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Big News: The Soft Cells Of Tainted Life

BIG NEWS with Dave Crampton

Cloning Embryos: The Soft Cells Of Tainted Life

When is a human embryo not a human? When it is a clone, say US scientists at Advanced Cell Technology. The news that the scientists have cloned human embryos has opened up the ethical debate as to whether human embryos are human life. The scientists have taken great pains to let media know that they are cloning not to create a person, but to mine the stem cells to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes. They call it therapeutic cloning, which is how Dolly the sheep was made.

The news has appalled George W, Catholics and anti-abortionists, yet the local Methodists seem to think that cloning human embryos for medical research is OK as long as the research is not used to clone humans. The Government is still dithering over reproductive legislation, so the practice is not banned here – yet.

ACT seem to spend more time telling everybody what they are not doing, rather than explaining their reasons behind their “breakthrough”. President, Michael West has said, ‘We’re not talking about a little embryo with hands and feet, we’re talking about a cluster of cells…..they are not individuals, they are only cellular life, they re not human life.”

Speaking on CNN ‘s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” West reiterated the cloned human embryos are not human beings. “ We’re talking about human cellular life, not a human life, ” he said.

Well, I’m confused. Why is human cellular life not human life? And what is the point of the experiment without doing research into how successful the experiment would be. If the stem cells are to be mined, the experiment is not all that successful as not one of the clones developed stem cells, and not one lasted longer than three days. Does that mean that the clones could not treat the diseases mentioned?

Here’s what happened: Three embryos were produced from 71 donors. DNA from a cell was injected into a donated human egg that had the nucleus removed. After exposing the egg to chemicals, the egg divided, growing into either a four- cell or a six-cell embryo over a few hours. That’s how long life lasted.

In another technique, a donated egg was put into a chemical bath, changing the concentration of the electrically charged particles, the egg reprogrammed itself and formed a blastocyst- a early human embryo, without the injection of DNA from another cell. No human stem cells were isolated from the cloned embryos, despite that being the whole aim, according to a statement from ACT.

So some scientists maintain the best way to make the stem cells for transportation into patients is to grow them from cloned embryos of these patients. Sounds good, until you realise that life ( human embryos) is created with the aim of terminating that life, as well as the clone having a single parent from a (possible) virgin birth.

The Catholic Church are as vocal as ever about tampering with any form of life –except eternal life, perhaps because Catholics aren’t in agreement as to when that starts. They note that the scientists refer to the individual humans as “early embryos” and ask, “What is an early embryo in the initial stage?” Not just a bunch of cells.

Now that a cloned embryo has been created, it is possible to have a cloned human in nine months time. One Italian fertility expert, Severino Antinori, plans to clone a human for reproductive purposes before May nest year. He maintains cloning will be a human right as a means to have children, especially couples who can’t have children. Or make that single people who can’t have children by themselves. That includes all of us. Maybe he should stick to IVF.

But for now, it appears that stem cells have a higher priority than a discarded human embryo – irrespective of how many stem cells are actually mined. No wonder most people condemn human cloning.

- Dave Crampton is a Wellington-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at davec@globe.net.nz

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