Beware of new pro-life calls for human cloning 'bans'

June 24, 2013 09:00 AM

Dr. Dianne Irving

There have been dozens of “pro-life” bills proposed in various states and the federal Congress over the last two decades purporting to be “total bans” on human cloning. Yet literally every one of them has proven to actually allow some if not all human cloning. (See analyses of dozens of such bills at: http://www.lifeissues.net/sub_section.php?topic=ir&subsection=bil). Why? Why can’t pro-life get these bills right? I suppose that one explanation, at least, is that they knowingly or unknowingly incorporate false scientific terms in the formal definitions used in their bills.

All has been relatively quiet for a while, until the recent human cloning experiment in Oregon was announced. Now suddenly there seems to be a renewal of pro-life calls for banning human cloning. Yet I’m still seeing the use of false scientific definitions in their warnings and in new proposed cloning “bans”—the result being (as usual) that these “bans” will not ban anything—just make some pro-lifers feel good.

A recent example is the proposed pro-life bill by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), who has, according to a LifeSite article by Rebecca Taylor, “reintroduced a true ban on human cloning to the U.S. Congress. H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012, would ban human cloning all over the U.S. This is actually a remarkable bill. Why? Because most other ‘bans on human cloning’ do nothing of the sort.”

Not.

The “science” in this article is, once again, erroneous. The Taylor article itself, as well as the proposed bill, define “human cloning” only in terms of one kind of human cloning technique—somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—a form of cloning, by the way, that most researchers have long abandoned because of the scientific problems involved. Instead they have been and will continue to do research using dozens of other different kinds of cloning—none of which will be banned by this bill, all of which can be used both for destructive research purposes as well as for reproductive purposes. Even the recent UNESCO International Bioethics Institute report listed six different asexual reproductive cloning techniques that they were concerned about—especially involved in illegal human trafficking. [See my recent article expanding on only three of those human cloning techniques that they listed, providing extensive scientific references: “Any Human Cell—iPS, Direct Programmed, Embryonic, Fetal, or Adult—Can Be Genetically Engineered to Asexually Reproduce New Human Embryos for Purposes of Reproduction (‘Infertility’)” (November 2011), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_194cellasexuallyreproduce1.html].

If even UNESCO can get it right, why can’t pro-life? Just go to the library or PubMed on the Internet, and look it up. Why is “pro-life” still misdefining “cloning” only in terms of SCNT—as did the 2001 fake ban on human cloning by Weldon and Brownback? [See my requested analysis of the Weldon/Brownback total human cloning “ban”: “University Faculty for Life: Letter of Concern to Sen. Brownback and Congressman Weldon Re the ‘Human Cloning Bill 2001’“; written as UFL board member on behalf of UFL; submitted to Sen. Brownback and Congr. Weldon, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C. (May 27, 2001), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_52weldonbrownback1.html].

Here is the formal definition of “cloning” in the new “pro-life” bill currently being promoted by Rebecca Taylor on LifeNews.com: “(1) HUMAN CLONING—The term ‘human cloning’ means human asexual reproduction, accomplished by introducing the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nucleus has been removed or inactivated to produce a living organism (at any stage of development) with a human or predominantly human genetic constitution.” (Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) has reintroduced a true ban on human cloning to the U.S. Congress. H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012, http://www.lifenews.com/2013/05/31/congressmans-human-cloning-ban-would-actually-ban-human-cloning/.)

Thus this “pro-life” bill would only ban human cloning that is performed using only one kind of human cloning: SCNT—if even that. It would not ban any of the human cloning techniques identified in the UNESCO report (including “twinning,” the use of tetraploid complementation with iPS cells to produce male and female germ cells (sperm and “eggs”), or ban germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT), pronuclei transfer, mitochondria transfer, spindle transfer, and a dozen other genetic engineering human cloning techniques—with even more announced weekly in the scientific literature. Why shouldn’t those human cloning techniques also be legitimately banned too because they all involve the destruction of innocent living human embryos?

As we all know, from decades of analyzing supposed “pro-life” cloning bans, the courts would be required to interpret the above false definition of “human cloning” as “exclusionary” (i.e., literally). It would therefore not ban any of the other dozens of kinds of human cloning that are preferred, and that have already been going on for a long time now. This is precisely why such definitions that are “written in crayon” for pro-lifers are a disaster when that same crayon-language is used in formal legal documents such as laws and regulations. The devil is, indeed, in the details. SCNT is not “cloning per se,” and it is not the only kind of human cloning, and it is not even useful any more.

