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FIRST-PERSON: Ron Reagan’s call for cloning

DEERFIELD, Ill. (BP)–While Ron Reagan is clearly not a clone of his father, he does support human cloning. At least that’s what he told the Democratic National Convention June 27 in Boston. His allusion to cloning was subtle but real.

Reagan said, “Now, imagine going to a doctor who, instead of prescribing drugs, takes a few skin cells from your arm. The nucleus of one of your cells is placed into a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell’s nucleus to begin dividing….”

In other words, the doctor would be creating a cloned human embryo. The stem cells would then be harvested at the cost of the death of this embryo.

Reagan’s rhetoric can only be described as over-the-top.

First, by not using the term “human cloning” he veiled what many Americans would find extremely objectionable.

Second, his speech hugely inflated the realities of stem cell research. Listening to Reagan, one would be led to believe that a cure for Parkinson’s was around the corner. Even the most enthusiastic scientist knows that, even if treatments or cures are found through embryonic stem cell research, they are many years away. Creating false hopes is no way to stimulate good science.

Another gloss by the son of America’s 40th president was the cavalier way he described egg donation. Take a few skin cells, he said, and drop them into a donor egg.

At first glance, this seems innocuous. Any woman who has been an egg donor will testify that donation is not quite so easy. Egg donors are first given very powerful drugs to make them “super ovulate” to create as many eggs as possible. These drugs are potent hormones that make many women feel extremely uncomfortable. Next, the eggs are harvested through a small needle inserted into the ovary. Needle aspiration, as it is called, can cause permanent damage to a woman’s ovaries and, in rare cases, even death.

And the cost of egg donation for research should not be ignored. In a 2003 article in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Peter Mombaerts, a neuroscientist at The Rockefeller University, observed, “Optimistically — 100 human oocytes would be required to generate customized ntES [nuclear transfer embryonic stem] cell lines for a single individual…. [H]uman oocytes must be harvested from super-ovulated volunteers, who are reimbursed for their participation. Add to this the complexity of the clinical procedure, and the cost of a human oocyte is [approximately] $1,000-2,000 in the U.S. Thus, to generate a set of customized ntES cell lines for an individual, the budget for the human oocyte material alone would be [approximately] $100,000-200,000. This is a prohibitively high sum that will impede the widespread application of this technology in its present form….”

Everyone wants to see treatments and cures for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and the other diseases. But the means to achieve the goal must be ethically justifiable. Human embryonic stem cell research simply cannot meet that requirement. Human beings should not be cloned. Human embryos should not be cannibalized for their cellular parts. And women and their ovaries should not be treated as egg-laying factories for experimental science.
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., is consultant on bioethics for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago.

    About the Author

  • C. Ben Mitchell

    C. Ben Mitchell is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., as well as research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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