouri Catholic Conference sponsored a series of meetings on the proposed amendment. And the Missouri Roundtable For Life has produced “A Word-by-Word Critique of the So-Called ‘Missouri Stem Cell Research And Cures Initiative’”. (See www.moroundtable.org.)
The promoters of the stem-cell amendment to the Missouri Constitution are extraordinarily powerful -- politically and financially. It will take a miracle to defeat this Goliath. It must be done, and it can be done -- but only with God’s help.
More on Stem Cell Resources click here.
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