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April 13, 2002
Column #1076


     This week I saw Joni Eareckson Tada testify on behalf of a bipartisan bill to ban all forms of human cloning. Though the diving accident which made her a quadriplegic occurred 35 years ago, she seemed surprisingly young and forceful as she spoke about how her "heart goes out to newly injured people who have suffered spinal cord damage."

     "No one understands better their desire for a cure than me. When I broke my neck and became a quadriplegic, I was desperate for anything - `Please doctors, researchers, do anything' that would repair my spinal cord and give me back the use of my legs and hands. Acute disability does that: it screams for reprieve, demanding that a cure be gained at any cost."

     Therefore, she understands why Christopher Reeves, the actor who portrayed Superman, but is now a quadriplegic - testified in favor of cloning and stem cell research. 

     However, she profoundly disagrees with him. "I do not want research benefitting me at the expense of other human life." If a stem cell is taken from an embryo, the embryo must be killed. She said, "The rights of people with disabilities - especially those who are disadvantaged and weak - are safeguarded in a society that honors life. However, the weak and infirm are exposed in a society that thinks nothing of creating a class of human lives for the purpose of exploitation."

     Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was more blunt, "Do we really want to be the kind of society that kills our tiniest human beings to benefit older and bigger human beings? It is really high tech cannibalism in which we consume our young for our personal benefit."

     Dr. Tom Dooley, creator of two biotech firms, resigned as president of Alabama's Biotechnology Industry Organization, because it favors unrestricted use of human cloning research. "Human cloning for any reason is unnecessary and immoral. Alternative research approaches and therapies for various diseases are available," he asserted.

     While some scientists want to have the freedom to use cloning, it has "not been shown to be effective in directly treating any injury or disease in experimental animal studies," contended Dr. Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, a University of Alabama researcher. "Cloning is still in the realm of `wild speculation.'"

     However, cell therapy has proven effective when the person's own adult stem cells have been used, a technique he said is "safer, easier and more feasible." It avoids possible disease transmission and rejection.

     For example, "Do No Harm," a Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, reports several labs have shown adult stem cells are capable of re-growth and re-connection in spinal cord injury, allowing functional recovery. Melissa Holley, 18, a paraplegic patient with a severed spinal cord, was treated with her own immune cells, and regained movement of her toes and bladder control. 

     By contrast, embryonic stem cells have not been used with humans because there has been so little progress with animal studies. 

     After testifying at the Senate, scientific and religious leaders went to the East Room of the White House to hear President George Bush argue, "Advances in biomedical technology must never come at the expense of human conscience," sparking applause. "Even the most noble ends do not justify any means."

     He noted that Chinese scientists have derived stem cells from cloned embryos created by combining human DNA and rabbit eggs! "Others have announced plans to produce cloned children, despite the fact that laboratory cloning of animals has led to spontaneous abortions and terrible, terrible deformities. Human cloning is deeply troubling to me and to most Americans."

     Polls show that 86 percent of Americans oppose allowing scientists to use human cloning to create a supply of human embryos to be destroyed in medical research. Yet a bill by Senators Kennedy and Feinstein would permit that. Bush said the danger is that once embryos are widely available in labs and embryo farms, implantation in human beings would take place.

     By contrast, Bush "wholeheartedly" endorsed a bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) would ban all cloning of human embryos. A similar bill passed in the House by more than 100 votes. About 20 Senators are undecided.

     "Science has set before us decisions of immense consequence," said the President. "We can pursue medical research with a clear sense of moral purpose or we can travel without an ethical compass into a world we could live to regret." 

     In Genesis we read,: "Then God said, `Let us make man in our image.'"

     The created one should not play God.

Copyright 2002 Michael J. McManus.

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