USING words such as “slavery” and“the future of the human race,” theMinistry of Foreign Relations and two visitingscientists last week attempted toignite on a national level the debate theyhelped spark internationally regardingcloning and embryonic stem cell research.The visit by David Prentice, from theUnited States, and Natalia López, fromSpain, came as the United Nations plans tore-embark next week on discussion ofwhether to pass an international ban on allhuman cloning, including what is calledtherapeutic cloning.Costa Rica originally proposed such aninternational ban in April 2003 based onthe fundamental belief that human lifebegins at fertilization, making research orcloning of an embryo unethical.“In either case (therapeutic or reproductivecloning) you are creating a life anddestroying it,” Prentice said. “Cloning is aform of human slavery, designing life foryour own purposes.”However, proponents say therapeuticcloning holds the key to curing diseasessuch as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.COSTA Rica’s proposed ban wasbacked by at least 62 countries, includingthe United States, and the CatholicChurch. While nearly all U.N. memberssupport a ban on the use of cloning toreproduce humans, the issue of therapeuticcloning has proven to be one of the mostcontroversial in U.N. history. The officialinternational debate was put on hold lastNovember (TT, Dec. 10. 2004).Policies toward the controversial technologyare now being discussed on thenational level, and statewide within theUnited States.THE potential of the technology tochange the future of humanity means itshould be discussed on an internationallevel, Prentice said.“This is a critical point in history. Howwe decide this question is a symbol for thefuture of bio-technology and were we willmove as a human race,” Prentice said.“Many of the real reasons scientists wantcloning is so they can do genetic selection.“We are talking about changing what itmeans to be human. Scientists have eventalked about human/animal combinations.We need to ask ourselves what we want tobecome.”López agreed.“Science has no doubt that life beginsat fertilization,” she said. “The doubtshave disappeared. The question is when itbecomes biologically a human, and that isnot a scientific debate; it is an ideologicaldebate.”OPPONENTS of human cloning suchas Prentice and López were startled byheadlines this week that Ian Wilmut, wholed scientists in cloning Dolly the Sheep in1996, has been granted a cloning licenseby British regulators. Wilmut reportedlyplans to clone human embryos and extractthe stem cells to study muscle-wasting diseasessuch as Lou Gehrig’s disease.The research will not involve cloningbabies, and Wilmut said most people supporthis studies because they could lead toimportant treatments, according to the APwire service.CLONING is done by taking a femaleegg cell, removing its nucleus and replacingit with the nucleus of a regular cellfrom whatever species is to be cloned. Theegg is then stimulated, sometimes by electricshock, to make it think it is fertilizedand begin reproducing.To clone a human or animal, thatembryo is placed in a uterus for development.In therapeutic cloning, the cellsreproduced in the embryo are scoopedout and put on tissue cultures forresearch. In theory, these stem cells havethe capacity to rapidly reproduce into anyother kind of cell.The goal of this research is to find away the cells can be injected directly intoparts of the body where cell damage ordegeneration has occurred, such as inparalysis, and reproduce healthy cells toheal the damage.PRENTICE argues, “Therapeuticcloning is a failure. We haven’t seen onepositive experiment.”Instead, the U.S. scientist promotesresearch using adult stem cells, rather thanembryonic stem cells. Adult stem cells arefound in small quantities throughout thehuman body. In addition, larger quantitiesare found in umbilical cord blood, whichcan be collected immediately after birth.“We have an unlimited number ofthese stem cells. Treatments have beensuccessful in animals and we are starting tosee success in humans… for the treatmentof heart damage, Parkinson’s disease…”Prentice said. “You don’t need clones tocure patients.”The biologist said 56 illnesses and diseasescan be cured with adult stem cells,including multiple sclerosis, arthritis andvarious cancers.PEDRO León, director of Costa Rica’sNational Center for High Technology(CENAT), argues there have been successfulexperiments with embryonic stem cellsin treating degenerative diseases.He said embryonic stem cells show amuch wider range in their capacity tobecome other cells than adult stem cellsand undergo cell division much faster.“Unless adult stem cells turn out to beeverything we ever wanted in terms ofmedical treatment, which I don’t thinkthey will, I don’t think the United Nationsis going to prohibit reproductive cloning,”he predicted.
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