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Don’t say ‘cloning,’ biologists urge supporters

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Missouri voters confused as to whether an upcoming ballot initiative does or does not ban human cloning might benefit from listening to biologists who support the measure.

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics Oct. 9-13 in New Orleans, biologists urged supporters to use the phrase “somatic cell nuclear transfer” instead of “therapeutic cloning” — even though the two are one and the same, New Scientist magazine reported. The reason? The public is less likely to support any method that uses the term “cloning.”

On Nov. 7 Missouri voters will consider Constitutional Amendment 2, which the ballot title says would “ban human cloning or attempted cloning.” But the full text of the 2,000-word amendment — which would be added to the Missouri constitution — includes the phrase “somatic cell nuclear transfer” three times and forbids it from being banned.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, simply is the scientific term for cloning. That claim is backed up by a glossary on the website of the National Institutes of Health. Under “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” the listing states, “See also therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning.”

Under reproductive cloning, an embryo is cloned and placed into a woman’s uterus, where it theoretically will grow into a baby. But under therapeutic cloning, an embryo is cloned simply to destroy it and harvest its stem cells.

The Missouri initiative would ban reproductive cloning but protect therapeutic cloning.

Speaking at the meeting in New Orleans, Kathy Hudson of the Genetics and Public Policy Center delivered poll numbers showing that only 29 percent of Americans approved of using stem cells from embryos by “cloning,” New Scientist reported. But when the phrase was changed to “SCNT,” support shot up to 46 percent.

Last year, speaking on the same subject, Hudson said in a news release, “Wording really does matter. You can get a very different answer depending on how you ask the question, what kind of promises you imply about health benefits when you ask the question, or how you phrase the source of the embryonic material to be used.”

The cloning process involves taking the nucleus of a human cell and inserting it into a human egg which has had its nucleus removed. The embryo is then stimulated to begin cell division.

“This is just more smoke and mirrors,” C. Ben Mitchell, director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in suburban Chicago, said of the biologists’ juggling of terms. “SCNT is the same technique used to clone Dolly the sheep. It’s cloning, plain and simple. A human embryo cloned through SCNT is a cloned human being.

“Proponents of embryo-destructive cloning are not stupid,” added Mitchell, who serves as a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “They realize those who control the language control public perception. Informed citizens will not be fooled by the language game. For Christians and their churches, this just means they must know both their Bibles and their science.”
The National Institutes of Health stem cell glossary is available at http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/glossary.asp. The full text of Missouri Constitutional Amendment 2 is available at http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2006petitions/ppStemCell.asp.

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  • Michael Foust