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Good clone, bad clone ?

par Abby Lippman, geneticist , McGill University in Montreal

Écrits d'Élaine Audet

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So hard to say goodbye

Not many major stories break between Christmas and New Years ; this is considered "slow news" time. So perhaps this explains the excessive media attention to Clonaid’s announcement on 27 December that "Eve," the "first cloned human" had been born. Perhaps, too, it excuses all the writers and broadcasters who forgot lesson one of journalism school : check your sources. After all, would we have had first-page headlines - even during the holiday season - if the extraterrestrial devotees who call themselves Raelians announced, for example, that they had turned lead into gold, or had produced some elixir to prolong life indefinitely ?

Whatever, these 21st century alchemists and their claims of a universal remedy did get attention. And now some have rushed to print, protesting that this attention will "scare" the Canadian government into adopting an "inappropriate cloning law." They refer specifically to Bill C-13, to be debated in Parliament in the coming weeks. This bill contains clauses that would prohibit the creation of embryos for research and, thereby, prohibit (in part) what is called "therapeutic" cloning.

"Therapeutic" cloning involves, basically, the same procedures as those employed to clone for reproductive ("making a baby") purposes. A cell is taken from an adult, its nucleus is removed and then placed into an egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed. This technique is called, in scientific jargon, "somatic cell nuclear transfer." Using various chemical and/or electric measures, this egg cell with its new nucleus is stimulated to divide and give rise to either a whole organism (e.g., Dolly the sheep) or used to produce a specific line of cells (so-called therapeutic cloning to make new hearts, kidneys, etc.).

With "making babies" labeled by almost all (Raelians and a few others, excepted) as "bad" cloning, "therapeutic" cloning is now being set up as the "good" kind. And a kind of cloning its defenders claim is now at great risk of being criminalized if Bill C-13 goes ahead as currently written.

Many researchers and traditional bioethicists who are arguing for this "good clone"/"bad clone" dichotomy have begun to make claims almost as contentious as those of the Raelians. Perhaps worse : they have clothed their claims in ways that, inadvertently or not, distract attention from why we need to be critical of ALL cloning. Making general promises - and this is all they are : promises - that it represents "life-saving research" that will give "sick people hope," and that protecting the right of scientists to do work with "honorable ends" is essential, those pushing for "therapeutic cloning" turn critics into uncaring luddites. When proponents further argue that their work is necessary to ensure that Canada does not lose its competitive edge by forcing this research elsewhere where restrictions do not exist, they frame critics as potentially responsible for a weakening economy and a further "brain drain." Heavy charges, all. But do they have any merit ?

Basically, there is no "good and bad" cloning. There is cloning. Clauses to prohibit the creation of embryos for research and for reproductive AND therapeutic cloning were put into Bill C-13 - and its predecessors, Bills C-56 and C-47 - way before the Raelian shenanigans made front-page news. And the reasons for retaining them remain as they were then and have always been : the need for creating cloned embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells has yet to be established (and may never be). The rationales given for this technology are based on dreams, more than reality, on promises of "cures" and predictions of economic profit, rather than on approaches to major health problems ; and the eugenics that is necessarily a core part of this technology is morally unacceptable.

Those who object to therapeutic cloning on religious grounds note that making these cell lines (as for some organ to replace a failing one) involves the killing of the embryo, since the latter is necessarily destroyed in the process. But, it is not just "anti-choice/pro-life" groups who have concerns about "therapeutic" cloning. Others object to it on secular ethical grounds.

First, there are the very serious women’s health concerns raised by this technology that relies on the use of powerful chemicals to induce egg formation prior to their extraction from women’s bodies (itself, a risky process). Moreover, cloning may also involve commercialization with women paid for providing the eggs without which none of this can be done. We must never forget that ALL cloning, all in vitro embryo creation, requires an egg. And these eggs have only once source : the manipulated body of a living woman.

