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Spare Parts or Human Life?

2/13/2005 - 6:30 AM PST

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Embryos Sacrificed for Research

LONDON, FEB. 13, 2005 (Zenit) - The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority has given the go-ahead for the cloning of human embryos. BBC reported Tuesday that the creator of Dolly the sheep, Ian Wilmut, obtained a license to clone embryos in order to study motor neurone disease (MND). This is the second time the fertilization authority has given approval for human cloning since it was made legal in the United Kingdom in 2001.

Wilmut, together with researchers from Kings College London, plans to clone embryos that have the disease in order to study how it develops in the early stages, and to try out new drugs to see how they work. Some patient groups, including the MND Association, have supported the proposal.

Not everyone welcomed the announcement, however. In a press release Tuesday from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the group's political secretary, Anthony Ozimic, assailed Wilmut's research. "Any 'license to clone and kill' strikes at the very heart our society's basic rule for living together in peace, which is 'do not kill the innocent,' because the cloning process kills many embryonic human children at their most vulnerable stage of life," Ozimic said. "All of those killed are unique, never-to-be-replaced, totally innocent human individuals."

Another press release, issued by Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Alliance, stated: "All human cloning is intrinsically wrong and should be outlawed. However, the creation of cloned human embryos destined for experimentation and subsequent destruction is particularly abhorrent."

Moreover, Millington questioned the approval to use embryos at a time when much greater scientific progress is being reported using ethically acceptable adult stem cells, and cells taken from the umbilical cord of newborn babies.

In the United States, meanwhile, the Christian Medical Association also took Wilmut's plan to task. In a Tuesday press release, David Stevens, executive director of the 17,000-member association, said: "It's dressing a wolf in sheep's clothing to claim that you're somehow helping humanity when in fact you're killing living human beings." He continued: "So-called therapeutic cloning is hardly therapeutic for the living human subjects destroyed in the process."

Spain's shift

There was bad news for embryos in Spain, too. On Tuesday, Health Minister Elena Salgado announced a new proposal to govern in vitro fertilization. The measure could be in force by year-end, and would represent a substantial relaxation of the norms approved by the previous government in 2003, the Spanish daily ABC reported Wednesday.

Among the changes announced by Salgado would be one that allows parents to choose embryos that can help to cure existing children, by using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. The legislation would prohibit cloning for reproductive purposes, but is silent as to whether it will be allowed for research purposes.

The legislation would also allow research on the "leftover" embryos from IVF treatments. This would be a change from the 2003 legislation which only permitted research with those embryos frozen at the time the law came into force.

"Pre-embryo"

Coincidentally, this past Tuesday also saw the publication of an article by Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on questions related to the human embryo. Writing in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Bishop Sgreccia noted that many researchers justify using an embryo during the first days of life by denying it has reached a stage when it is truly human. Thus, during the first 14 days, the researchers often refer to the "pre-embryo" stage of development.

The Vatican official, however, observed that from a purely scientific point of view it is perfectly evident that from the moment the ova is fertilized by the spermatozoa, there is a distinct form of life with its own genetic identity and biological unity. Moreover, after the initial fertilization there is no subsequent qualitative change that affects the process of development of the new life.

Bishop Sgreccia added that from the moral viewpoint it is sufficient to merely suspect the possibility that in the embryo we find a human person, in order to justify prohibiting its use in scientific research. Thus the Church has insisted on an absolute respect for life right from the moment of conception.

Struggling to define life

The human status of the embryo is also being debated in legal tribunals, with some positive results. Last week a Cook County judge in the state of Illinois allowed a Chicago couple to sue a fertility clinic that destroyed one of their embryos. A Feb. 5 report in the Chicago Sun-Times explained that Alison Miller and Todd ...

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