- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Once again the ethical markers are being moved. Once the stuff of science-fiction novels — creating human life to experiment on it — is described as a moral imperative.

How can that be? Because it’s being done for a greater good. That way (and only that way) lies the cure for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and diabetes and athlete’s foot and who knows what other ills.

This kind of human cloning is billed as “therapeutic” as opposed to “reproductive” cloning, the kind that would be used to produce designer babies with custom-made genetic characteristics. So far that limit is being respected. So far.

“Therapeutic” cloning isn’t therapeutic for the embryo created; it is destroyed at an early stage so its stem cells can be extracted for research purposes.

What about using adult stem cells instead? Or stem cells from umbilical-cord blood? They don’t present the kind of ethical problems associated with exploiting embryonic stem cells, and they’re already used in treating scores of diseases.

Stem cells derived from the youngest human embryos are supposed to be the most versatile of all (totipotent), but only in theory. In experiments to date, they’ve produced mainly weird tumors.

So why not concentrate on stem cells from sources other than human embryos? Or creating such cells without creating human embryos first? That’s now possible, too.

Nope, those alternatives would be entirely too ethical. Only this one approach — creating and then destroying these embryos — will do. Why? Is it because only this one approach — this one fruit in the Garden — has been forbidden to us so far?

Human nature doesn’t change very much, does it?

Cloning embryos is definitely the next big thing. Scientific experimenters will doubtless create a demand for a constant stream of thousands. Hence, references to embryo farms.

There’s no risk of all this getting out of hand, we’re assured, because all these artificially created human embryos will be destroyed as soon as they’ve served their scientific purpose. Extract their stem cells, throw the remains in the autoclave and forget it. Then research on the extracted stem cells will lead to all kinds of marvelous discoveries that’ll revolutionize the practice of medicine. Happy Ending, Close Curtain.

Of course certain ethical barriers, like those against experimenting on human life without informed consent, will also have to be tossed aside. But we can safely leave this to the scientists and legislators; they know best. Or so we’re told.

One U.S. senator who has signed on to this project is Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln. She emphasizes the limits placed on the human cloning to be allowed under Senate Bill 1520:

“I believe it is important that we establish clear ethical guidelines,” she says assuringly. “I believe human reproductive cloning is wrong and should not be permitted under any circumstances. I support Senate Bill 1520 for this reason.”

But how establish “clear ethical guidelines” for research that by its very nature crosses an ethical line — experimentation on human life? Indeed, such life would be created for no purpose other than experimentation on it.

Fear not, SB 1520 sponsors assure all of us doubters. SB 1520 will actually outlaw human cloning. In the Washington tradition of fair labeling, this bill is formally entitled the Human Cloning Ban Act of 2005. Because it would ban implanting the cloned embryo “into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.” But it wouldn’t ban embryo cloning in the first place. What smoke and mirrors are to magicians, definitions are to legislators. SB 1520 defines human cloning as implanting the embryo, not creating it.

It is not the senators’ knowledge of what is biologically or politically possible that one questions. They know their embryology. What’s questionable is their knowledge of human nature — their sublime confidence that the unlimited ambition, greed or simple curiosity of man can be so easily limited.

We are told that, if we allow scientists to take just this one step, they will never take the next. If we will blur this one bright ethical line — No Human Cloning — all these scientists and entrepreneurs will scrupulously obey a much vaguer line farther down this all too familiar slope. All the Young Frankensteins itching to experiment on human fetuses will back off.

Sure they will.

I never before thought of politicians as a particularly naive breed, but after hearing Mrs. Lincoln repeat these assurances about the ethical nature of embryonic stem cell research, I may have to change my mind.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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