Along the Tracks

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Clone wars

I don't usually do this, but I wanted to put my section on cloning and stem cells from this week's Leader on my blog for those still considering (hint-hint) a Leader subscription:

There’s the media, trying to pull the wool over our eyes again ... on the stem cell debate. To hear it discussed on the nightly news or in big city newspapers, you’d think our only choice is to create clones of ourselves and then harvest spare parts from them or to allow people with a wide range of chronic, even terminal, ailments to suffer while we as a society refuse to cure them. So the argument rages: Either cloned, embryonic stem cells or death and misery for millions.
There is another way - adult stem cells.
Adult stem cells offer the same promise of healing now incurable conditions by regenerating damaged tissue. This path to therapy does have larger technical hurdles in front of it than the rather straightforward approach offered by cloned embryonic stem cells. More money and perhaps more time will be needed to develop useful therapies through adult stem cells. But most experts agree this method could bring cures to the same diseases for which embryonic stem cells are now being touted.
Unfortunately, this medical debate - which should be centered on helping individuals with nerve damage, degraded organs, cancers and other medical problems for which there is now little hope for a cure - has been coopted by the more extreme abortion advocacy groups. This is most unfortunate, since this discussion is only tangentially related to abortion. However, some groups look at any attempt to limit “reproductive rights” whatsoever as an attack on all such perceived rights. According to this extreme point of view, people should have the right to clone themselves for whatever purpose they wish without any government interference.
This point of view opens the door to more than just harvesting stem cells. Here’s a scenario: A couple has a baby with a malformed heart. The baby is cloned, and the clone is implanted in the mother. Just before term, the fetus is aborted, and the clone’s heart is transplanted into the ill child. The child is saved.
Science fiction? Not at all. In fact, this almost certainly could be accomplished right now. Unless some standards are set and laws on cloning written, this or something very similar will occur in the next couple of years, mark my words.
Now, based on what I’ve written here, your may believe I’m against abortion. Actually, I’m pro-choice. While I find abortion wrong personally, there are a lot of actions I believe are wrong but I don’t think laws would stop. Abortion is a personal choice, and the best way to reduce or eliminate abortion is not through legislation but through education and persuasion - but that’s another column.
The point here goes back to the reason we create life in the first place. It seems to me that it is fundamentally wrong to create a human life, or potential human life, with the express purpose of killing it.
Adult stem cells are floating through your body right now, creating replacement parts, making repairs, doing maintenance on an operational human. With a little time, effort and money, they very well may be able to provide the same treatments scientists believe embryonic stem cells might do - all without the moral quagmire.

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