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To clone or not to clone

By David van Gend - posted Monday, 16 January 2006

The Lockhart Committee has presented Government with a proposal to “clone and kill” embryonic humans on the altar of speculative science.

The six-person committee, chaired by retired judge John Lockhart and charged with reviewing Australia’s 2002 laws on human embryo research and the ban on cloning, acknowledges that cloning creates a human embryo, which could be born as a baby like any of us. But they callously reason that the cloned embryo does not really matter to anybody, since nobody intends to bring it to birth - therefore let it be cut up for stem cells, used for drug testing, even hybridised with animals, provided it is killed by the age of 14 days.

Here is the dual desecration of cloning not just that a human life is wrongfully killed for the benefit of others, but that a human life is wrongfully created out of any normal human setting.


For if the cloned embryo does not “matter” to anybody that is because cloning violates all human bonds of belonging, and the former judge should abhor, not condone, such an anti-human development. To clone is to create a human offspring with no mother - just an emptied out female egg - and no father - for the donor of DNA is not father to the clone, but its identical twin, and could be as anonymous a donor as a piece of human tissue from the laboratory fridge. Cloning creates a subclass of humans who are absolute orphans with no mother to defend their interests, mere laboratory animals, meat for the consumption of science.

That is a desecration of humanity, and must be condemned as such.

It is up to our Parliament now to judge and reject this vile proposal to deliberately create and kill human embryos, just as all our MPs and senators did, unanimously, in 2002.

While the ethics are decisive in this debate, it also matters greatly that the science not be misrepresented - because the good news is that, while we must reject cloning on principle, we will still get the good things of stem cell science without cloning.

As the association Do no harm: Australians for Ethical Medical Research has repeatedly explained, to little avail, the uses of embryo stem cells are primarily for drug development and genetic research, not the more glamorous cell therapies where stem cells are injected into the body to repair disease.

So we welcomed comments last year by Australia’s leading advocate of embryo research, Professor Alan Trounson, where he hosed down claims that stem cells from clones would provide cell therapies for diseases like Parkinson’s or diabetes. Instead he pointed to more modest goals of cloning for genetic research and drug testing: "It's not about cells for therapy. This is about cells that give us an opportunity to discover what causes a disease and whether we can interfere with that.”


The bad news for Trounson is that advances in adult stem cell science are making cloning redundant even for his humbler research goals.

Leading stem cell scientist Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, of Griffith University, has shown that adult stem cells can already be used for the same purposes that Trounson dreams of for cloned embryo stem cells. The Griffith team has over 40 disease-specific lines of adult stem cells (sampled from the noses of sufferers of Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, schizophrenia and so on) which they transform into the relevant cell type for genetic study and drug testing. That is all Trounson hopes to do with cloning - and adult stem cells have already done it.

But way beyond anything cloning could ever do, the Griffith team has used these adult stem cells successfully as direct cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease (rats so far, primates next), and is conducting trials for human spinal cord injury. There are now 65 human diseases treated with adult stem cells, while embryo stem cells remain both useless and dangerous and, as even the Lockhart Committee concedes, have not a single human application.

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An abridged version was published in The Courier-Mail on December 23, 2005.

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About the Author

Dr David van Gend is a Toowoomba GP and Queensland secretary for the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life.

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