Thursday, February 12, 2004

Human Cloning Achieved?

This report is a lot more credible than claims made by groups like the Raelians, but, as with all dramatic scientific announcements, it would be wise to wait for some time to pass, and for a great deal of crtical scrutiny to occur, before taking the claims of Drs. Woo Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon at face value. One strong reason for scepticism is that until now, no reputable researchers had succeeded in cloning any anthropoid species, much less one that is as difficult to work with, given ethical, legal and political constraints, as our own.

Scientists in South Korea report that they have created human embryos through cloning and extracted embryonic stem cells, the universal cells that hold great promise for medical research.

Their goal, they say, is not to clone humans but to advance understanding of the causes and treatment of disease. But the work makes the birth of a cloned baby suddenly more feasible. For that reason, it is likely to reignite a fierce debate over the ethics of human cloning.

The paper, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science, provides a detailed description of how to create human embryos by cloning.


Even before the paper's publication - reported last night by a South Korean newspaper, one day ahead of the embargo imposed by Science - the scientists' findings were being assailed by opponents of cloning. Dr. Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, called for federal legislation to stop human cloning for any purpose.

``The age of human cloning has apparently arrived: today, cloned blastocysts for research, tomorrow cloned blastocysts for babymaking,'' he wrote in an e-mail message. ``In my opinion, and that of the majority of the Council, the only way to prevent this from happening here is for Congress to enact a comprehensive ban or moratorium on all human cloning.''

I really wish idiots like Dr. Kass would shut up for a change, instead of jumping up and down clamoring for a federal ban on cloning for any and all purposes. It is precisely this sort of easy conflation of private religious beliefs and public policy that irritates me most about social conservatism - for goodness sake, a blastocyst is hardly in any position to merit the sort of concern one might extend to a third trimester foetus! If these religious extremists get their way, medical research in the United States will be dealt a serious blow, and the money and brains will flow to countries in which fundamentalists and the Vatican don't get to set the parameters for researchers.