WASHINGTON (BP)–A scientific research society’s new report on human cloning is “disastrous,” a Southern Baptist bioethicist says.
The National Academy of Sciences recommended the United States prohibit cloning designed to bring about the birth of a child but also affirmed its support for cloning embryos for research that results in their destruction.
The NAS recommendations “would mean that human embryos could be cloned for the purposes of killing them in research,” said Ben Mitchell, biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The clone-and-kill policy is barbaric.
“At the same time, we would not want cloned embryos to be implanted into a woman’s body for reproductive purposes. The results would be horrific. That’s why the only sensible policy is a ban on all forms of human embryo cloning,” said Mitchell, a bioethics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago.
The NAS report was released on the same day President Bush’s new Council on Bioethics discussed human cloning as part of its first meeting. While no member of the 18-person panel expressed strong support for reproductive cloning, there were vast differences of opinion voiced on cloning for research purposes, according to The New York Times.
Pro-life advocates gave the makeup of the presidential council, which was named Jan. 16, generally favorable reviews. The panel’s charge is to deliberate and advise Bush on a number of contentious bioethical issues, including human cloning, embryo and stem cell research, reproductive technologies and end-of-life decisions.
Reports on the Jan. 17-18 meeting of the council were “encouraging for the most part,” Mitchell said. “It’s clear that there are some clear-thinking people on the council.
“While I am fairly confident that the council will lead the president in policy that moves us toward a truly human future, I will reserve judgment until we see their first report. A used-car salesman once told me during negotiations, ‘It’s all just talk until the paperwork is signed.’ I’m waiting to see the council’s paperwork.”
Of cloning, Bush told the council after its first-day meeting, according to a Reuters America report, “I just don’t think it’s right. On the other hand, there is going to be a lot of nuance and subtlety to the issue, I presume.
“I really think you can help be the conscience of the country, to help us understand some really, really difficult issues that face America and will really face us as we go down the road,” Bush said during the private meeting at the White House.
The president has endorsed the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, a bill that would ban both reproductive and research cloning. The House of Representatives easily adopted the measure last year, but the Senate failed to act on it. The Senate is expected to consider the ban in February or March. Some senators, however, are backing a bill that would prohibit only reproductive cloning.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., the chief sponsor of the comprehensive ban in the Senate, criticized the NAS report on cloning.
In a written statement, Brownback called it “deeply disturbing” the NAS “feels [it] can divide humanity into two different classes and condemn one class of humans to destruction — creating a human embryo for the express purpose of destroying it. There are promising new developments every week proving that there are alternative, non-embryonic sources of stem cells that can combat a wide variety of diseases without using immoral means.”
The NAS and many others in the research field support cloning embryos in order to extract stem cells for the purpose of studying their ability to provide cures for a variety of conditions. The process, however, results in the destruction of the embryos.
Stem cells are primitive cells from which tissues and other cells in the body develop. Their isolation for the first time in 1998 has provided hope for treating such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Studies on stem cells from non-embryonic sources, such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, have been shown to be effective and are not harmful to human beings.
In announcing its opposition to reproductive cloning, Irving Weissman, chairman of the NAS committee issuing the report, said information from experiments on animals shows “only a small percentage of attempts are successful, many of the clones die during all stages of gestation, newborn clones often are abnormal or die and the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother.”
The committee’s report said the reasons for banning reproductive cloning do not apply to cloning to produce embryonic stem cells. It affirmed a previous NAS panel’s recommendation in support of research cloning.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a leading supporter of embryonic stem cell research, endorsed the new NAS recommendations.
Weissman is a professor of pathology and biology at Stanford University.
More information on opposition to human cloning may be found at the website of Americans to Ban Cloning. The site, at www.cloninginformation.org, includes statements from the ERLC and other supporters of a comprehensive ban.