Human Life Too Sacred to Treat As Research Toy

Posted March 26, 2004 at 12:01pm

Human life is a sacred and precious gift.

Few issues have made this more apparent than the debate over the utilization of human embryos for destructive research purposes; or, in some cases, the deliberate creation and destruction of human embryos through a process of human cloning.

Ultimately, this debate is about the status of the young human.

Is the young human, at the very beginning of his or her life, a person or a piece of property?

If the young human is a person, then our laws should protect him or her.

If, on the contrary, the young human person at the beginning of life is a piece of property then no law can protect that person and the sole purpose of the law would be to govern the disposition of that property.

But if the young human is a piece of property, when does he or she become a person? Birth? Just after birth?

These are the questions that must be resolved before a debate can truly occur on whether human beings can be created and destroyed at the whim of those in society who support human cloning or destructive human embryo research.

We must have this debate before the science overtakes the public discourse.

These are fundamental questions involving the most fundamental aspects of human dignity.

Unfortunately, the debate over the status of the young human at the very beginning of life has been obscured by the rhetoric of those who support medical research that relies on the destruction of human embryos.

Despite all of the euphemisms, the debate over human cloning falls into two distinct categories; primarily: “reproductive” and so-called “therapeutic.” Or, put another way, human cloning for the purposes of reproduction and human cloning for the purposes of medical research.

The bipartisan bill that I am sponsoring with my colleague, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), states that all human cloning should be banned. This position is based, in part, on our belief that one should not create life just to destroy it.

Some however, do not want a permanent ban — they want a limited ban on what they refer to as “reproductive” cloning but not on so-called “therapeutic,” or research, cloning.

The notion that human cloning can be “therapeutic” is both misleading and disingenuous.

“Therapeutic” cloning, as some of the proponents of cloning in the biotech industry refer to it, is really the process by which an embryo is specially created for the directly intended purpose of subsequently killing it for its cells. Some proponents of human cloning claim that an embryo created in this manner will have cells that are a genetic match to the patient being cloned, and thus the cells would not be rejected by the patient’s immune system. Yet even this claim is not accurate. It has become increasingly obvious that those who support cloning for so-called “therapeutic” purposes lack the evidence to back up their claims for the future of this technique of “regenerative” medicine.

For example, we now know that cells derived from clonal embryos created for the purposes of stem-cell transplantation contain mitochondrial DNA — that is DNA passed through the maternal contribution to the zygote — and are therefore NOT genetically identical to the donor/recipient. This nonidentity can trigger an immune response rejection.

Further, there is not one animal model that shows this is not the case.

In fact, Dr. Rudolph Jaenisch, a vocal proponent of cloning, admits that his study into the therapeutic value of cloning in animal models “raise[s] the provocative possibility that even genetically matched cells derived by therapeutic cloning may still face barriers to effective transplantation.”

All human cloning is reproductive — in that it creates new human life regardless of the intentions of the researchers and the technicians who created that life.

Science tells us that we can find the cures without the controversy.

Also, we must not ignore promising research with adult stem cells which add to the validity of questions as to why we should ever create life to destroy it.

To name just a few examples: Italian researchers identified a protein that enhances the regeneration of skeletal muscle; researchers definitively showed that in bone marrow stem-cell transplants, the adult stem cells could form other tissues; clinical trials in Germany, the United States and Japan have shown that treating patients with their own adult bone marrow stem cells can repair damaged heart muscle; another report indicates that human mixed bone marrow stem cells can contribute significant amounts of lung tissue; adult bone marrow stem cells or spleen cells have been used to stimulate pancreas rejection and restore insulin secretion; and at Harvard, where there is a significant push to create new cloned stem-cell lines only to be destroyed, researchers using adult spleen cells noted in their published scientific paper that the adult cell treatment in the experimental animals could “correct established diabetes permanently” and gave “permanent disease reversal.”

We have so many positive results in the adult stem-cell arena, while the same has yet to materialize using embryonic cells.

I do not believe that we should create life just to destroy it — yet that is exactly what is being proposed by those who support cloning in limited circumstances; however they might describe those circumstances — whether it’s nuclear transplantation, “therapeutic” cloning, therapeutic cellular transfer, DNA regenerative therapy — or whatever the latest euphemism.

Cloning is wrong, period. I ask my colleagues in Congress to stand with me and support S.245 as we move forward to ban human cloning.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on science, technology and space.