Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lies, damned lies, and human cloning

The Minnesota House DFL caucus has linked to a document (uploaded by Carrie Lucking, who works for the caucus) titled "What you need to know about the 2011 legislative session." It states, "On the eve of a state government shutdown, Republicans made a list of divisive social policy demands that included ... a ban on all stem cell research."

The authors of this document are either lying or embarrassingly misinformed. The two proposed measures at issue (neither of which was included in the final budget agreement) would prohibit human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) and prohibit taxpayer funding of human cloning, respectively. The measures would not affect any of the stem cell research -- adult or embryonic -- in Minnesota.

Indeed, the cloning bills only relate to stem cell research insofar as researchers could use cloning to create new human organisms at the embryonic stage of development in order to kill them to harvest their stem cells. But Minnesota researchers are not currently pursuing human cloning (according to the testimony from the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute). And in any case, no one has yet successfully derived stem cells from cloned human embryos. Thus, not only would the cloning bills not affect any stem cell research in Minnesota, but they could not even affect any stem cell research that has ever happened anywhere.

So we are not talking about "a ban on all stem cell research." We are talking about a ban on absolutely no stem cell research.

Here's what the bill prohibiting human cloning actually says:
"Human cloning" means human asexual reproduction accomplished by introducing nuclear material from one or more human somatic cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a living organism at any stage of development that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism. ...

Prohibition on cloning. No person or entity, whether public or private, may: perform or attempt to perform human cloning; participate in an attempt to perform human cloning; ship, import, or receive for any purpose an embryo produced by human cloning or any product derived from such an embryo; or ship or receive, in whole or in part, any oocyte, embryo, fetus, or human somatic cell, for the purpose of human cloning.

Scientific research. Nothing in this section shall restrict areas of scientific research not specifically prohibited by this section, including research in the use of nuclear transfer or other cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans. In addition, nothing in this section shall restrict, inhibit, or make unlawful the scientific field of stem cell research, unless explicitly prohibited.
We have made the case that human cloning is unethical and seems to have very little therapeutic justification. Most critics of the cloning legislation (like the authors of the linked document) have yet to be honest about what the measures would actually do, much less offer reasons to think that human cloning is ethically permissible and should be subsidized by the government.