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June 6, 2013
by Wesley J. Smith
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side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar What? You didn't hear about that, you say? That's because for PR reasons, scientists pretended not to do what they have clearly done—and the media went right along. Rather, the story was spun in the media as merely a matter of turning "unfertilized eggs" directly into embryonic stem cells.

For example, here's how a Science World Report inaccurately described the experiment:

"Scientists have made a breakthrough when it comes to stem cells. They've successfully reprogrammed human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells, which are capable of transforming into any other cell type in the body…"

The technique to convert skin cells to stem cells is actually a variation of a more commonly used method, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). This common technique involves transplanting the nucleus of one cell, containing an individual's DNA, into an egg cell that has its genetic material removed. The unfertilized egg cell then develops and eventually produces stem cells.

Needless to say, much of the mainstream media went along with the subterfuge. Thus, the Los Angeles Times editorializing, "A breakthrough in stem cell research has again raised the specter of human cloning. The discovery by a team at Oregon Health and Science University moves the world incrementally closer to that result, but its more immediate effect will be to spur efforts to regenerate healthy tissue for the injured and the ailing."

No, it wasn't an incremental step closer to human cloning. It was human cloning. To fully understand why this obfuscation is total baloney, we have to look at the SCNT recipe:

  • First, take a skin or other cell (Dolly came from a mammary gland cell, hence her naming as something of a joke after Dolly Parton);
  • Remove the cell's nucleus'
  • Next take an egg and remove its nucleus;
  • Place the skin cell nucleus where the egg nucleus used to be;
  • Stimulate with an electric current or other means;
  • If the cloning works, the properties of the egg transform into a one-celled embryo just as occurs after fertilization.

Once the embryo arises, the cloning is over. If all goes well, the embryo will develop like a natural embryo.

Once the cloning is completed, the next question involves what to do with the living human life that was created. If the nascent human being is to be destroyed for experimentation—as in this case—the process is often called therapeutic cloning. If the intent is to implant in a womb and bring a child to birth, it is often called "reproductive cloning." Either way, the actual cloning process is the same. Hence, the successful creation of cloned human embryos—and the development of four to the stage at which they would be implanted—is the biggest step to date toward the eventual birth of a cloned human baby.

Heightening the mendacity; scientists told different stories to the popular media—e.g., that unfertilized eggs had merely been turned into stem cells—than what they reported accurately in Cell—a respected science journal—e.g., that they had successfully created "SCNT embryos" From the study (my emphasis):

Activation of embryonic genes and transcription from the transplanted somatic cell nucleus are required for development of SCNT embryos beyond the eight-cell stage. Therefore, these results are consistent with the premise that our modified SCNT protocol supports reprogramming of human somatic cells to the embryonic state.

As I wrote earlier, human cloning is an ethical earthquake. Here's why: Scientists have manufactured human life. In a sense, it is reproduction by replication—creating a new human being designed to have a specific genetic makeup in the mirror image of the person cloned. Even if the technique remains limited for use in seeking biological knowledge and searching for potential medical treatments, those beneficent ends will come at the very high ethical price of manufacturing human life for the purpose of destroying and harvesting it like a corn crop.

But it won't end there. Human cloning is the essential technology to developing potential Brave New World technologies, such genetic engineering, creating human/animal chimeras, gestating cloned fetuses in artificial wombs as a means of obtaining patient-compatible organs, and eventually, the birth of cloned babies. (We have already seen advocacy for such fetal farming among a few bioethicists, and experiments have already been conducted on late term aborted female fetuses to determine whether their ovaries can be harvested to obtain eggs for use in research.

The arrival of human cloning could also result in the exploitation of women for their intimate body parts. As we have seen, SCNT cloning requires one egg for each cloning attempt. But human eggs for use in research are in very short supply, which is why that the biotech industry has been pushing recently for legal authorization to pay women to supply eggs—a process that can seriously harm the seller/donor, with potential side effects including infection, loss of fertility, stroke, and in rare cases, death.

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.
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wesley smith   Wesley J. Smith
Award winning author Wesley J. Smith, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism, a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and a legal consultant for the Patient's Rights Council.

He has authored or co-authored 12 books. His Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (1997), a broad-based criticism of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement, is currently in its third updated version.

Smith's book Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, a warning about the dangers of the modern bioethics movement, was named One of the Ten Outstanding Books of the Year and Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 (Independent Publisher Book Awards). His current book is A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights.
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