A new stem cell research initiative in Missouri that aims to protect a controversial cloning method called somatic cell nuclear transfer" is being met with opposition from those who say that the research technique amounts to killing human beings.
A coalition of researchers and patient groups are gathering signatures to place the initiative, which launched on Monday, on the states November 2006 ballot. The measure would require a simple majority of voters to modify the state constitution.
Although supporters say the measure would help patients treat their diseases and injuries, the research procedure has been opposed by Christian groups in the past. Opponents say that the generated embryos that are destroyed to harvest stem cells are human beings, regardless of the technique used to generate it.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, is nothing more or less than a form of cloning, stated Jim Cole, General Counsel for Missouri Right to Life, a group opposing the initiative. The purpose of the procedure is to create human beings to grow to the blastocyst stage, 150-200 cells, at which time stem cells will be harvested.
The blastocyst, or early stage embryo generated is indistinguishable from that created through fertilization of an egg by a sperm cell. Those supporting the research method say that the embryo falls under another category since it was not generated in the ordinary way.
Fertilization is a false issue, Cole wrote in a statement made available in the Missouri Right to Life website. SCNT creates individuals without fertilization.
In the statement, he explained that the technique involves replacing the normal cell nucleus of an egg by a nucleus from another somatic (non-sexual) cell. The new combination egg cell "is fooled," into acting as if it has been fertilized, begins to grow and develop as an individual.
"Cloned individuals of this stage (or at any stage, for that matter) cannot be told apart from the individuals produced by ordinary reproduction," Cole wrote.
Dolly the sheep was a product of SCNT. If SCNT is used on a human egg cell, then a human being is produced who is, in essence, a delayed twin of the human whose somatic cell nucleus is transferred to the egg cell.
The presidents Council on Bioethics has shown concern in past statements for the way in which scientific language can be used to obscure what is actually taking place.
"Although as a scientific matter 'somatic cell nuclear transfer' or 'nuclear transplantation' may accurately describe the technique that is used to produce the embryonic clone, these terms fail to convey the nature of the deed itself, and they hide its human significance," the council wrote, according to the New York Times.
In May, following the successful use of SCNT in South Korea to generate clones without fertilization, Dr. Leon Kass the councils chairman told the New York Times the importance of the event.
The initial product of their cloning technique is without doubt a living cloned human embryo, the functional equivalent of a fertilized egg, he said.
"If we are properly to evaluate the ethics of this research and where it might lead, we must call things by their right names and not disguise what is going on with euphemism or misleading nomenclature."