Other similar scientific dumb-downs I’ve seen recently that would have the same effect of allowing all sorts of human cloning techniques with consequent destruction of new human life include:

2. Defining the product of fertilization as a “zygote.” Wrong. Fertilization is a process over time. It is not a single event. According to the real international experts on human embryology—human embryologists, not developmental or molecular biologists—the new human embryo begins to exist at the beginning of that process. The “zygote” is not formed until the end of that process (Stage 1c); however, the embryo already exists before that, at Stage 1a and Stage 1b. The “zygote” doesn’t even have a nucleus! The concern is that much of the human genetic engineering already being done now uses the new already existing human embryo at Stages 1a,b before the formation of the zygote—thus destroying those human beings. [See Stage 1a,b,c of the Carnegie Stages, at: http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/assets/documents/collections/hdac/stage01.pdf; also at http://www.ehd.org/virtual-human-embryo/intro.php?stage=1; get an iPhone app with the same accurate scientific facts of human embryology at: http://apps.usa.gov/embryo.shtml; or how about a DVD of your own, at: http://www.ehd.org/shoppingcart/products/The-Biology-of-Prenatal-Development.html? See also Irving, FERTILIZATION and IMPLANTATION of the Early Human Embryo: Accurate Scientific Resources (May 8, 2013), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_212accurateresources1.html. Thus if the term “zygote” is used in a supposed “cloning ban,” the bill would not ban the use of the new human embryo that exists before the formation of the zygote in human cloning research.

3. Being talked into “believing” that reproductive cloning has not yet been done, but is “on the horizon.” Human reproductive cloning has been done for a very long time now—using another of the human cloning techniques called monozygotic or identical “twinning” (blasomere separation, blastocyst splitting, embryo multiplication, etc.). Nice word—”twinning”—isn’t it? It is cloning, it is one of the reproductive cloning techniques identified in the UNESCO report, and if this kind of human cloning is not included in the formal definitions of a “human cloning ban,” then not only would that kind of human cloning for research purposes be banned. That kind of reproductive cloning would not be banned.

“Twinning” happens all the time naturally in normal human sexual reproduction; one-third of natural identical twins are formed from embryos existing before the formation of the blastocyst; two-thirds are formed at the blastocyst stage and even well-beyond. This same human cloning technique can be done artificially in IVF/ART research laboratories (ahem!) and “infertility” clinics. It is usually performed as an “infertility” treatment for older women who have few “eggs” left. So “twinning” is yet another kind of human cloning that should be banned, both for research purposes and for reproductive purposes: 

Tom Strachand and Andrew P. Read, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1999): The term “clones” indicates genetic identity and so can describe genetically identical molecules (DNA clones), genetically identical cells or genetically identical organisms. Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones. . . . A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about [another] type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: A nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. The resulting “renucleated” oocyte can give rise to an individual who will carry the nuclear genome of only one donor individual, unlike genetically identical twins. The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the “renucleated” oocyte are usually described as “clones,” but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. (pp. 508-509) http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/whatiscloning/

GENETIC SCIENCE LEARNING CENTER

University of Utah

What is Cloning?

Cloning is the creation of an organism that is a genetic copy of another. . . . You might not believe it, but there are human clones among us right now. They weren’t made in a lab, though: They’re identical twins, created naturally. Below, we’ll see how natural identical twins relate to modern cloning technologies.

1. Artificial Embryo Twinning

Artificial embryo twinning uses the same approach, but it occurs in a petri dish instead of in the mother’s body. This is accomplished by manually separating a very early embryo into individual cells, and then allowing each cell to divide and develop on its own. The resulting embryos are placed into a surrogate mother, where they are carried to term and delivered.

(See also at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IVF)

http://www.isnare.com/encyclopedia/In_vitro_fertilization

There are various expansions or additional techniques that can be applied in IVF, which are usually not necessary for the IVF procedure itself, but would be virtually impossible or technically difficult to perform without concomitantly performing methods of IVF.

OTHER EXPANSIONS

Embryo splitting http://www.isnare.com/encyclopedia/Embryo_splitting_(disambiguation) can be used for twinning to increase the number of available embryos. [Illmensee K, Levanduski M, Vidali A, Husami N, Goudas VT (February 2009). “Human embryo twinning with applications in reproductive medicine”. Fertil. Steril. 93 (2): 423–7. Doi http://www.isnare.com/encyclopedia/Digital_object_identifier 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.12.098 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.12.098. PMID http://www.isnare.com/encyclopedia/PubMed_Identifier 19217091 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19217091]

http://www.isnare.com/encyclopedia/Embryo_splitting_(disambiguation)

Embryo splitting may refer to: When spontaneous, the natural way in which identical twins are formed. When artificially induced, a method of cloning. See Cloning#Methods.

4. Believing that iPS research does not involve destroying human embryos. People should be aware of this before championing iPS cells as an “ethical alternative” to human embryonic stem cell research or SCNT cloning because supposedly “no embryos are destroyed.”

