What Cloning Advocates Don’t Say About Human Cloning

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Aug 26, 2011   |   4:45PM   |   Washington, DC

Discussing cloning in animals is easy.  No one seems to have a problem accurately describing the process of cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT, for a sheep or a cow.

(SCNT is the process used to create Dolly the sheep.  In SCNT, the nucleus of an egg is removed.  The egg’s nucleus is replaced with a nucleus of a somatic cell, like a skin cell, from an adult organism.  The egg with a new set of DNA is zapped into thinking it has been fertilized and a cloned embryo is formed.)  In fact, I have never seen a cloning account for an animal that wasn’t accurate.  For example, this description by Popular Science on plans to use SCNT with eggs from spayed domestic cats to clone the endangered Scottish wildcat.  This account of SCNT clearly states that it would produce a wildcat embryo:

It would work by developing the immature spayed-egg cells in vitro, to make them suitable for cloning. Then the eggs would be used to produce an embryo that contains the genetic material of the donor wildcat. This embryo would be transplanted in a surrogate cat.

For the rest of the animal kingdom, SCNT is a no-brainer.  Egg + somatic cell nucleus = cloned embryo.  But no so for humans.  In humans, many people argue that SCNT is an entirely different process.  In humans, it does not create a cloned embryo like in animals.  Instead SCNT in humans only makes “a clump of cells.”  For example, in Minnesota Medicine, an M.D. and a Ph.D. do a real snow job.  They write this about SCNT:

SCNT is a laboratory technique that involves the transfer of a cell nucleus from a somatic cell into an enucleated egg (one from which the nucleus has been removed). The technique produces a formless group of cells that is smaller than the cross-section of a human hair.

So SCNT in animals: egg + somatic nucleus = cloned embryo. Got it.  But for humans: egg + somatic nucleus = formless group of cells that is smaller than the cross-section of a human hair. Don’t got it.

If you think this is a curious distinction then you are right.  Why is it that no one has a problem accurately describing the cloning of animals but when it comes to humans, proper scientific terminology gets dropped like a greased watermelon?  Because instinctively all of us know that humans are different: not biologically different, but morally different.  We have an inherent dignity simply because we are human.  This inherent dignity is evidenced by ubiquitous laws against the taking of innocent human life.  To make the cloning of human embryos and their destruction palatable to the masses, scientists, advocates and politicians alike have to lie about the process and insist that, in humans, SCNT does not, in fact, make a cloned embryo as it does with our animals friends. Instead SCNT in humans makes only “a formless group of cells” totally devoid of any humanity at all.

In the cloning advocates eyes, pretending that SCNT doesn’t make cloned embryos means problem solved.  Create and destroy human life by pretending no human life is created and destroyed.  Except we know they are being disingenuous.  And there are a handful of scientists who are brave enough to say so as well.  Like James Thomson, embryonic stem cell pioneer, who said the following when asked if SCNT only could make cells and not babies:

See, you’re trying to define it away, and it doesn’t work. If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn’t know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is.

It’s true that they have a much lower probability of giving rise to a child. … But by any reasonable definition, at least at some frequency, you’re creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you’re being disingenuous.

The paradox is astounding.  The same people who say that SCNT does not created embryos in humans would likely also say that humans are just animals.  Then why doesn’t the animal description of SCNT apply to humans?  Maybe because they also know, but will not admit, that cloning human embryos is morally problematic.  It is what cloning advocates don’t say about SCNT in humans that speaks the loudest.

LifeNews.com Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).