A Response to Sen. Connie Mack on Human Cloning

Date: 10/20/2002

by James Kelly

James Kelly is a “pro-cures” research activist and acts as a liaison between academic researchers, corporate researchers, and non-profit funding sources. He recently participated in a Capitol Hill briefing, along with researchers and other patient activists, on the issues of cloning and stem cell research.

Former U.S. Senator Connie Mack has emerged as a leading proponent of human cloning research. He has testified in favor of such cloning before Congress, and in a recently published op-ed he typically offers many of the usual arguments advanced by cloning advocates in support of human research cloning. An analysis of these arguments shows them to be misleading, technically incorrect, and wildly speculative:

“Science shows therapeutic cloning has great potential to treat patients.”

Although this is the title of Senator Mack’s op-ed, and it’s the dominant claim made on behalf of human research cloning, a close inspection of the article reveals that science “shows” no such thing, nor does science have any such evidence to offer. It’s true that some scientists are making unsupported claims that cloning “has great potential.” But scientists are notorious for loving complex problems likely to take years to solve, the more the better. In cloning they’ve hit the jackpot. I know. I’ve spent the last five years in a wheelchair doing nothing but closely following medical research and speaking with researchers. In the past several months I’ve broadened the scope of my studies to include all peer-reviewed research uses of cloning, not just the progress of regenerative avenues in neuroscience (my paralysis is due to spinal cord injury). The result – cloning has yet to play a necessary part in successfully treating a single animal for any disease or condition. Simply claiming is one thing, showing is another.

“[I]t is essential to keep in mind the critical differences between cloning humans and somatic cell transfers. Cell transfers involve removing the nucleus of a donated egg cell and replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a somatic cell — such as a skin cell– from the patient being treated. Then the cell is stimulated to begin dividing.”

This scientifically incorrect distinction is a transparent attempt, now common among cloning advocates, to deny that “somatic transfer” is, in fact, the cloning of humans.

What Senator Mack, in common with other cloning advocates, calls the “critical difference” between “reproductive” and human research cloning is exactly the opposite: it’s what they hold in common. According to the National Academy of Sciences: “The method used to initiate the reproductive cloning procedure is called nuclear transplantation, or somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). It involves replacing the chromosomes of a human egg with the nucleus of a body (somatic) cell from a developed human. In reproductive cloning, the egg is then stimulated to undergo the first few divisions to become an aggregate of 64 to 200 cells called a blastocyst.”

(“Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning” (2002)

Any difference between “reproductive” and human research cloning is not a difference in the cloning procedure, and thus not the difference its advocates claim. Regardless of intent, the cloning procedure remains the same, and if successful, it produces a new, living human embryo. The only “difference” lies in what’s done with this living embryo. For reproductive purposes, it is implanted in a woman’s womb. For research purposes, it is grown in a petri dish and killed.

“The added benefit of somatic cell research is that the stem cells produced would not be rejected when transplanted back into the patient who donated the somatic cells.”

Again, this is technically incorrect. A recent study published in the medical journal Cell revealed that stem cells taken from cloned embryos can still be rejected in spite of having the patient’s DNA. The researchers involved were so mystified by this they tried the experiment twice, completely failing both times. They finally succeeded in their goal of treating an immune deficiency in mice after implanting a cloned embryo in a female mouse, allowing a baby mouse to be born and treated the original patient (another mouse) with adult stem cells taken from the baby. But this can and already is being done in humans using adult stem cells without the unnecessary and inefficient cloning steps – and without using babies.

As do many advocates of research cloning, Senator Mack then fails to mention that researchers in favor of cloning have admitted it will likely prove too expensive for medical use “in every individual.” What they’re politely saying is that Medicare and Health Care Providers either won’t be able to pay for cloning because of its expected prohibitive cost, or won’t be willing to pay for it because other treatments will offer the same benefits more cheaply, as adult stem cells and other avenues are already beginning to do. Therefore, if cloning could cure anything we would have to pay for it ourselves. And how many of us can afford to pay for something that the Federal Government can’t?

Nor does Senator Mack suggest where tens of millions of women’s eggs will be found to allow cloning to address a single major disease (such as Stroke, Heart Disease, or Diabetes), or that cloned embryonic stem cells are beset by huge safety and performance problems, including short and long term genetic mutations, poor reliability, malignant tumor formation, and tissue rejection. Meanwhile, adult stem cells offer the same benefits, have the patient’s DNA, are affordable, are available, have proven safe for human use, and have been successfully used in both animals and humans to treat the same conditions that cloned embryonic stem cells only may address in a distant, uncertain future. And unless precious resources aren’t needlessly wasted on problematic avenues with little practical potentials, such as cloning, we could actually live to be cured from their use.

Do I think the first priority of medical research should be to save the living without concern for advancing science? As a matter of fact, I do. But this may be selfish of me since I want to walk again, as other want to live. Therefore, since I’m in favor of conducting research for the sake of finding cures, rather than the pretence of looking for them, I wholeheartedly support Senator Brownback’s Bill that bans on all forms of human cloning.

To read Connie Mack’s original piece, click here.