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What's In a Name?

When it comes to cloning, just about everything.

11:00 PM, Feb 19, 2004 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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ONE OF THE MORE DISTURBING hallmarks of the cloning debate has been the inaccurate and unscientific language used by cloning proponents to describe human cloning for biomedical research. There is a reason for this disingenuous approach to cloning advocacy. When cloning is accurately described as creating a new human embryo, the public overwhelmingly opposes it--whether the cloning is undertaken for research purposes or to create children. But when obfuscating terminology is employed to make it appear that only "cells" are created in a "therapeutic cloning" procedure, public support tends to grow.

As it turns out, this also holds true for scientists. A new survey of biotechnology researchers has just been released demonstrating both the political effectiveness of the pro-cloning wordplay and an appalling ignorance among the scientific community about what human cloning actually entails.

Here's the story: Genetic Engineering News published the results of a survey taken by Isaac Rabino of Empire State College, State University of New York. Rabino asked U.S. and international biotech researchers about their moral attitudes toward human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. A total of 1,229 scientists and researchers responded to the surveys from the United States, and 408 from abroad. The results are fascinating: A large majority of these researchers actually oppose all human cloning! But these respondents are apparently so ignorant about what precisely is created through the cloning procedure, that they don't know it.

As reported Business Wire, Rabino found that 92 percent of U.S. and 85 percent of international scientists advocate "therapeutic cloning of human cells for replacement tissue." Thus, Business Wire reported, "a majority of international scientists favor . . . the therapeutic cloning of cells."

No surprise there. Yet, 73 percent of U.S. and 78 percent of these same international scientists "believe the creation of human embryos specifically for research purposes is ethically unacceptable." This, of course, is the very action that results from therapeutic cloning.

There are two ways to create an embryo specifically for research purposes; sexually, e.g. fertilization, and asexually, e.g. cloning, as just occurred in South Korea. Indeed, embryos that come into being as a result of cloning cannot reliably be distinguished from those created through fertilization. Indeed, a cloned embryo, if not defective, would function in the identical manner as an embryo brought into being through fertilization.

I'm trained in law and even I know that. But apparently these international researchers trained in biology and other sciences are ignorant of the fact that the two activities quoted above, while differently described in the survey, constitute precisely the same act.

This is the scientific truth that pro-cloners dare not utter: Therapeutic cloning does not create tissues or cells. It creates a cloned human embryo. That's the science and it is biologically indisputable. Once the embryo comes into being, there are no further acts of cloning. All that remains is deciding what to do with the nascent human organism that cloning has created.

If biotechnological experts are so confused about what human cloning actually entails that they answer questions about its morality differently, depending on how the question is worded, imagine the perplexity experienced by the lay public. Which is precisely why the cloning lobby refuses to tell the unvarnished facts about human cloning to the American people. They want to win and they are not about to let the truth get in their way.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.