By David Alton
Spurred on by vested interests every bit as powerful as those involved in the Enron-Arthur Anderson scandal, the pressure to permit the cloning of human embryos continues unabated. The battle has been waged in the Courts and in Parliament in a Select Committee whose report is imminent. The debate in the media has often been distorted by one-sided documentaries.
The biotec industry has poured money into political funds, wooed politicians, including Government Ministers, and seen its share prices rise as it secured political approval for experiments and possible treatments using cloned human embryos. Huge financial interests are at stake and vast profits will be made. In every respect they have been out to make a killing.
The Select Committee contained no one who had spoken in the debate against cloning. No Government Minister was called to appear before the Committee and there was no investigation into the commercial influences. Despite this, some members showed great integrity and independence of character in challenging the prevailing mood.
Nor are they alone.
Just before Christmas The New Scientist (ital) said, “creating human clones for no good reason is wrong.” They added: “Like stuck records, ministers and policy makers continue to enthuse about therapeutic cloning even though the majority of bench scientists no longer think it’s possible or practicable to treat patients with cells derived from cloned embryos. They have already moved on to investigating the alternatives.”
The United States the House of Representatives has voted to make any form of human cloning a criminal offence punishable by a $1 million fine and up to 10 years in prison. The European Parliament has banned any funding of scientists involved in human cloning.
Many of us believe cloning is wrong because human life should be protected from the moment of fertilisation.
But new breakthroughs using stem cells have been derived from adult bone marrow that, in addition to growing indefinitely in culture, can apparently transform into any tissue type, renders the use of embryonic stem cells completely unnecessary.
People suffering from degenerative diseases – like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – have been tantalised with propaganda telling them that the only hope for curing their disease is to manufacture cloned human embryos. Since 1990 half a million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon – yet not one single cure has been developed. Paradoxically, a cure is now firmly on the horizon, and it will be reached without the destruction of embryos. A cure without making a killing. Cells from the patient’s own body could one day be turned into all sorts of perfectly matched replacement tissues and even livers and hearts.
These adult stem cells don’t suffer from the tumours and runaway mutations that have blighted developments with embryos. Two other laboratories have found similar results in adult mice, and experiments are also underway using human skin and muscle cells.
For years the biotech cloning lobby has insisted that only stem cells derived by destroying human embryos could provide effective treatments for degenerative diseases. That is now exposed as a lie.
But we also know that cloning is dangerous.
Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, has yet more health problems. Dolly was the only survivor of 277 embryos. Most cloned animals suffer from multiple malformed organs, are often dangerously overweight and have high death rates for both newborn clones and for those female animals carrying clones. Now we also know, in Dolly’s case, that she is ageing prematurely. Although shocking to see these animals suffer in this way, what irresponsibility would lead us to do the same to humans?