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Thread: Personhood in a Petri Dish

  1. #1
    Super Moderator Sue Pendleton's Avatar
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    Personhood in a Petri Dish

    Personhood in a Petri Dish

    By Richard Cohen

    Thursday, May 30, 2002; Page A25


    Come with me into Cohen's Lab. We are going to do some cloning. I have a client with Parkinson's disease, and so I take a cell from his tongue, extract the DNA from it, insert it into a human egg, zap the egg with electricity, add some chemicals (sorry, the exact formula is secret), wait about a day, extract the cells my patient needs and inject them into his brain so -- knock on wood -- he will have Parkinson's no more. It is at this point, if certain lawmakers have their way, that the cops will burst in, cuff me -- and throw me in jail for possibly 10 years.

    How much of this is science fiction? Well, not the very first part about extracting the cell from the tongue and inserting the DNA into an egg. And not, would you believe, the last part, either. If a bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) passes, human cloning of any kind -- even just for medical purposes -- will become illegal. This bill has already passed the House.

    You might have noticed while in my lab that at no time was my human egg fertilized. So if you believe that life begins at conception, you are not getting life with this process. You might have noticed also that I did not let the process proceed for more than a day or so. I did not implant the egg into a womb, nor did I grow it until term in the lab. Even if I had done so, the bioethicist Arthur Caplan tells me, I probably would not have gotten a child out of the process.

    But what you should notice above all is that my goal -- my sole intention -- is to alleviate human misery. I want to cure Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. I want to replace defective cells with brand-new ones, and because the donor and the recipient are one and the same, I don't have to worry about the body's rejecting the new cells. I don't want to make so-called designer babies, nor, for that matter, is there any chance at the moment I could. At the moment, the sad fact is that I cannot even make the cells I want. Someday, maybe, I can. Someday I -- which is to say "we" -- can have cures for diseases that now make life so miserable for so many.

    The Brownback bill is supported by President Bush. No surprise there. In general, if you scratch an anti-cloner you will find someone opposed to abortion. (Although some pretty implacable abortion foes such as Sen. Orrin Hatch and former president Gerald Ford oppose the cloning ban.) And, for the most part, if you scratch someone in favor of experimental cloning (almost no one supports it for human reproduction) you will find someone supportive of abortion rights. So this debate really is an extension of our cultural division. It is, at bottom, about sex -- how to control it, how to punish it.

    Brownback and his supporters are entitled to their beliefs. But they are primarily religious ones -- a determination that life begins when they believe it does. They feel so strongly about this that, in the Republican-controlled House, they rejected a substitute bill that would have permitted cloning for medical purposes only. Why? Because ultimately, they want to declare the fetus or the electrically zapped egg a person, protected by the Constitution. To destroy it is murder. Goodbye abortion.

    But this bill is nothing less than an attempt to impose a religious doctrine on the rest of us. It is not that far removed from the Vatican's attempt to silence Galileo because he supported the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun. It is an attempt by legislative fiat to stop science in its tracks: Thou Shalt Remain Ignorant.

    But even the Vatican couldn't keep the earth from revolving around the sun. And not even Congress can stop medical research elsewhere in the world. If therapeutic cloning can be done, it will be done -- and the desperate (not to mention the affluent) will get on airplanes for their treatment. The rest will suffer or die -- all in the name of personhood for a bunch of cells in a petri dish.

    I distantly fear, in some late-night movie sort of way, mad scientists giggling in the lab, whipping up batches of Saddam Husseins. But in medical research -- medical research above all -- it is inconceivable that the government would use its police powers not to impose standards but to enforce ignorance and, as a consequence, human suffering. I don't think a cloned cell is a person. But I am sure a Parkinson's sufferer is.

    © 2002 The Washington Post Company

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    Senior Member Jeff's Avatar
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    Wow

    This is a great article and perspective!

    ~See you at the SCIWire-used-to-be-paralyzed Reunion ~

  3. #3
    Very good...

    "It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible
    to find it elsewhere."
    --Agnes Repplier, writer and historian


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    I hope James Kelly reads this!

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    Thanks

    Sue, A great, simple, realistic, compassionate overview.

    Onward and Upward!

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    Senior Member alan's Avatar
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    How do you upload a text file like that into a post?

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    Super Moderator Sue Pendleton's Avatar
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    H Alan, As long as it is not too long, most news articles are kept for 2 weeks as free on a paper's web site. With the Washington Post I just click on the printer friendly version and then copy and then paste it into a new topic page here. The printer friendly format takes out all the garphics and most column type formatting so it looks just like a straight text file. The Baltimore Sun also has this kind of format available.