Beyond this, we must recognize that if cloning is legitimized as therapy, alteration of the human species becomes an accepted consumer activity. If cloning is legitimized as therapy, human enhancement and regeneration become pay-as-you-go (pun intended) activities in a commercial marketplace. These will not be "side" effects, but effects built into the very procedure itself. The technology is not neutral, with "uses" (good ; e.g., therapeutic cloning) we should promote and "abuses" (bad ; e.g., reproductive cloning) we can regulate. Rather, the means ("therapeutic" cloning) necessarily embrace ends of all kind.

We should not fool ourselves and think "therapeutic" cloning is (only, or only primarily) about obtaining stem cells that will lead to saving fragile babies, rescuing doomed children, restoring full physical function to chronically ill individuals, or any of the other advertised reasons its proponents put forth. First of all, there is today no research to back up the wide claims being made ; most of the work has been done only in animal models, and these often do not match the human experience. More important, however, is that a need for "therapeutic" cloning to create embryonic stem cells has been grossly exaggerated. Already, other sources of stem cells and other innovative potential treatments for such disorders as Parkinson disease, Alzheimer disease, and spinal cord injuries are under research and development, treatments that do not involve creating embryos or cloning adult cells. And perhaps most important : "therapeutic" cloning cannot but lead to (further) commerce in human body parts.

In thinking about "therapeutic" cloning we should NOT picture the smiling "cured" baby proponents eagerly display but, rather, what would be a more likely : an aging white male sequentially morphed, first with a "new" kidney, then a "new" heart, perhaps then a "new" liver and a few new "brain cells," etc. (For a parallel, think of an aging car : first the brakes, then the carburetor, then some body work, then a new ignition system, etc. After a few sessions with the mechanics, the old jalopy will be a springy "new" sedan.) In other words, as each organ gets worn down, cloned cells derived from embryonic stem cell are injected, giving him (though by now one might wonder : who is this "he" we are renovating ?) a re-made body. And whose bodies would be "eligible" for this treatment ? Who would be able to afford it, and at what costs to the rest of us ?

We are already well on the path to the completely commercialized reproduction of commodified children. Sperm is available for sale on the internet ; "surrogate" mothers advertise their availability for those seeking such services. Do we want to add egg providers for cloning to the menus ? Donor-matched embryo stem cells obtained via therapeutic cloning using third-party eggs could provide a commercial cash cow to private companies without making any contribution to the public’s health.

Bill C-13 is far from being perfect legislation. I argued this several months ago when it was known as Bill C-56. However, fixing its serious weaknesses (e.g., it doesn’t completely prohibit pay for surrogacy ; it does not include an open system to enable children born to learn the identities of those from whose sperm and eggs they came, etc.), will not be helped by a split of the bill as members of the Bloq and others have suggested. To the contrary, a split - to criminalize human cloning and its related practices, while leaving surrogacy, regulation, monitoring, etc. for another day - will likely only give steam to the continuation of practices we need stopped now. It will lead us further toward the acceptance of "therapeutic" cloning, and most probably, keep us in the regulatory limbo where we’ve been for over a decade.

Already too much time has passed without any legislation. We’ve seen many experimental approaches, all with risks to women’s health, become established practices, all without surveillance and monitoring.

So, let’s ignore the fear-mongering of those pushing for "therapeutic" cloning. Putting a halt to this activity now will NOT cause deaths or discomfort to anyone ; letting it go forward, by accepting the self-serving claims of its proponents might. Let us lobby for passage of Bill C-13 NOW and ensure that we do all we can to prohibit ALL cloning, all creation of embryos for research. Enough is enough.

Mis en ligne sur Sisyphe le 23 janvier 2003

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Abby Lippman, geneticist , McGill University in Montreal

Professor at the Departement of Epidemiology and Biostatistics of McGill University, Abby Lippman divides her life between academia and activism, teaching and doing research (McGill University), and devoting long hours to extensive community work (provincially and nationally). A long-time feminist critic of genetic and reproductive technologies and of "geneticization," she’s been a member of national and international groups that deal with social
justices issues related to women’s health.

Plan-Liens Forum

  • > Good clone, bad clone ?
    (1/1) 27 août 2004 , par

  • > Good clone, bad clone ?
    27 août 2004 , par   [retour au début des forums]

    i think cloning should be allowed, though i agree with the doctor, but u see its better controlled then hidden from naked eyes.
    Sajjad Rizvi

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