Most people in the field know that this is not true. I have listed dozens of ways that living human embryos/fetuses were required to be used in Yamanaka’s “materials and methods.” (See: “Ethical and Scientific Concerns About Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Research—Yamanaka and Thomson” (June 1, 2008), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_127concerns.html).

IPS cells are assayed by means of the TC assay. In short, in the tetraploid complementation assay (TC) for “full pluripotency” (think about THAT term), two human embryos are fused together to create a tetraploid embryo—thus killing two human embryos for each TC assay performed. Then an iPS cell is injected into that tetraploid embryo, and then the whole thing is implanted into a female, gestated, and could be brought to birth. If a developing EMBRYO does form after implantation, then that means that the test for “full pluripotency” is positive for that iPS cell. That’s yet another embryo that is killed (presuming that they don’t allow it to go to term). That’s three embryos total that are destroyed just in performing each TC assay for iPS cells.

This does not include a few more things they don’t tell people. [For example]:

— the four transcription factors they use to deprogram an “adult” cell come from bits and pieces of human embryos, who are thus also killed.

— since it is quite obvious that the researchers have little control over how far back their reprogramming efforts take the cells, it is quite possible that at least some of the cells end up as totipotent cells, rather than pluripotent cells. If they are totipotent, they are still just “cells,” but because they are totipotent then the natural biological process of “regulation” can revert them back to new whole embryos (as happens in both natural and artificial “twinning” in IVF/ART “infertility” clinics). Or, the adult cells could actually be deprogrammed all the way back to totipotent single-cell embryos. This is why Gurdon admitted at the recent Vatican conference on stem cell research that some iPS cells probably are no different than single-cell embryos. If either totipotent cells or a totipotent embryo are produced by the deprogramming, then those embryos will also be killed in the course of the research.

— The above don’t even take into consideration all the bits and pieces of human embryos/fetuses required for almost all stem cell research, including iPS cell research (e.g., as components in the culture media used, the feeder cells used, the “controls” used, the DNA-chips used, etc).

So how can anyone claim—and get away with claiming—that iPS cell research is an “ethical alternative” to human embryonic stem cell or SCNT-cloning research because “no human embryos are destroyed”?

Here’s just one of hundreds of descriptions of the TC assay for iPS cells: 

PUB MED:

Lan Kang and Shaorong Gao, “Pluripotency of induced pluripotent stem cells.”

J Anim Sci Biotechnol. 2012; 3(1): 5; Published online 2012 February 28. doi: 10.1186/2049-1891-3-5:

Tetraploid blastocyst complementation remains the most stringent assay for testing the pluripotency of pluripotent stem cells. Tetraploid blastocysts are produced via the fusion of 2-cell stage embryos and are developmentally defective by only forming extraembryonic tissues in vivo (15). Interestingly, this developmental characteristic of tetraploid embryos is exactly the opposite of pluripotent stem cells. As expected, ES cells with full pluripotency compensate for the developmental deficiency of tetraploid embryos, and a full-term organism can be produced from pluripotent stem cells together with extraembryonic tissues derived from tetraploid embryos (Figure1A). (16, 17) In this manner, ES cells differentiate into all of the various types of fetal cells, tissues, and organs, which organize into the organism and truly demonstrate the pluripotency of ES cells. A tetraploid complementation assay may also be considered a type of reconstruction assay similar to the multipotency test for hematopoietic stem cells, but the assay reconstructs the whole fetus instead of only the hematopoietic system (Figure1B). This information is more useful than in vitro differentiation of stem cells because it can clearly demonstrate that stem cells possess greater potential for differentiation compared that of other stem cell types.

It seems to me that a clarion call to ban all human cloning is a moral imperative. What is also a moral imperative is that pro-life gets the science right so that in supporting certain bills they don’t end up actually legally protecting some or even all human cloning, thus legally allowing the death and destruction of untold numbers of innocent living human beings in cloning research experiments—not to mention the harm to untold numbers of women into whom these experimental cloned human embryos are implanted, and then often purposefully aborted.

Dr. Dianne Irving is a graduate of Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross with a degree in biochemistry and minors in philosophy and theology. She is a former career-appointed bench research biochemist and biologist at the National Institutes of Health (NCI), has done extensive graduate work in biology in the Department of Biology at Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), and received her master’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy from the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown University—concentrating in both the history of philosophy and in bioethics (Kennedy Institute of Ethics). Her doctoral dissertation on human embryo research was entitled “A Philosophical and Scientific Analysis of the Nature of the Early Human Embryo.” Dr. Irving has published, lectured, and debated widely in academia, in the media, in pro-life, and in parishes on the topics of abortion, human embryo research, human cloning, stem cell research, genetic engineering, ethics in research using human subjects, and medical ethics—including issues concerning research with the mentally ill, and served as a consultant on these issues for many professional organizations.

This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_213beware.html.

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