University of Minnesota Still Questioned About Concerns Over Its Human Cloning

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 26, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

University of Minnesota Still Questioned About Concerns Over Its Human Cloning

by Scott Fischbach
June 26, 2009 Note: Scott Fischbach is the executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a statewide pro-life group that is affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee. Background on this editorial can be found here.

A report earlier this month on the accusations of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life against the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute ("University of Minnesota says stem cell research complaint isn’t valid," June 3) badly confuses MCCL’s two charges: that the university is pursuing human cloning and that its embryo-destructive research violates Minnesota law. Let me explain our dispute with the university in order to clarify MCCL’s concerns and set the record straight.

On May 26 the U’s Wendy Burt, Academic Health Center director of public and community affairs, wrote a letter to MCCL denouncing as "absolutely false" our assertion that the university "is believed to be pursuing human cloning for research purposes." She asked that we remove that claim from our literature and issue a retraction visible to our members and the community.

In MCCL’s May 29 response to Burt, we made two distinct points. First, we showed that our claim about the university’s interest in human cloning is fully warranted, and in fact understated. The U’s own Dr. Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences, told the Higher Education Conference Committee on May 4 that "therapeutic cloning … is really at the core of much of what we do."

Indeed, in her letter Burt said only that the university "is opposed to reproductive cloning," never mentioning the so-called "therapeutic cloning" that is at issue. Both therapeutic and reproductive cloning use the same technique, somatic cell nuclear transfer, to produce a new human organism; therapeutic cloning kills and harvests this young human for his or her useful parts, while reproductive cloning allows him or her to be implanted in a woman’s uterus in order to continue growing.

A few weeks ago, Minnesota’s higher education appropriations bill was signed into law, and it included an MCCL-backed provision banning the use of state funds for human cloning at the university. In an April 22 letter to Sen. Sandy Pappas opposing the provision, Cerra wrote: "This bill will stifle important and ongoing University of Minnesota research."

If we are to take Cerra at his word, we must conclude that the Stem Cell Institute not only is pursuing human cloning but also had been using state dollars to fund such research.

According to a Pioneer Press report on June 3, "University spokeswoman Mary Koppel said (Cerra’s) comments (to Pappas) referred to earlier versions of the bill that were broader in scope." But the original House and Senate versions were no broader than the bill as signed into law; it was always and still is a very narrow prohibition on the use of state funds for human cloning (i.e., somatic cell nuclear transfer), precisely defined.

Koppel also said, "This (cloning funding ban) just sort of codifies what we already have in place." But it is unclear why the university actively campaigned against the ban if the school agreed with it, or if the ban would have no effect on university research.

If the university is not pursuing human cloning for research purposes, will it condemn as false Cerra’s testimony on behalf of the U that "therapeutic cloning … is really at the core of much of the work we do"? If the university is pursuing human cloning, will it apologize for misleading the public and for its slander of MCCL?

The second point in our May 29 letter to the university pertains to the Stem Cell Institute’s ongoing embryonic research in general. Minnesota Statute 145.422 prohibits "the use of a living human conceptus for any type of scientific, laboratory research or other experimentation except to protect the life or health of the conceptus."

The destruction of human embryos for embryonic stem cell research seems to violate this longstanding law, yet the university has refused to provide any legal rationale for its conduct.

The June 3 article mistakenly suggests that MCCL is accusing the university of violating the new ban on funding of human cloning, which has not even gone into effect; in truth, MCCL contends that the university is breaking Minnesota Statute 145.422.

We again call on the university to address this charge.

With regard to their rhetoric concerning human cloning and their apparent dismissal of state law, university leaders have much for which they need to answer.

Sign Up for Free Pro-Life News From

Daily Pro-Life News Report Twice-Weekly Pro-Life
News Report
Receive a free daily email report from with the latest pro-life news stories on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here. Receive a free twice-weekly email report with the latest pro-life news headlines on abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. Sign up here.