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Genetic Crossroads
August 18th, 2001

The relationship between embryo cloning and embryonic stem cell research
is technically and politically complicated, and many media accounts of
it have been misleading. The two procedures do overlap, but they are
technically distinct and very different politically.

Most opponents of abortion rights object to embryo cloning and to any
research on embryos that involves their destruction. The growing number
of people who support both reproductive rights and research on embryonic
stem cells are wary of embryo cloning for completely different reasons.

These pro-choice supporters of medical research are calling for a
moratorium on embryo cloning, because the production of cloned embryos
in labs around the country would greatly increase the likelihood that
pregnancies would be initiated with some of them. The absence in the US
of a ban on reproductive cloning, and of meaningful regulatory oversight
of research and assisted reproduction facilities, heightens the concern.

Embryo cloning would also make germline engineering practical, by
providing the "raw materials" for genetic manipulation of embryos--a
point that has so far gone almost unnoticed in media coverage of the
cloning debate.

A moratorium on embryo cloning need not hinder research on embryonic
stem (ES) cells, which can and should continue using embryos produced
in IVF procedures. Researchers can use these embryos to determine
whether ES cells can in fact be used for therapeutic purposes. In these
early days of stem cell research, no one yet knows whether ES cells can
reliably be turned into needed tissue types, or whether they are as
good as or better than adult stem cells for medical applications.

The other potential use of cloned embryos in stem cell therapies would
be to create immune-compatible tissues. Many other avenues of existing
and projected research also address that problem. But if it turns out
that embryo cloning is needed to solve it, and if bans on reproductive
cloning and inheritable genetic modification are in place, then the
moratorium on embryo cloning should be revisited.

See "Can They Rebuild Us?," Peter Aldhous, Nature, April 5, 2001;
"Hype over stem cells beginning to worry scientific community:
Researchers warn cures may not come overnight," Keay Davidson, San
Francisco Chronicle, August 5, 2001 <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/


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