Cloning Research Should
Not Be Dictated By Moral Minorities
Cloning is back in news. This time, press attention was
sparked by leaked information that a government advisory
panel is about to recommend human cloning for therapeutic
purposes and by a report published by the Nuffield Council
on Bioethics recommending the same.
It seems that as more and more respected institutions come
out in favour of creating cloned human embryos for research
and therapy, those opposed to cloning for this purpose (most
of whom are anti-abortion activists) shout ever louder.
But such commentators, instead of engaging in rational debate
on the issues (a debate which is vitally important), seem
to be utilising tactics which are designed to hoodwink the
public. These tactics were on full display in an editorial
in the Daily Telegraph - a newspaper edited by a proud anti-abortionist
- and by a letter to the same newspaper from the equally
anti-abortion peer David Alton.
The first tactic is use the word cloning to describe two
very different things. When the Daily Telegraph said 'this
government sees no problem with human cloning', it misled
its readers. The British government may well approve of
cloning in order to derive stem cells for tissue therapies.
But it certainly doesn't approve of the birth of babies
cloned from existing people. Conflating the two different
types of cloning in this way is simply a cynical attempt
to pull the wool over readers' eyes.
The second tactic to discredit therapeutic cloning is to
call the creation of embryos for this purpose 'technological
cannibalism'. Using soundbites such as this is the lowest
form of spin. Cannibalism is about humans eating humans.
Creating embryos in order to develop tissue therapies is
about prolonging or saving human lives. It is no more cannibalistic
than organ donation.
The final tactic used to undermine cloning and stem cell
research is to suggest that there are other, more fruitful,
methods of stem cell derivation which do not involve the
creation of human embryos in the laboratory. The Daily Telegraph
editorial suggested that deriving stem cells which already
exist in the body of an adult would be scientifically preferable.
Whilst this approach seems to be perfectly legitimate, it
is actually shockingly disingenuous. Far from being interested
in pursuing the most fruitful method of deriving compatible
tissues for transplant, these commentators are picking the
research methods which best please their moral palates.
The point is that we don't yet know which method of stem
cell derivation will be the best. Efforts to date show that
embryonic stem cells will probably be more useful that stem
cells from adults, but we're not really sure. It is precisely
because we aren't yet sure that the door to each method
of stem cell derivation should left open, not selectively
closed to please the moral sensibilities of a vocal minority.
Juliet Tizzard, director, Progress Educational Trust