As I have been pointing out with regards to the Feinstein-Hatch “Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Protection Act”, the cloning debate, in the world of politics, has ceased to be a rational scientific discussion and has become completely ridiculous. This week David Freddoso has an article on the false claims of cloning proponents asking, if embryonic research is so promising, why do its backers need to lie?
I do not use the word “falsehood” here to refer merely to differing philosophical views — even over such important questions as whether an embryo should be treated as a human being. Rather, proponents of embryonic-stem-cell research routinely make misleading and demonstrably false factual claims — about biology, for example, and about prospective embryonic-stem-cell treatments and the therapeutic human-cloning procedures they would require.
The lies go well beyond such fatuous statements as that of former Sen. John Edwards, during the 2004 presidential campaign, that increased federal research funding would make Christopher Reeve “get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.”
The widespread use of even more specific falsehoods helped bring about the repeal of Iowa’s cloning ban last month. The 2002 ban had attached criminal penalties to the creation of human embryos through somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Although backers of this procedure go out of their way to avoid calling it what it is, SCNT is the term used in every reputable science textbook to refer to a method of cloning — it is the same method that produced Dolly the sheep…
Proponents of repealing the cloning ban also tried to assert that they were not producing embryos. State Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) wrote to a constituent that
somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is what this legislation would permit, authorizes the creation of embryonic stem cell lines, which are not even close to actual embryos. There is no sperm involved in somatic cell nuclear transfer, so there can be no embryo.
No embryo? How can one possibly derive “embryonic stem cell lines” without embryos, let alone without “anything close to actual embryos,” whatever that means?
The idea that “no sperm” translates to “no embryo” is laughable from a scientific perspective — the whole idea of cloning is that one can produce an embryo without fertilization. But Murphy’s confused biology does not just reflect the mistaken notions of one state representative — it has become a common scientific fallacy, turning up in a Joplin, Mo. Globe editorial that denies SCNT is cloning or that it produces embryos, on the grounds that SCNT “does not use fertilized eggs.” More frightening, two actual scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who should know better, have passed along the same lie in order to prevent their state from banning human cloning.
Even James Thompson, the first scientist to isolate and culture embryonic stem cells, scoffed in a 2005 interview at the idea that there was “no embryo” involved in 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,” he said. “…[Y]ou’re creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you’re being disingenuous.”