A Clone by any Other Name
ADVANCE EDITORIAL from the Dec. 23, 2002 issue: Stanford University declares it will harvest and exploit cloned human embryos--democratic institutions be damned.
In February 2002, Weissman testified before the President's Council on Bioethics. He reaffirmed that the entity produced by transferring a nucleus into an unfertilized egg would grow "to form the blastocyst stage of embryo development, the pre-implantation embryo." And he agreed that such a cloned blastocyst destined to be disaggregated for its stem cells would be identical to the cloned blastocyst required to initiate a pregnancy--that is, to initiate the gestation of a cloned human being.
By Weissman's own definition, what Stanford announced earlier this week was, in fact, its intention to pursue embryonic cloning, even as the university simultaneously denied what it was doing. A calf does not cease to be a calf because we have produced it for veal. A cloned embryo, produced for its stem cells, does not cease to be an embryo.
Fearing public backlash, the university decided to muddy the waters even further. It released yet another statement saying that its researchers would not pursue embryonic cloning right away, but that they might do so in the future, and that in any case Weissman does not believe that producing cloned embryos by nuclear transplantation is really embryonic cloning at all. More doubletalk from one of our leading institutions of higher learning.
If we are to have sound public deliberation about these weighty matters, universities and scientists owe us spin-free speech about what they are doing. Even more important, we need public debate and political leadership--from the president, in Congress, and in the states. President Bush, when he announced his decision on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in August 2001, declared, "We have arrived at that Brave New World that seemed so distant in 1932, when Aldous Huxley wrote about human beings created in test tubes."
Today, one of our leading universities is poised to take us further down that dehumanizing road. Our elected leaders need to intervene--now, not later--by enacting at least a moratorium on such morally questionable experiments.
--William Kristol and Eric Cohen