Friday, April 8, 2011

Dr. John Wagner and human cloning deception

Today in the Star Tribune, spinal cord research advocate Jean Swenson provides a good overview of stem cell research. She notes the tremendous medical success with ethical stem cell research and the tremendous difficulties that render human cloning -- which would be banned by new MCCL-backed legislation -- without any real therapeutic justification. Swenson writes:
Passing the Human Cloning Prohibition Act will help ensure that limited public resources will not be used for futile, ineffective research purposes, but rather for those that are most beneficial to real people with real medical issues.
In an opposing viewpoint, University of Minnesota researcher Dr. John Wagner argues against the proposed human cloning ban.

Wagner begins by saying the bill would "criminalize lifesaving work at the University of Minnesota." It is difficult to see how that statement could possibly be justified. First, none of the current work at the University would be prohibited by the bill, as Wagner has himself explained in testimony -- the bill would merely prevent work that could potentially happen there in the future. Second, to call this theoretical, unproven future work "lifesaving" is absurd. The University is not even pursuing this "lifesaving" research. Possible future benefits are speculative at best, and virtually impossible (given the difficulties with human cloning research over the last decade) at worst.

John WagnerWagner says the bill is "a full-scale assault on stem cell research." Well, except that it would not affect any of the stem cell research happening in Minnesota. In fact, it could not affect any of the stem cell research that has ever occurred anywhere in the world, since scientists have yet to successfully derive stem cells from cloned human embryos (and it is the creation of cloned human embryos that would be banned by the bill).

Wagner says, "I know personally the power of stem cells and how they revolutionize the practice of medicine -- because I've done it." Yes, except that his success has been with ethically uncontroversial adult stem cells. The "power of stem cells" derived from cloned human embryos has not been established. There are very good reasons to think it will never be established, which is why some leading human cloning researchers have switched to more promising alternatives.

Finally, outrageously, nowhere in his op-ed does Wagner explain that we are not talking about the embryonic stem cell research that is currently happening, but rather about theoretical future embryonic stem cell research using stem cells from human embryos produced by cloning (so-called therapeutic cloning). He clearly leads the reader to believe that we are talking about the former. It is absolutely stunning that Dr. Wagner -- and the University he essentially represents -- would so blatantly mislead the public.

Citizens may disagree over the ethics of human cloning, but (I hope) we can all agree that Wagner's deception is way beyond the pale.

To see why I think the creation (and subsequent destruction) of new human organisms by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) should be banned, go here.