THE announcement that Australian scientists will be allowed “limited cloning” of embryonic cells (called embryonic stem cells – ESC) is a capitulation to the promise of the big money to be made from this branch of biotechnology by politicians who seem fearful of standing in the way of unethical demands being made by some scientists.
There are several important points to be made of which the public are unaware.
1. ESCs can only come from embryos and the acquisition will kill the embryo. The source of these embryos is so-called “left-over” embryos from the IVF programs. These embryos are human beings.
2. ESCs are said to be “essential” to develop cures for some diseases. This is because they are very plastic at this age and can be made into any type of cell given the right environment. However, much work has already been done on adult stem cells that are available from our own bodies, or the placenta after birth. These cells have much the same capacity for transformation and none of the ethical implications. Their potential uses have already been demonstrated whereas ESC usage is a long way off.
Thus, it is completely wrong to suggest that these cells are irreplaceable, but any small disadvantage in the use of adult cells is compensated by the fact of their ethical availability. There is no consensus among scientists that ESCs are necessary. For example, Professor John Shine from the Garvan Institute of Sydney was reported in The Daily Telegraph (12/3/01) as saying that research had already caught up and passed the need for human cloning.
It is also important to know that the use of ESCs will affect the whole of society, since we have allowed the notion of “experimental humans” to enter our collective responsibility. We will not be able to escape this fact whenever new uses for these cells, such as “designer drugs” are found.
On another topic, Elizabeth Harrington (CL 10/6/01) made mention of a “Right to Life” petition in circulation.
Whilst none of us wish Mass or other services to be interrupted for this, it is very important as there is a strong push amongst pro-abortion groups for abortion to be legalised.
This petition is a combined effort from four groups operating in Queensland. These are Queensland Right to Life, Right to Life Australia, Human Life International and Feminists for Life. We urge your support for this.
DR DONNA PURCELL President Queensland Right to Life Toowoomba, Qld
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