by Wesley J. Smith
September 26, 2007
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. His latest book is Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World.
Remember those quaint old days when biotechnologists told us that “all” they wanted to effectuate embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) was merely access to leftover in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos “that were going to be tossed out anyway?”
Actually, I misspeak. Those days might have been quaint but they definitely aren’t old. Human embryonic stem cells were only derived in 1998; the great ESCR debate has been with us for fewer than ten years.
Alas, the controversy might be young, but the blithe assurances about restricting ESCR to leftover IVF embryos have already become inoperative—assuming the “restriction” was seriously made in the first place.
In 2005, for example, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published voluntary ethical guidelines to which it urged stem cell and cloning researchers to adhere. Despite much media fanfare, the NAS guidelines drew no meaningful boundaries. Indeed, not only did the NAS give its imprimatur to using leftover embryos in embryonic stem cell research, but also supported creating embryos solely for the purpose of experimentation—using both in vitro fertilization and somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning methods.
Not to be outdone in the “anything goes” contest that is infecting the entire biotech sector, earlier this year the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) announced its own " Guidelines for the Conduct of Embryonic Stem Cell Research ."
So, how far do the ISSCR Guidelines allow embryonic stem cell researchers to go in pursuing CURES! CURES! CURES!? A lo-o-o-ong way: Like the NAS, the ISSCR explicitly endorsed creating new human embryos –both natural and cloned—for destruction and use in stem-cell research.
And now, Brave New Britain’s (we never say no) regulators have authorized scientists to attempt to create cloned human embryos using animal eggs . Why create these so-called human/animal “cybrids?”
Because the great human cloning project has, at least temporarily, run aground. Against most expectations, human somatic cell nuclear transfer is proving exceptionally difficult to accomplish. Indeed, to date there have been no credible reports of more than rudimentary human embryos being created through this technique—and none that were able to be developed to the point that embryonic stem cells could be derived.
One reason for this apparent failure may be the dearth of human eggs. Somatic cell nuclear transfer—the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep—requires one egg for each cloning attempt.
But human eggs are a rare commodity. Indeed, “the scientists” and their boosters—such as the New York Times Editorial Board —grouse that women aren’t donating their eggs in sufficient numbers to support the research. Hence, the idea is to mingle human DNA with animal eggs to perfect human cloning techniques.
What are we to make of this?
On one hand, the cybrid story may never amount to much. Given the tremendous difficulties in creating cloned embryos using human eggs, it would seem highly unlikely that cybrid embryos will prove any easier to manufacture. Moreover, even though the animal essence in each resulting stem cell would amount to less than one percent, this foreign substance could be enough to prevent proper embryonic development and/or the safe use of cybrid stem cells in human patients.
On the other hand, the approval by British regulators for creating manimal embryos—and the widespread support for the decision among the American media elite and biotechnology sector–illustrates the growing recklessness and hubris among the scientific establishment.
Unwilling to pause long enough for society to ethically grapple with the awesome powers they are assuming, refusing to accept any meaningful ethical limits, presuming that because they think they can do something that they should go right out and do it, advocates for cloning and ESCR have demonstrated that they have no intention in engaging in self restraint.
It is as if they have drained all the brake fluid from the bus and we now are careering toward the precipice with seemingly no way to stop.