Stem cells & cloning

The first signs that the US is lagging behind in stem cell research started to show: for the first time, “scientists have created nearly a dozen new lines of human embryonic stem (ES) cells that […] carry the genetic signature of diseased or injured patients”, and this did not happen in America, but at Seoul National University in South Korea. Here is an explanation from The New York Times why it is important to get stem cells from cloned embrios rather than from surplus embrios from fertility clinics:

“Stem cells derived from cloned human embryos that are genetically matched to sick patients are potentially much more useful than stem cells derived from surplus embryos at fertility clinics, both for research and for potential treatments. Since cloned embryos carry the genetic makeup of patients with known diseases, scientists can study how those diseases develop from the earliest stages and can perhaps find drug treatments to interrupt the process. And if scientists ultimately succeed in converting the stem cells themselves into replacement tissues to repair damaged organs, those tissues would have the best chance of avoiding rejection by a patient’s immune system if they were genetically matched to the patient through therapeutic cloning.”

Scientists are excited — but, of course, some people immediately expressed their concerns. The president said today that “the use of federal money, taxpayers’ money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is – I’m against that.” Destroys life? What life? Using a few cells that happen to come from a fertilized egg in order to save real, living and breathing humans, whose quality of life could be tremendously improved with the potential new techniques — why is that unethical?

It is a lot more unethical to ban this kind of research just because one’s religion declares that life begins at conception. It makes sense to ban reproductive cloning because it is still unsafe. But to ban therapeutic cloning is utter nonsense, and it is really time to shut up for those who have only learned about genetics at Sunday school.

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