Date: April 1st, 2002
The Alliance for Aging Research believes all attempts to clone a human being are dangerous, unethical and wrong at this time. We believe just as strongly that, with appropriate guidelines, U.S. scientists should have the freedom to clone stem cells in laboratory dishes in an attempt to cure serious and life-threatening diseases.
The Alliance supports legislation in Congress to make it a federal offense to try to copy people using cloning technology. But we strongly oppose some other anti-cloning measures which would make it a serious federal crime for scientists to use stem cell cloning techniques in the laboratory while trying to help people suffering from diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases.
The Alliance believes Americans are wise enough to know the difference between cloning to replicate a person - which we oppose - and cloning cells for human therapeutic purposes with appropriate guidelines in place. A Senate bill proposed by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, for instance, makes no distinction between efforts to clone people and efforts to cure people. It is a too broad ban that could deliver a body blow to our hopes for biomedical discoveries in America.
Therapeutic cloning, also known as nuclear transplantation, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, occurs when a researcher removes the DNA from an egg cell, and inserts the DNA-bearing nucleus from another body (somatic) cell, and then programs the modified egg to grow as if it had been fertilized. The egg begins to develop in a dish, though sperm has not fertilized it, and there is no implantation into a woman's womb. The researcher tries to keep these cells replicating long enough for the development of stem cells, usually 3 to 5 days. If this technique can be studied further and allowed to develop fresh replacement cells, the entire basis for medical research and disease treatment could change dramatically for the better. New, healthy stem cells, compatible with the body of whoever provided the donor-cell DNA, could one day replace damaged or dead cells, thereby enabling physicians successfully to treat millions of patients with often-fatal diseases.
Soon the U.S. Senate will debate the issue. The vote will be one of the most important in years for patients and for medical science. Here are five reasons why the Alliance for Aging Research believes your Senators should allow cell therapy research (therapeutic cloning) to go forward:
Lives Are At Stake
More than 100 million Americans are threatened by diseases that one day could be dramatically reduced due to medical interventions based on stem cell technology. The failure of cells in the body to function normally - the basis for infirmities from cancer to spinal cord injury - may someday be restored to full health using stem cells. The National Academy of Sciences has recommended actively pursuing anti-rejection strategies for promising stem cell therapies, including somatic cell nucleus transfers.
It's Ethically Correct
For scientists in the lab to engineer a cellular structure that behaves like an embryo raises for some the unanswerable question of "when does life begin?" But to claim, as opponents of therapeutic cloning do, that a microscopic ball of unfertilized, undifferentiated cells in a petri dish possesses all the moral standing of a living person, goes against moral sense, reasoned argument, and the traditions of many world religions. Stem cell research, including the anti-rejection techniques of therapeutic cloning could over time produce new more effective means to relieve human suffering on a large scale. That is a highly ethical goal, supported by sound and honorable means.
Science Shouldn't Be Criminalized
The anti-cloning bill that passed the House of Representative last summer provides for $1 million fines and up to 10 years in prison. Are we really willing to intimidate people who carry out research into diseases with the full police powers of the federal government? How many bright young people are going to want careers in medical research when federal fines and jail terms stigmatize what should be the noblest of callings.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says that scientific advances - notably in biotechnology - are at the core of this nation's global economic leadership and our resilient domestic marketplace. If U.S. leadership in medical science is forced to take a step backward by the crosswinds of politics and ideological fervor, the economic repercussions could be large indeed. At least one prominent University of California biologist has moved his work to England to avoid threatened governmental limits in the U.S. on stem cell research.
About half of all the important new medicines available to the world were first invented in American laboratories. It is part of our American faith that science and technology should serve humanistic ends: to expand human potential, to increase abundance, and to heal the sick and infirm. We embrace those humane values even more passionately since September 11, 2001 when those who hate America and the modern world for these very qualities attacked our nation.
Our country possesses the talent, knowledge and resources to make real the anticipation of a 21st Century blessed by advances in biology and medicine. But the full promise of regenerative medicine must first survive a test in the Senate.