It is popularly supposed that legalising experimentation on human embryos will enable scientists to find cures for a whole host of serious diseases. But Babette Francis argues that this is untrue.
The Lockhart Committee, established by the Federal Government to review Australia’s 2002 legislation banning human cloning and restricting embryo experimentation, held consultations last year to which members of scientific and community organisations and interested individuals were invited.
I attended one such meeting in Melbourne.
The participants fell into two categories – representatives of medical-scientific institutions lobbying for cloning and unrestricted embryo experimentation; and representatives of pro-life groups, expressing the view that cloning and destruction of embryos for stem cells are an attack on human life and an affront to human dignity, besides being useless, while stem cells from ethical sources such as adult tissue and umbilical cords are producing treatments for a range of diseases.
There was also a third group whose plight was poignant. These were individuals suffering from serious diseases – a man in a wheelchair, another with cystic fibrosis, and two young women who had such severe neurological conditions they had difficulty speaking. None of the scientists had the fortitude to inform the disabled that there would be nothing from cloning or embryos to help them in the foreseeable future.
Instead, opponents of cloning and embryo destruction were depicted as “lacking in compassion”. Why can’t scientists tell the disabled that embryonic stem-cells cause tumours, have not cured anything and there is nothing on the horizon, whereas stem cells from ethical sources have been effective in treating over 65 different conditions?
The exploitation of the disabled, such as the late Christopher Reeve, and of Parkinson-sufferer, Michael J. Fox, is indefensible.
Seoul National University has confirmed that its high-profile embryonic stem-cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk had fabricated and manipulated evidence in his published papers, had never cloned a human embryo or created the claimed 11 embryonic cell-lines. Patients from around the world, lured by promised cures for spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and juvenile diabetes had flocked to his laboratory – only to find themselves cruelly misled.
I once asked Joel Brind – professor of endocrinology at City University, New York – in the context of the cover-up of the link between induced abortion and breast cancer, how scientists could tell such lies. He replied: “These people are willing to kill small babies and destroy human embryos. Why is it surprising they tell a few lies?”
The misrepresentations extend beyond Dr Hwang and his collaborators. There is the prestigious “peer-reviewed” journal, Science, which published his work as authentic; there is the compliant media which eulogised him and overlooked the fact that, in order to produce his cloned Afghan hound, Snuppy last year, over 1,000 dog embryos were used.
For any human “treatment”, that would involve the destruction of human embryos on a mass scale. Also overlooked was the reported bribery and coercion of Korean women to provide eggs for Dr Hwang.
Complicit in fraud
Dr Leon Kass, former chairman of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, expressed his scorn for the legion of Dr Hwang’s former supporters:
“Scientific fraud is always revolting … but in this case, American scientists and the American media have been complicit in the fraud, because of their zeal in the politics of stem-cell and cloning research and their hostility to the Bush funding policy.
“Concerted efforts have been made these past five years to hype therapeutic cloning, including irresponsible promises of cures around the corner and ‘personalized repair kits’ for every degenerative disease.
“The need to support these wild claims and the desire to embarrass cloning opponents led to the accelerated publication of Dr Hwang’s ‘findings’ … We even made him Exhibit A for the false claim that our moral scruples are causing American science to fall behind.”
This is also the false accusation, levelled at opponents of cloning and embryo experimentation in Australia, that we risk falling behind in research, that our scientists will depart our shores – well, let ’em!
Let us reserve taxpayers’ funding for ethical scientists and for ethical stem-cell treatments which have the runs on the board, and reject the Lockhart Committee recommendations, some of which even support animal-human hybrids.
Do we really need a “super” embryo combining cells from Snuppy and Dr Hwang?
- Babette Francis, B.Sc (Hons), is co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.