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Human cloning now a reality: Scientific obscurantism business as usual

Wesley J. Smith has more or less beaten me to nearly all of the analysis you could want on the recent cloning dystopian “breakthrough” and on the outrageous degree of scientific obfuscation going on in the media about it. See here, here, here, here, and here. But just in case you don't read Human Exceptionalism religiously (and if you are interested in life issues, you should do so), let me give you a quick version. But really, go and read Wesley's articles. They're extremely informative and include more information than I am going to get to here.

If you read some headline that said “Human Cloning is One Step Nearer,” or something like that, it's a lie. Human cloning has now occurred. An article has just been published by scientists working in Oregon describing successful human embryo cloning followed by killing.

If you read an article that said, or that you understood to be saying, “For the first time, scientists have converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells without killing embryos,” that's a lie. In fact, it's a lie twice. The first lie is that the scientists in the recent cloning event reprogrammed skin cells into embryonic stem cells without killing embryos. Actually, they did create embryos, by cloning. Then they killed them. Then they harvested and studied their embryonic stem cells just as they would with IVF embryos they were killing for ESCR.

The second lie is that this is the “first time” anyone has done anything that could or should be called “making skin cells into embryonic stem cells.” As a matter of fact, that's a pretty darned good description of making iPSCs, which are embryonic-like stem cells that can be made without either creating or killing embryos. It's been done already for quite a while now, but the leftists don't like iPSCs as much as ESCs just because no embryo-killing is required for them and just because cloning is more sexy and is opposed by The Right, so they'd rather mis-describe clone-and-kill and make it sound like clone-and-kill is the first-time ethical breakthrough that was actually accomplished already in the reprogramming of skin cells to iPSCs without any cloning. Are you following?

The above news-story sentence in quotation marks is not taken directly from the Fox news story. It is a combination of the implications of several sentences. The actual sentences go like this. Please notice how incredibly misleading the second one is.

In a major medical breakthrough, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have for the first time ever successfully converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells – via a technique called nuclear transfer. [snip] Fortunately, the SCNT method bypasses these ethical dilemmas, as the donated eggs are never actually fertilized. [snip] This [keeping the cell in metaphase longer] keeps the process from stalling and encourages the cell to ultimately develop into a stem cell.

Pro-lifers reading quickly might be excused if they think this was some sort of ethical as well as scientific breakthrough. The story is an instance of shameful and deceptive obscurantism.

Then there was this article which made the blatantly false statement, "Researchers stopped well short of creating a human clone." Wow. Where is Pinocchio's nose growth when you need it?

I have just a few tidbits here and there to add to Smith's valuable work. First, to be fair to the MSM, I have now found a couple of articles that, unlike this one, this one, and this one describe more or less accurately what was done and that acknowledge without obfuscation that human embryos were created by cloning. The more accurate articles I've run across so far are at NPR and RT.

These articles make it a little easier to sort out how much of the obfuscation is a result of deceptive language by the main cloning scientist, Dr. Mitalipov, and how much of it is a result of deception and incompetence (probably a mix) in the media. Mitalipov has caused confusion by saying, as if it is a scientific statement on which he is competent to pronounce, that the embryos he created and killed are "not the equivalent of a human being" (that is the summary this article gives) because they weren't the result of fertilization but of SCNT. Hmmm, so Dolly wasn't a real sheep? Or wasn't equivalent to a real sheep? Or something? Obviously, this is a metaphysical evaluation masquerading as science. Or maybe Dr. Mitalipov just felt like making a metaphysical statement, and the media took it for a statement arising from scientific expertise.

Secondly, Mitalipov has given the erroneous impression that his team has not been successful in creating monkey fetuses by cloning (this reporter even erroneously reported that they did not even attempt to implant monkey embryos, which is flatly false), when as a matter of fact they have been successful in creating such a fetus, deriving an implanted monkey fetus with a heartbeat in their cloning efforts. It's true that most of the monkey embryos died or developed only into empty sacs with no fetus, but as Wesley Smith points out, the scientists cloning Dolly also had many false starts bringing a sheep fetus to birth, but they got past them. What this emphatically does not mean is that the cloned embryos were somehow not real embryos.

And that is where the media has been more misleading even than Dr. Mitalipov, implying that no embryos were created and that somehow skin cells were directly reprogrammed into stem cells, obscuring the fact that embryos were in fact cloned. As a matter of fact, the whole breakthrough here lay precisely in successful cloning producing normal-looking embryos, which they had not been able to achieve before.

I have now read the scientific paper in question, and you can, too. It's available online for free download, here. Grab a copy.

