To clone or not to clone? It should not be a question

Given therapeutic cloning’s benefits, the prohibition’s problems are substantial.

Imagine you suffer from a life-long degenerative disease and there is a potential cure!

But your government prohibits the research for your treatment, forcing you to seek medical attention overseas. Now, imagine you receive treatment abroad, but because you it is considered illegal in the United States, you will be subject to harsh civil penalties of up to $1 million in fines and 10 years in prison for “importing” your body that carries the outlawed treatment.

Sounds like the plot of a new Michael Crichton novel, right?

No, it is a new bill already passed by the House of Representatives and on the tables in the Senate to be written into law.

The bill is the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003. This act seeks to prohibit a specific procedure called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, or therapeutic cloning. While the overall act is concerned with outlawing human cloning for reproductive purposes, it does not distinguish between reproductive cloning and cloning for therapeutic purposes.

Because the initial steps in therapeutic cloning are identical to the process one would use to clone a human being, the bill enforces strict punishment on patients and scientists who choose to use this therapy, as well as on the importation of any product derived from therapeutic cloning.

Scientists think therapeutic cloning might hold the key to solving the problem of rejection of implanted stem cells. The human body can naturally attack anything it considers foreign protein, as is the case in many organ transplants. The same reasoning accounts for the possible rejection of implanted stem cells, as the cell’s genome does not match that of the patient. Therapeutic cloning, in which genetic material is removed from a human donor egg and replaced with genetic material from the patient, would prevent rejection as implanted stem cells would be genetically identical to the patient. Given the potential cures therapeutic cloning might lead to, the act’s negative affects are far-reaching.

Not only will the United States lag behind in important research worldwide but there will likely be a side effect of brain drain, as scientists move to places such as South Korea, India and the United Kingdom, which do not prohibit therapeutic cloning and the stem cell research.

But most importantly, U.S. citizens are being denied an equal opportunity to combat their illnesses in relation to Europeans and East Asians, whose countries are leading the research behind potential cures. It is estimated more than 100 million U.S. citizens suffering from a variety of illnesses could benefit from stem cell research requiring therapeutic cloning, including people with diseases varying from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. But if therapies are developed, U.S. citizens will be unable to receive treatment at home and will face fines and imprisonment if they choose to have therapies abroad.

Therefore, if stem cell research involving therapeutic cloning proves to help Parkinson’s disease, actor Michael J. Fox will have to choose between having therapy abroad and risking imprisonment were he to re-enter the United States, or simply living with a debilitating, degenerative disease knowing that there is a potential cure abroad.

Morally conservative proponents of the act argue there is no distinction between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. While they believe they are criminalizing morally unjust acts, for the 100 million victims suffering from diseases which therapeutic cloning might cure they are really criminalizing hope .

Chloe Poynton is a student at Macalester College. Alex Helm is a recent University of Minnesota graduate of the College of Biological Sciences. Please send comments to [email protected]