by Robert P. George and Eric Cohen
July 17, 2006
LifeNews.com Note: Robert George is the McCormick professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Eric Cohen is a fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of the New Atlantis.
For the past few years many of the world’s leading scientists have promoted so-called therapeutic cloning as the most promising way to produce clinically useful, genetically tailored, biologically versatile stem cells.
That is why claims by a team of South Korean researchers — one in 2004 that the first cloned human embryo had been produced, then another in 2005 that the process of producing embryonic stem cell lines from cloned embryos could be done routinely and efficiently — were hailed as a watershed.
Hwang Woo Suk, the lead researcher, became an international celebrity. Then the world discovered it was all a scandalous fraud. Last November, we learned Hwang used eggs procured from junior researchers in his own lab — violating the Helsinki Declaration that governs medical research — and then lied to cover it up.
Some dismiss the fraud as the work of a few bad scientific apples and even cite such errant behavior as a reason for American researchers to create and destroy cloned embryos for themselves. The scientific argument, made with great hype, remains the same: If you want useful stem cells, you must create and destroy cloned human embryos.
But this is exactly the wrong lesson to draw from the South Korean scandal.
Cloning will always be morally corrupt because it requires deliberately creating and destroying thousands (or millions) of human embryos. At the same time, the current effort in Congress to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to include embryos left over in fertility clinics will never satisfy scientists, because such stem cells will not give them the genetic control they want over the cells.
The Senate recently agreed to consider three bioethics bills: one to permit federal funding for research on embryos left over in fertility clinics, one to prohibit fetal farming and one to fund alternative methods of producing genetically controlled, pluripotent stem cells — just the kind of stem cells we would get from cloning, but without the embryo destruction.
The first of these bills is misguided: For the first time, it would use taxpayer dollars to encourage the destruction of embryos, without giving researchers the genetically customized cells they desire.
The second and third bills, however, would enable our country to explore the potential of stem cells without violating human dignity or taking human life.
If cloning is really so important for research, then overturning the Bush administration policy to fund research on "spare" in vitro fertilization embryos is not very useful.
Instead of engaging in fraud and coverup, or conducting experiments that violate the moral principles of many citizens, we should look to scientific creativity for an answer. Since the cloning fraud, many scientists have been doing just that. And others, such as Kevin Eggan at Harvard, may have found a technique, called cell fusion, that would create new, versatile, genetically controlled stem cell lines by fusing existing stem cells and ordinary DNA.
In other words: all the benefits of research cloning without the ethical problems. Looking ahead, it is becoming increasingly likely that reprogramming adult cells to pluripotency, rather than destroying human embryos, will be the future of regenerative medicine. It offers both a more efficient and far more ethical way forward.