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    Sue, Richard Cohen, and everyone else:

    This is pretty. It's also a lie. Sue, would you (or Richard) like to explain how cells taken from cloned blastocysts can be brought to mature progenitors on the verge of becoming dopamine-producing neurons? Simply put, Can you show me a single study that achieved this feat? No, of course you can't. To illustrate this point, please read the following quote by one of the world's leading authorities on cloning (1):

    "I have no idea how someone expects that you will inject neuroblasts and they will run all over the brain and replace your sick and dying neurons in Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Davor Solter, a mouse stem cell researcher who directs the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

    ...and the same basic biological contradiction exists regarding early stem cells taken from newly cloned embryos no matter what their intended medical application. These cells are designed to respond to environmental signals of the embryo...not the adult body. So for safe medical use they need to be brought to a much more mature state. Regarding this point (1):

    "One problem is simply to find a way to get stem cells to grow into the types of cells that are needed, and not a mixture of cells.

    Scientists know this is a thorny problem, but their views were not widely heard when the public and politicians seemed to assume that it was easy to grow any tissue type desired from embryonic stem cells. In fact, no one has been able to do this even with mouse cells.

    Using stem cells to cure diabetes, for example, would mean converting them to islet cells, specialized cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin. And then the new islet cells would have to be protected from the underlying disease process that caused the diabetes in the first place. The science is not even close.

    "Do we know how to make islet cells? No. Do we know how to make kidney cells? No," said Dr. Shirley M. Tilghman, a mouse molecular geneticist, who is the president of Princeton. "You can go on and on," she said.


    ...part of the problem is that when you read about research showing functional results using "embryonic stem cells" you automatically assume the cells involved are those available from cloned embryos. But nothing is further from the truth. Dr. Young has admitted on another thread that " a growing consensus in the field" recognizes stem cells or progenitors on the verge of committing to their final shape are the most desirable for tranplantation. Such cells are already found in the adult body or in fetal tissue. Methods such as cytoplasmic transfer and cellular fusion may yeild genetically matched "embryonic" or fetal cells of this type more safely, more cheaply, and faster that cloning according to Dr. Young...BUT STILL YOU WANT CLONING!!!

    Sue, keep on wringing your hands and telling the world, "But we NEED cloning to be cured!" ...and you might get what you want. In doing so, you'll also get exactly what you deserve. But I will say this...

    This is not a game. If you have clear, undeniable, black and white, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that cloning can cure you, me, and tens of millions of other Americans of fatal diseases or catastrophic disabling conditions, then please present it. If you can show me how a single penny spent on cloning can also be spent on research that offers more than futile hope, please show that too. Also, can you tell me how "widespread genetic errors" in cloned ES that Rudolf Jaenisch admits he believes will make reproductive cloning always unsafe will ever allow therapeutic cloning to be one iota less unsafe? Can you tell me why I should support cloning when the world's leading ES experts it will be too expensive for individual medical use (especially since we we're so deliberately led to believe otherwise)?

    If you can't answer these questions, why are you risking millions of lives and millions of futures by supporting cloning?

    James Kelly

    1) By GINA KOLATA, A Thick Line Between Theory and Therapy, as Shown With Mice, New York Times, December 18, 2001

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    Ps. I forgot to mention. The above article asks, "How much of this is science fiction?" The answer is ALL OF IT!!!

    Not only does Cohen fail to tell his readers that science has no way (and no clue) of how to bring stem cells from cloned embryos to the point they can be safely and effectively transplanted and yield dopamine producing neurons, he forgets to mention an average of a hundred women's eggs are needed to create a single embryo able to yield stem cells. Cohen is presenting a fantasy that at best is several decades away as if it were a done deal!

    Also, lost in this charade is the fact that replacing specialized cells will NOT cure Parkinson's Disease (or Diabetes, ALS, Altzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, and others. For these degenerative conditions cell replacement might temporarily address the symptoms of the disease (as animal and human tests using adult stem cells, adult and fetal progenitor cells, and non-stem cells have shown they can do. But to cure these conditions will require removing the cause of the degeneration. Even Michael Levesque (whose adult neural stem cell-treated Parkinson's patient
    improved 83% with no signs of Parkinson's symptoms) never claimed his method is a cure for the disease.

    Do you see why I'm outraged that our conditions (and those of others) are being used as justification for cloning research...or why I claim we're being lied to, misled, ruthlessly used?

    James Kelly

  10. #10
    James, my boy, I will try to present this idea gently. I think you might be suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder. Have you thought about seeing a physiatrist? There are new drugs on the market that have been successful in treating OCD. And your posts are making less and less sense all the time.

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