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New report of human-cloning efforts should bring ban, SBC ethicist says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress should act to prohibit human cloning, including when it is done for purposes of research, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said in the wake of a report two American companies are seeking to create cloned embryos for experimental treatments.
According to The Washington Post, Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., and Advanced Cell Therapeutics of Worcester, Mass., are making such efforts not in order to form full-grown clones but in order to take stem cells from the cloned embryos to apply experimentally to a variety of diseases. Geron is trying to create the world’s first cloned human embryos, while ACT is cloning part-human, part-cow embryos, the newspaper reported.
Though Geron’s chief investigative officer, Calvin Harley, discussed the cloning effort in The Post article, the company denied the report the next day and said it did not intend to clone embryos, according to a June 15 report in The New York Times.
C. Ben Mitchell, a biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said growing embryos for experimentation “must be stopped.”
“It is unconscionable to create human embryos for the purpose of experimentation and destruction,” said Mitchell, who also is an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. “This is biotech cannibalism, consuming our young for the sake of our own potential prosperity.”
This “is about the almighty dollar,” with the companies “in a race to see who is going to make big bucks from this technology,” he continued.
“Apparently, biotechnology companies cannot police themselves. It’s high time government stepped in. This report should motivate Congress to pass legislation banning both cloning and the creation of human embryos for research purposes.”
Federal funds may not be used for human cloning, but privately funded research is legal in the United States.
The stem cells researchers are seeking to grow are the most primitive of cells, with the capability, scientists hope, of being used to produce cells and tissues as replacements in treating such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, strokes and burns. It was revealed only in November stem cells had been isolated from human embryos for the first time.
It recently was reported the presidentially appointed National Bioethics Advisory Commission will recommend the federal government provide grants for research on unwanted embryos left at fertility clinics, thereby lifting a ban on such funding. After the announcement of the cloning of the first mammal in early 1997, however, President Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for human cloning and calling for a voluntary moratorium on private research.
The Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution June 16 reaffirming its call for Congress to maintain the ban on federal funding of human embryo research and asking private researchers to halt such experimentation. Messengers to the 1997 SBC meeting adopted a resolution supporting a congressional ban on all human embryo research, as well as a prohibition on the cloning of human beings.
While advocates of human embryo research deny an embryo in its first several days is more than a collection of cells or say research on an embryo who is going to be destroyed is justified if it helps a patient, pro-lifers oppose such thinking because life begins at conception.
“It doesn’t matter whether she is five days old or 15 days old, a human embryo is a human being,” Mitchell said. “That’s just what human beings look like at that age. That’s what all of us looked like at that age.”
New research has shown stem cells also can be taken from adults. Pro-lifers have not expressed opposition to such stem-cell research, because it does not violate the sanctity of human life, and have said this discovery makes the destruction of embryos to extract stem cells unnecessary.
Some experts predict continued progress on cloning could result in the first human clone being born within the next two years, The Post reported.
Cloning became a reality in February 1997 when Scottish researchers announced they had cloned a sheep, which they named Dolly. It was revealed recently, however, Dolly’s cells are six years older than her chronological age, meaning it apparently inherited the age of the ewe it was cloned from.