Friday, May 20, 2005

Attack of the Clones

Among the most cogent arguments against the evisceration of science in this country is the potential threat to our economic and national security. Diminished standards for science education ( such as the presentation of fanciful mythology as valid scientific hypothesis) and severe restrictions on research into the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells, for example, may result in abdication of our role as leader of the world's scientific enterprise.

This point is brought home today by a story in the Washington Post titled "Koreans Say They Cloned Embryos for Stem Cells." South Korean scientists have succeeded in somatic cell nuclear transfer - so-called "therapeutic cloning" - from patient tissue samples, potentially enabling regenerative therapies. This and other stellar advances in Asia might help to push our conservative, business-friendly government closer to permitting such research in this country, but, as the Post notes:
That legislation would not allow funding of cloning research like that done in South Korea -- a kind of research the House has twice voted to ban and which the Senate has deadlocked over for years. Rather, it would facilitate the less contentious use of frozen embryos about to be discarded by fertility clinics.
While Congress continues to wrestle with the silly issue of whether a pre-implantation human embryo is entitled to the same moral status as an autonomous adult, the scientific community is beginning to deal with some of the real ethical issues raised by such technological advances. An article published online by Science Magazine gives an overview of three issues that deserve particular attention: the reconciliation of varying international standards, the protection of oocyte donors, and the avoidance of unrealistic expectations. These, and other downstream questions, will require an informed public debate - and, thus, and informed public. The Humanist community must play a leadership role in this process.

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