The Washington Post reports that scientists in Oregon have developed a way to get stem cells from cloned human embryos. (For the über-ho-hum, click here for NPR's piece.)
The nonchalance with which this is reported makes me wonder if I missed the memo? Have we already crossed that bridge into human cloning? I knew about the sheep. Seems like a relatively "big deal" but this is the only story I've seen thus far, other than a blog post on the subject.
Anyway, reading along, we learn that "few experts think that production of stem cells through cloning is likely to be medically useful soon, or possibly ever."
So human embryos are being cloned for the sake of harvesting cells and creating organs, and there's little evidence this will actually produce meaningful results. Meanwhile, "a far less controversial way to get stem cells is now available [and] involves reprogramming mature cells (often ones taken from the skin)..."
In one method, the human person is objectified and exploited--created by man, only to be used and destroyed. In the other, an adult cell is reprogrammed, with no harm occurring to the donor and no human embryo being destroyed.
"...In one experiment, eight oocytes harvested from one woman produced five blastocysts and four embryonic stem cell lines — a success rate virtually unseen in other animals.Rather than blastocysts being implanted, however, they are being destroyed for their stem cells. In the meantime, a young donor, compensated finely for her eggs, continues on, ultimately unaware of their fate. Her egg has become part of a cloned human embryo, and then destroyed. It's all so bizarre.
"The blastocysts could be implanted in a woman’s uterus. It might develop into a fetus. Most cloned animals, however, turn out to have major health problems and shortened lives."
“We just need to make sure it’s clear to the public that no one in their right mind would want to do that. There is no intent to do reproductive cloning. None at all,” Gearhart said.But you are already not in your right mind. Respectfully.
What if the technology to clone humans was developed to the point where a resulting human was healthy and otherwise normal? This is a market waiting to be tapped; medical tourism will continue to thrive. If buying children of a particular gender is currently met with praise rather than criticism, I fail to feel reassured by scientist Gearheart's statement.
As long as the little clone children are not perfect and healthy, we're probably in the clear. But custom-ordering a child? Recreating a child? Recreating oneself? The possibilities are, unfortunately, endless, and science, without an objective moral compass, is just that.
Read this book (new translation here). And this one.
Rebecca Taylor covers this story here on her wonderful blog. I really need to spend more time familiarizing myself with the material she has compiled.