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Cloning Doubletalk

Dianne Feinstein and Orin Hatch pretend that their bill to legalize human cloning is actually a ban.

12:00 AM, Mar 26, 2007 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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SENATORS DIANNE FEINSTEIN and Orrin Hatch have just introduced Senate Bill 812, which explicitly legalizes human cloning and--since a shortage of human eggs is currently impeding human cloning research (one egg is needed for each attempt at cloning)--the bill also authorizes researchers to pay women to undergo egg procurement.

And if the purpose of the legislation wasn't bad enough, there's its name: Feinstein and Hatch mendaciously named S. 812 the "Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Protection Act of 2007."

How can a bill to legalize human cloning be instead called a ban? Through the time-tested method of disingenuous legislating--the bogus definition. Here's a rarely discussed truth: Key words and terms in legislation mean only what a bill's authors say they mean, rather than their actual definitions. If a dung beetle was defined in legislation as a butterfly, for the purposes of that bill, the dung beetle would be a butterfly. Which is essentially what S. 812 does. It defines the term "human cloning" inaccurately and unscientifically so that Feinstein and Hatch can pretend their bill will outlaw human cloning.

To understand the dishonesty of S. 812, we must first define cloning accurately and describe exactly what it is that the process creates. "Cloning" is the popular term given for "asexual reproduction," which in mammals (theoretically, including humans) is accomplished through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)--the same method used to create Dolly the sheep. SCNT is easy to describe but hard to accomplish:

* First, the nucleus is removed from an egg cell and replaced with the nucleus taken from a somatic (body) cell. As a consequence of the nuclear transfer, the genetically modified egg has the full complement of chromosomes.

* Next, an electric current or chemical is used to stimulate the genetically modified egg.

* If the SCNT process works and all goes well, a cloned embryo comes into being, a point recently affirmed by James Thomson, the scientist who first derived human embryonic stem cells, and who stated regarding human SCNT, "If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn't know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is"--meaning a human embryo.

Just as there is no further fertilization after sexual conception, once the SCNT process is finished, there is no more cloning--a new organism has already come into being. From this point on the question becomes what to do with the cloned embryo that has been created. If it is to be destroyed in research, it is sometimes called "therapeutic" or research cloning. If it is to be implanted and gestated to birth, it is usually called reproductive cloning. But whichever use is to be made of the embryo, the act of cloning is complete once the SCNT process has been fully accomplished.

With this basic biology in mind, we now turn to "human cloning" as (mis)defined in S. 812. In the definitions section of the bill, it states:

The term 'human cloning' means implanting or attempting to implant the product of nuclear transplantation into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.

This definition is pure bunk. Implantation is no more human cloning then implanting an embryo created via IVF is human fertilization. Rather, implantation is one potential use of the embryo created through human cloning. The bill's definition is junk biology. The point being to allow Senators Feinstein and Hatch to pretend that they are banning human cloning when their bill actually legalizes it.

The Feinstein-Hatch bill also purports to outlaw the purchase and sale of human eggs, a matter rightly seen by many feminists and human rights activists as necessary to prevent the exploitation of poor women for biotechnological research.

As we saw in the description of SCNT, each attempt at cloning requires one egg. But human cloning is very difficult and will take a long time to perfect. (South Korean cloning researcher Hwang Wu-suk burned through some 2,000 eggs and was still unable to create a single cloned human embryo.) Thus, for cloning research to really take off, scientists will need tens of thousands of human eggs. But eggs are a rare commodity and scientists are already complaining that an egg shortage is holding back cloning research.