More Myth than Fact in Cloning Supporter’ Claims

Date: 06/09/2003

The “Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research” (CAMR) is an alliance formed to promote the cloning and killing of human embryos as a supposed avenue to medical progress. While advances in medical research using gene therapy, adult stem cells, etc. have recently begun to cure human diseases, CAMR’s focus is on research of speculative benefit that requires the destruction of developing human life.

In an effort to defeat proposed bans on human cloning, CAMR has issued a document titled MYTH vs. FACT… SCNT (Therapeutic Cloning), Unfortunately, while the document does distinguish myths from facts on this issue, in each case it proceeds to endorse the myth. This fact sheet is therefore needed as a corrective.

CAMR: “Scientists do many kinds of cloning every day, most of which is commonly accepted.”

FACT: Of course they do, because “cloning” as a general term simply means duplicating something (a cell, a gene sequence, a tissue culture, etc.). But these commonly accepted forms of “cloning” have nothing to do with the debate about cloning human embryos to experiment on them and kill them — in fact, they are explicitly excluded from the scope of proposed state and federal cloning bans. This is a red herring.

CAMR: “There’s a world of difference between reproductive cloning — something that should be banned right away — and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).”

FACT: No, SCNT is simply the scientific name for the human cloning procedure, which attempts to create a human embryo who is a close genetic match to a previously existing human being. People may try to put that embryo to different uses afterwards. Some want to put the embryo in a womb and let him or her develop to the fetal or newborn stage (cloning for so-called “reproductive” purposes); others want to put the embryo in a laboratory dish and destroy him or her for supposedly useful cells (cloning for so-called “therapeutic” purposes). But the cloning procedure in both cases is exactly the same. This was acknowledged by all 17 members of the President’s Council on Bioethics (including the seven members who oppose any ban or moratorium on “therapeutic cloning”) when the Council issued its final report on human cloning in July 2002 (see Even CAMR’s own member organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), acknowledges that “SCNT” and “cloning” (for any purpose) are one and the same (see Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “Human somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning),” in 74 Fertility and Sterility 873 6 [November 2000]. Attempts to deny this fact are disingenuous.

CAMR: “SCNT holds great promise for treating and curing patients by creating tailor-made, genetically identical cells that their bodies won’t reject.”

FACT: The entire CAMR document cites just one article in support of this exaggerated claim: A study of attempted “therapeutic cloning” in mice, in the March 2002 issue of Cell. In fact, that study showed that embryonic stem cells derived from a cloned mouse embryo were rejected by the mouse with the disease, and no cure was achieved. The authors concluded: “Our results raise the provocative possibility that even genetically matched cells derived by therapeutic cloning may still face barriers to effective transplantation for some disorders” (Rideout et al., in 109 Cell 17-27 [April 5, 2002]). A review by independent experts was more blunt, noting that “the donor cells, although derived from the animals with the same genetic background, are rejected by the hosts” (R. Tsai et al. in 2 Developmental Cell 707 712 [June 2002][emphasis added]). The experiment worked only after the researchers used the (genetically repaired) stem cells from the cloned mouse embryo to create yet another embryo, which was brought to live birth to supply adult bone marrow stem cells to treat the original mouse. In other words, the researchers had to resort to “reproductive” cloning (which even CAMR says should be banned in humans) and adult stem cells to cure this mouse. And this is the best and only “success” CAMR points to for “therapeutic cloning” in animals. For a detailed critique of the experiment see (Ironically, the same kind of disease this mouse suffered from, immune deficiency, has already been cured in some human children using genetic repair of the children’s own adult stem cells, without any cloning or use of embryonic cells.) As the New York Times recently noted regarding so-called “therapeutic cloning”: “Despite optimistic statements about curing diseases, almost all researchers, when questioned, confess that such accomplishments are more dream than reality.” Some experts, notes the Times, are already calling the “therapeutic” use of cloning “a big failure,” while others concede that any benefits for patients are “all in the distant future” (G. Kolata, in The New York Times, Jan. 5, 2003).

CAMR: “Therapeutic cloning produces stem cells, not babies.”

FACT: This is patently false: The SCNT cloning procedure produces human embryos. Those embryos grow up to become babies if you allow them to survive instead of killing them. Any “cloning” procedure that did produce only stem cells instead of embryos would not be banned by any currently proposed human cloning ban at the state or federal level.

CAMR: “Without implantation, no new human life is possible.”

