Cloning's new frontier
IN THE LONG struggle to cure disease, a milestone has been reached now that scientists in South Korea have successfully cloned a human embryo to draw stem cells from it for research or therapeutic purposes. The scientists had no intention of using their technique to produce a cloned baby, but their achievement will undoubtedly sharpen the debate in the United States and internationally about the ethics of human cloning.
The Koreans' feat is extraordinary because no one had ever managed to bring a cloned human egg anything close to the 100-cell blastocyst stage they achieved. They produced 30 blastocysts, no less, and then were able to extract stem cells from one. Such cells have the potential to develop into any form of human tissue and could revolutionize medicine's treatment of disorders ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and heart disease.
If used to treat diseased organs, stem cells from the patient's own cloned blastocyst would be identical to the patient's genetic makeup and cause no immune reaction.
This is the promise of the experiment. The fear is that other scientists will use the Koreans' techniques and create human clones for reproduction. To prevent this, Congress has tried and failed to pass a bill banning both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Bill opponents, who favor a ban just on reproductive cloning, rightly point out that an across-the-board ban would keep US scientists from taking part in this new age of medicine.
US researchers are already working under the cloud of President Bush's 2001 order that forbade US funds for stem cell experiments using any but a few lines of cells. Congress should ban reproductive but not therapeutic cloning and should liberalize stem cell research by permitting US funding for it both on embryos left over at fertility clinics and on cloned embryos. Sufferers of diseases should not be denied the best efforts of US scientists.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.