By Any Name, Human Cloning Is Planned at Stanford

Statements over Cell Technique Are Taken to Task

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PALO ALTO, California, DEC. 15, 2002 ( Wide skepticism has greeted Stanford University’s plans to produce stem cells for medical research by means of what it called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Dr. Irving Weissman, director of Stanford’s Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology, was quoted in the Associated Press as saying that his planned research is «not even close» to cloning. The university itself also denied any link to cloning.

But those announcements seemed at odds with the American Association of Medical Colleges, of which Stanford is a member.

The association equates somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) with therapeutic cloning. It defines it as the «removing [of] the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell, replacing it with the material from the nucleus of a ‘somatic cell’ (a skin, heart, or nerve cell, for example), and stimulating this cell to begin dividing.»

Asked at a news conference if nuclear transfer and cloning were the same, Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Paul Berg had a two-word response: «It is.»

Berg’s view was echoed by Father Joseph Howard of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission (ABAC), a project of American Life League.

«Dr. Weissman’s claim that somatic cell nuclear transfer is not human cloning is simply false,» said Father Howard. «It is immoral and an outrage for a scientist of his stature to purposefully mislead the public for his own personal agenda.»

«Finding treatments and studying diseases is noble,» the priest added, «but not on the backs of human embryos, who are living human beings that deserve to be protected by law.»

Father Howard said that the recent development «makes it clear to us that congressional action is needed to ban all human cloning. The ABAC is committed to working with all members of the U.S. Congress to craft a comprehensive bill to render illegal all forms of human cloning.»

The Weekly Standard in its Dec. 23 issue also took Stanford to task for deciding to go ahead with cloning.

It noted that the U.S. House of Representatives in July 2001 passed a ban on all human cloning, including the procedure now proposed by Stanford. It also noted that last July the President’s Council on Bioethics recommended a four-year moratorium on the production and use of cloned human embryos for biomedical research.

«Stanford’s announcement is important,» the magazine said. «In a country still weighing the significance and moral dangers of taking the first steps toward human cloning, a major research university has decided to plunge ahead. Stanford seems to believe that the question of whether to harvest and exploit cloned human embryos — and perhaps eventually cloned human fetuses — is one for scientists and internal university review boards, not citizens and their democratic institutions.»

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