Now, what the paper itself makes abundantly clear is this: The entire major point of this research was to succeed in creating human clones by finding a technique that would make sure the process didn't “stall” too early. Secondly, the research was designed to produce human embryos of “good quality,” similar to those that result from IVF, containing a well-developed inner-cell mass that could be harvested for purposes of embryonic stem-cell research. In both of those tasks, the research succeeded. Go ahead, read the paper. It's quite clear.

This mainstream news article actually states that the embryos are "missing the components needed for implantation and development as a fetus." That might give the impression that this was an exercise in what's known as “altered nuclear transfer,” or ANT-OAR, the purpose of which is, on ethical grounds, to use a cloning-like technique to create something that is (allegedly) not an embryo. (Many people have their worries about whether that would actually work and not create a real embryo, but set that aside for the moment.) That is emphatically not what Dr. Mitalipov and his team were trying to do. Absolutely nothing they did insured or even attempted to insure that these were not “true embryos” or that they were "missing components necessary for development" or that they were intrinsically incapable of developing into a fetus and onward. On the contrary. The whole purpose of the exercise was to obtain embryos of as “high a quality” as possible.

No doubt many embryos and fetuses would die in any attempt to fine-tune techniques to the point of obtaining a live human birth. As Wesley J. Smith points out, this happened in the case of Dolly as well. But that does not mean that these were pseudo-embryos or anything of the kind. Human cloning has occurred.

One other misleading thing said by Dr. Mitalipov is his implication that ESCs from cloned embryos are definitely good candidates for “custom-made” human stem-cell treatments. The cancer concerns about that are real (see my discussion here and see the brief mention of cancer risks here), and he is irresponsibly contributing to hype (for obvious reasons of wanting to continue to get funding) by leaving out any mention of the cancer risk in talking to the press and by going so far as to suggest that people should right now create and "bank" embryonic stem cells cannibalized from their own clones for possible later therapeutic uses for themselves. Aside from being ethically monstrous, this suggestion implies that safe and successful ESC treatments using ESCs derived from cloned embryos are just around the corner, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

In short, the scientists and even more the media are up to their usual games of scientific obscurantism in this area. Don't be fooled. Especially if you are pro-life, don't think that this was some kind of breakthrough for ethical research.

Now remind me again, which side of the political spectrum is anti-science?

Comments (12)

The obscurantism is necessary so that one day, they might say in response to some objection that, "This has been going on forever," making the person lodging the objection seem ignorant or just out of step with the times so as to dodge the ethical question altogether.

A cynical observation, Sage, but one for which there is all too much past evidence.

Wesley, once again, proves clairvoyant. I have to say, his penchant for predicting these sorts of things is uncanny.

The infamous cow-man came first. Mitalipov had a hand in developing the techniques leading to that horror.


Lydia, thanks for catching this and highlighting it. I was hoping fervently that there would be some inherent natural obstacle to human cloning, but I didn't really expect it.

But I am still puzzled about what all is actually going on with these lab projects. When you have a skin cell and make it reproduce itself in the lab into multiple skin cells, you certainly don't have an embryo. When you fuse it with the unfertilized egg cell (after its DNA is removed), what happens afterwards apparently is that the fused cell generates new growth pretty much like a fertilized egg. I suppose that a critical reason it does so is that it has a complete set of DNA within an egg, unlike the normal unfertilized egg which only has a half complement of chromosomes.

Here's what puzzles me: isn't the resulting embryo still the product of natural human reproductive powers inherent in the reproductive cells? They don't put the skin DNA into just any old cell and make that develop into an embryo, they have to use an egg cell. To me, that means that they need some functionality of the egg cell itself to make the skin cell DNA function "embryonically" instead of like a skin cell. Which means that they are still using human reproductive functionality to drive the process.

Which, to my mind, is a lot like IVF. Yes, I understand that IVF uses both a mother's and father's genetic material, not just one. But with these Dolly-type clones, the clone has none of the DNA of the donated mother's egg, yet it forms into an embryo on account of the mother's reproductive capacity. We know that there is a very complex (and little understood) process in back of what turns genes on and off so that they produce X product like heart or skin or grow this way rather than that way. Obviously, the mother's egg has a *very great effect* on the skin cell's DNA expression. So it isn't the case that the clone as finally produced is simply the result of the donated skin cell's DNA with nothing of the mother. And this is borne out by the fact that these types of clones do not all look alike - they are not somatically identical.

The expression of the final product depends on the environment of the egg cell, and so egg cells from different mothers will result in different end products. I always thought that the true unholy grail of cloning was an end product that was completely identical to the original animal, without the use of any of that animal's (or any other's) reproductive capacity at all. That's what "cloning" was always thought to mean back when the whole project was simply a pipe-dream.