FACT: Apparently CAMR never heard of “test tube babies.” Scientists have been initiating the development of new human life in laboratories since 1978. And every major government advisory body to report on embryo research — including the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, both appointed under President Clinton — concluded that the early human embryo before implantation is a developing human life.

CAMR: “We do not have enough stem cells for research… There certainly are not enough to turn research into treatments.”

FACT: Embryonic stem cell research is many years away from “treatments” – and this is due not to insufficient cell lines, but to inherent problems in these cells. They are difficult to grow, difficult to control, and have a disturbing tendency to form potentially lethal tumors when placed in animals. And they have yet to provide a safe and effective treatment for any condition, in any animal species. Early reports that mouse embryonic stem cells had successfully been turned into insulin-producing cells for treating diabetes are now in doubt, as it seems the cells may only have absorbed existing insulin from surrounding tissues and then released it again (J. Rajagopal, in 299 Science 363 [Jan. 17, 2003]). Researchers are also finding that ample supplies of beneficial stem cells may be produced from many adult tissues, from umbilical cords and placentas (now thrown away 4 million times a year in this country after live births), and other sources, and these are already providing treatments for many conditions.

CAMR: Human cloning for research is needed because “the cells currently available to researchers… are not sufficiently racially or ethnically diverse (e.g., certain diseases are more prevalent in people of particular races – like sickle cell disease…)”

FACT: In fact, researchers are already achieving a 90% cure rate for sickle-cell disease, restoring dozens of children to health, using donated umbilical cord blood stem cells. These stem cells do not require an exact genetic match to provide effective treatment – and wider genetic and ethnic diversity in the donated cells can be achieved simply by placing more money and effort into banking umbilical cord blood nationwide. CAMR cites no evidence of an impending treatment for sickle-cell disease from cloning or other human embryo research, because no such evidence has come forward.

CAMR (In response to the concern about exploiting millions of women for their eggs to make cloned embryos): “There won’t be a market for eggs. The main purpose of SCNT is to perform research to understand how cells develop. Once that is understood, the process can be replicated in a laboratory and there will be no need for new eggs.”

FACT: This directly contradicts what CAMR says earlier in the same document (that the purpose of SCNT is to make genetically matched stem cells to transplant into patients). It also makes no sense. The attempted cloning of embryos is already something done “in a laboratory”; scientists can study how cells develop without cloning; and by definition, cloning by SCNT always requires an egg. Efforts to use cloning to treat even one major disease could require harvesting eggs from hundreds of millions of women, increasing their risk of ovarian cancer and other health problems.

CAMR: A ban or moratorium on human cloning for research “would put life-saving medical breakthroughs on indefinite hold,” and would “allow other countries to take the lead in cutting edge research resulting in the development of cures and treatments elsewhere.”

FACT: This is based on the false assumption that research cloning is close to producing life-saving breakthroughs. To be sure, other countries are taking the lead in developing some new cures and treatments: Treatments for severe immune deficiency (France), heart damage (Germany and Australia), spinal cord injury (Portugal), juvenile diabetes (Canada), etc. But these treatments all use adult stem cells and other non-embryonic cells, and they seem to have developed most quickly in nations that reject the idea of “therapeutic cloning.” U.S. researchers may be left behind because their fixation on the speculative benefits of cloning has diverted them from the approaches producing real cures.

CAMR: “Implantation into a womb is the clear, bright line that divides reproductive and non-reproductive technologies…. CAMR supports… a complete ban on reproductive cloning.”

FACT: In other words, the creation of human embryo farms through cloning would be allowed, while pregnancy and live birth would be banned. But once embryo farms are created, it would be virtually impossible to prevent a woman from placing such an embryo in her womb, and unconstitutional to try to force her to abort that pregnancy once it has begun. Any legal penalties would have to fall first on desperate infertile women, not on irresponsible scientists who actually do cloning. And the U.S. Justice Department has testified that it has no practical way to enforce such a ban on pregnancy. Even by trying to enforce it, the government would be in the bizarre and grossly unethical situation of defining a class of live humans it is a crime not to destroy. Finally, CAMR’s own materials (see above) suggest that implantation in a womb and further fetal development may be needed to reap any benefits from research cloning – and some CAMR members support state bills to allow this further step toward “farming” unborn and even born children (see The coalition’s claim to oppose “reproductive” cloning is window dressing, to be scuttled as soon as it gets in the way of “progress” – in fact, some CAMR members (like ASRM) have testified that they are open to supporting even “reproductive” cloning in the future. Legislators should not allow themselves to be fooled.