Getting the Point Across

The significance of the Korean human cloning breakthrough would be difficult to overstate. The introduction of therapeutic human cloning will be a huge boost for the relatively new field of regenerative medicine, which has already shown tremendous potential in the treatment of disease and injury, and in fighting the effects of aging.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to get this message across for a couple of reasons. First, as Reason has pointed out (and as is discussed here and here), the idea that a human embryo is destroyed in the process of generating the new stem cell line raises all the ethical issues which currently define the debate over abortion. These issues are daunting enough; however, they may not be the main obstacle to progress.

Consider this editorial in today's New York Times, which basically comes to the right conclusions:

The day scientists might be able to create a human baby through cloning moved closer this week, when South Korean scientists revealed that they had cloned some 30 human embryos, grown them for a week in a laboratory and extracted stem cells for more research. Although the experiments were not intended to produce a baby, and none of the embryos were implanted in a woman, the techniques described by the Koreans will probably make it easier for some scientist somewhere to clone a human. Clearly it is time for the United States and other nations to ban cloning for human reproduction. For now, the only legitimate use of cloning should be for research and medical therapies.

Even acknowledging that this research has nothing to do with reproductive cloning, the editorial writer can't seem to leave the subject alone. This research has "moved closer" the day that a human baby might be created via cloning. Never mind that that's not the point. Never mind that this breakthrough also hastens innumerable medical breakthroughs, which are given scant mention.

The writer just seems to know that what cloning is really about is creating babies. This perception of cloning has been around for a long time as part of Amercian popular culture, at least since the late 1970's. In order for real progress in therapeutic cloning and regenerative medicine to occur, this perception must be overcome.

The editorial concludes:

Cloning for reproduction ought to be banned. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans want to ban all cloning, even for research and therapy. Such an all-out ban will only ensure that the cutting edge of biomedicine migrates to other shores.

Equally unfortunately, as long as journalists continue to portray such a skewed (if not outright fallacious) image of what this research is about, it will be difficult to create the kind of public awareness that might motivate the administration to change their position.


Not just "migrates to other shores" unfortunately, but also delayed for years. Due to regulation and other economic horrors, no other part of the world has a research establishment to match the US. They're ramping up in Asia, but that takes time.

One can hope that in 20 years time, this will all be quaint and past, rather like the IVF debate, but five lost years of progress will still be five lost years of progress, and a quarter of a billion lives lost that could otherwise have been saved:

Founder, Longevity Meme

Posted by: Reason at February 13th, 2004 11:38 AM

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