Saturday, June 20, 2009

Caplan Capitulates on Cloning…

Hidden here in the Scientist Blog from Thursday 17th is another 'moment of truth' – this time from the noted bioethicist and not-usual-suspect, Arthur Caplan: "the odds are that cloning for research is never going to work".

Sweet on the ear. And scientifically correct. Cloning has been dead in the water at least since November 2007, despite the millions of dollars expended since then, and the dozens of desecrated human offspring. Nobody has managed to get a cloned human embryo to live long enough to form its inner cell mass of stem cells – those magic 'patient-matched' pluripotent stem cells that justified cloning in the first place. Meantime, the exact same patient-matched pluripotent stem cells have now been produced easily, cheaply, and surely by iPS direct reprogramming. Already we have hundreds of such stem cell lines up and running. Cloning, ladies and gents, is withering on the vine and will soon become mere pseudo-scientific compost…

Yet still the embryo lobby acts as if drunk on this rotting fruit, lurching around, refusing to admit that there is a better, less contentious science at hand.

Sadly, the mere ethical objection against creating living human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them will never cause them to sober up. The only motives for them to kick their cloning habit will be the gangbuster success of the alternative, iPS, and the prospect of litigation from women injured in obtaining the necessary thousands of eggs for these experiments.

This prospect of obtaining more eggs from women is the subject of debate in this Scientist blog. New York State has now broken another rule of ethical research by proposing to buy eggs from (predictably poor) women – a decision reached following, of course, 'extensive deliberation' from its obliging ethics team.

Two issues: the possible exploitation of the poor by making women's ovaries a tradable commodity:

Many critics, including Father Thomas Berg, director of the Catholic think tank Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, argue that compensation will lead to the exploitation of poor and disenfranchised women. Paying women as much as $10,000 -- the upper limit under the ESSCB's directives -- will "create an undue inducement" that will put vulnerable women at risk, he said. "It's precedent setting."

Second issue, whether obtaining eggs for SCNT cloning is even justified scientifically. Enter Caplan:

"I don't think it's a good idea," Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Scientist.

It's "more ethically acceptable" to pay women to harvest eggs for in vitro fertilization programs because donor eggs have proven successful in assisted fertility treatments. With stem cell research, "the risk benefit ratio starts to slide," Caplan said. "It's a lot iffier a proposition and I think that makes a difference. In research you don't know what you're going to get, and the odds are that cloning for research is never going to work."

Of course, others continue to urge the need for women's eggs. The bioethicist for Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a keen cloning company, speaks for the affirmative:

Ronald M. Green, a bioethicist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said he's "glad to see" the ESSCB's decision. Green, who serves pro bono on the ethics advisory board of Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts-based biotech company, said that it's ethical and necessary to pay women to donate eggs for stem cell research if researchers want to investigate the potential of therapeutic cloning.

ACT is especially clear on the need for human eggs, given their recent publication showing that the animal option – rabbit or pig eggs, for instance – is an utter failure. See the Blog on 'More nails in cloning's coffin: Frankenbunny RIP'.

Here, then, is the story on the latest desperate move by 'progressives' to shore up the crumbling edifice of SCNT cloning. Too late, and not worth the trouble, I am glad to say…

The Scientist: NewsBlog: NY to pay for eggs for research - 17th June 2009