Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reproductive Cloning Ban Means Death to Some Embryos

Dr. Maurice Bernstein, a teaching physician in California, recently posted this at his blog:

Reproductive cloning, that is cloning for the purpose of implanting the cloned embryo into a woman with the expectation that a cloned human will be born is not acceptable and not approved in the United States but there are as yet no federal prohibition laws.

However, there are a number of states which have specific laws to restrict cloning for therapy and/or reproductive cloning. For example, in California, the Business and Profession and Health and Safety codes can be summarized as follows: “Prohibits reproductive cloning; permits cloning for research; provides for the revocation of licenses issued to businesses for violations relating to human cloning; prohibits the purchase or sale of ovum, zygote, embryo, or fetus for the purpose of cloning human beings; establishes civil penalties”

The March-April 2009 issue of the online Hastings Center Bioethics Forum has a statement written by some members of the President’s Council on Bioethics (who joined the Council during the Bush administration) trying to express some balance between the research and use of stem cells but also the limitation of creation of stem cell lines from embryos. Yet, a very interesting dilemma is brought up by these members with regard to the recent statement made by President Obama. It is this dilemma which I would like my visitors to write about.

Here is what the group wrote pertinent to this issue:

In his remarks on March 9, President Obama promised to “ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.” While this may seem comforting, it stands in need of clarification.

The president’s announced policy would permit federal funding of research not only on stem cell lines derived from “spare” IVF embryos but also on lines derived from created and/or cloned embryos. In the latter two cases, we would be producing embryos simply in order to use them for our purposes.

What researchers most desire, in fact, are not spare IVF embryos but cloned embryos, produced in order to study disease models. The funding decision announced by the president on March 9 will encourage such cloning. Nor should we be reassured that, at the same time, the president opposed “the use of cloning for human reproduction.” If cloned embryos are produced, they may be implanted and gestated. To prevent that, it will be necessary, as we noted in Human Cloning and Human Dignity, “to prohibit, by law, the implantation of cloned embryos for the purpose of producing children. To do so, however, the government would find itself in the unsavory position of designating a class of embryos that it would be a felony not to destroy.” We cannot believe that this would advance our society’s commitment to equal human dignity.”

So, unlike the current status where unused embryos created by artificial fertilization techniques can be stored frozen until implanted or simply destroyed at the option of the parents of the embryos, if embryos would be cloned for research, by law they would have to be destroyed. I suspect the California law, currently, would meet that case. So, if some embryos, those embryos cloned, by law must be destroyed, would this change the way we look at dignity for human embryo? Or does human dignity really begin when a human is born?

Read it here.

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