Scientists Still Pushing for Human Cloning Amid Media Blackout

Bioethics   |   David Prentice   |   Dec 9, 2010   |   12:48PM   |   Washington, DC

While the subject of cloning has not been in the news lately, people should realize that there are some scientists who still want human clones, and politicians pushing for approval of human cloning for experiments.

Back in October, UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee published a report suggesting a fresh look at the 2005 UN Declaration against all human cloning, as well as encouraging a change in cloning terminology to sanitize the production of cloned human embryos to make it more acceptable. The committee proposed “different options for legal regulation of human reproductive cloning (including the possibility of a moratorium)”, essentially opening the possibility of future born human clones.

Redefining cloning terminology has been tried before, in an attempt to disguise facts. “Reproductive cloning” means the production of cloned embryos and gestation for a live birth. “Therapeutic cloning” or “research cloning” means the production of cloned embryos for the purpose of destroying them in an attempt to get their embryonic stem cells.

The UNESCO committee proposed the following new definitions:

define human “reproductive cloning” as using the linear DNA nucleotide sequence of an existing human being to create an embryo, which is implanted into womb with the purpose to produce human baby.

The use of the terms “therapeutic” or “research” cloning to describe the process of obtaining pluripotent stem cells should be avoided. Instead, a term that describes the process rather than the intention behind it, such as “derivation of pluripotent cells” (by somatic cell nuclear transfer; re-programming (e.g. iPS) or any other existing or future technology) can be used.

If adopted, these slick new definitions would actually confuse the issue, disguising the fact that in either case, a human embryo is created, no matter what the final intentions for use of the embryo.

Cloning Push in Congress

This same disingenuous playing with definitions is also contained in two bills before the U.S. Congress. Rep. Diana DeGette has filed HR 4808, and Sen. Arlen Specter has filed S 3766, ostensibly to allow federal taxpayer funding of human embryonic stem cell research. But hidden in the definitions is a provision that would actually allow taxpayer funding of human embryo cloning:

In this section, the term `human cloning’ means the implantation of the product of transferring the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into an egg cell from which the nuclear material has been removed or rendered inert into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.

What this actually says is that making cloned human embryos would be allowed, but that the embryos would have to be destroyed for experiments. The scientific language describes “somatic cell nuclear transfer”, a.k.a., cloning; the “product” referenced is an embryo.
So, though DeGette and Specter claim they are banning human cloning, they are actually proposing federal taxpayer funding of human cloning for experiments. Rep. DeGette claims she has the votes to pass her bill in Congress.

Cloners International

Back on the international scene, there are still those trying to create cloned human embryos. Australian scientists recently applied for a license to make cloned human embryos for experiments.

The British Medical Research Council in collaboration with California’s cloning and embryonic stem cell institute also recently published a report pushing for human cloning. Trying to whip up fervor for human cloning (again preferring sanitized technical terms such as “somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)”, “nuclear reprogramming”, or “nuclear transfer”), the workshop report goes to great lengths to develop justifications for human cloning experiments as a “useful tool”, with presentations by some of the leading proponents of human cloning, including Weissman, Mitalipov, Schöler, Wood, and Tuch. But the bottom line is that all of these as well as others including Zavos, Antinori, and the Raelians still want human clones.