Which doesn't morally excuse any of these researchers in the least: producing humans by any means other than natural conception within the natural conjugal act is gravely immoral, and then killing the human in order to harvest the stem cells is still murder most foul.

Tony, I think the holy grail of cloning is developing human embryos that can be farmed and harvested for research and treatment. For that purposes, having some differences from the cloned adult isn't necessarily, from their Frankensteinian perspective, a bad thing. I have a memory knocking about in my head, though I don't have the link on hand, that some mice recent research even exploited the fact that the clone will have the egg's mitochondrial DNA in an attempt to use the egg to correct genetic defects in the donor. The idea being that you could make a sort of up-graded clone of the donor and this might have special therapeutic uses.

My impression is that no one actually knows, in excruciating detail, what the egg is doing to reprogram the cells, fuse with the cells, and start an embryo growing, but they definitely need eggs. This raises a whole new set of difficulties for them, because human eggs aren't easily obtained. Wesley J. Smith, who is totally against egg harvesting, says that by weight, human eggs are probably the most economically valuable substance on the planet--a disgusting thought. In fact, the "success" of these cloning efforts depended in part on getting extra-fresh and high-quality human eggs. The scientific paper emphasizes that.

It's because of this "egg dearth" that desperate expedients such as using cow eggs have been tried, but it sounds like they didn't get what they wanted with that (Mitalipov says they got "low-quality embryos"), so they apparently abandoned it.

Right, but that dependence on eggs is, itself, an inherent bottleneck. If you want a truly "industrialized" solution, without any fundamental bottlenecks, you want a process that doesn't rely on eggs at all.

As to the clone being utterly identical or not: there will be uses either way. For lab rat testing, it would be useful to be able to run a test on 1000 rats, where all 1000 rats are identical in every respect, so that they can control for experimental variation as solely the variation they want to study, and not deal with underlying variation that doesn't contribute to the conclusion. In other cases, they will want and need variation in the underlying animals - but in that case they can simply CREATE the exact variation they want by using a different clone line.

Lydia: "In short, the scientists and even more the media are up to their usual games of scientific obscurantism in this area."

Is this obscurantism a sin?

Lydia: "Human cloning has occurred."

I'm sick. And nauseous.

I don't know what God's Sovereign plan is, but I've long surmised that human cloning is one of the last straws, if not the last straw, to ignite God's Perfect and Holy Wrath. He's been so long-suffering with legalized abortion, so long-suffering with the same-sex agenda, and so long-suffering with pulpit and pew cowardice.

To clone human life (a precious soul) for the Holy Grail that you mentioned in your 9:40 am comment, it's just too much to bear, humanly speaking. God is so gracious while He lets so much of the world harden their hearts toward Him. We deserve divine punishment.

This post really saddens me. But I'm glad for you giving me the truth Lydia and not obscuring it. Thanks. I think.

Is this obscurantism a sin?

Definitely. It's lying, which is a sin in itself. But even more: Scientists are supposed to have a special kind of scientific code of ethics, which this violates, of always being especially honest, bend-over-backwards honest, in your scientific work--not to bend the truth for any ulterior motive. This violates that ethical code as well as the more general prohibition against lying.

In general, there is a huge violation of integrity here, both by the media and by the scientists. And it's being done in pursuit of power over mankind by means of duping. Loss of integrity in order to manipulate others is, in my view, a kind of giving up one's soul--a spiritual death.

The farther the embryos are from originating by procreation, the easier it is for the cloners, aided and abetted by their bioethist collaborators, to claim that what they have made is not a human being, is just biological material that steps them towards their "noble" goal. That obstensibly noble goal, of course, is to save lives, but it really is not their goal as researchers. Their goal is securing funding and career rewards. Whatever is popular.

Hardly anybody ever considers the body of Jesus Christ, a male born of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps the most scientifically odd body in human history, yet it was the body produced to achieve salvation for the many. If the body of Jesus, made in a way that defies what funded biological manipulation today can achieve, was human, then why are not all of these constructed bodies in the lab not human also?

The argument against what these scientists do, and continued public funding for it, cannot be won by scientific arguments. It can only be won by Christian truth. As John Paul II wrote, with the Incarnation the human body was launched into theology.

Even scientifically, the very existence of other cloned and fully developed mammals which we have seen with our eyes, as it were (e.g., Dolly), makes it just plain silly to claim, "This originated by cloning, therefore it isn't really a human being." That simply doesn't follow.

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