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A controversy-free form of cloning?

by Brad A. Greenberg

November 20, 2007 | 1:35 pm

Not likely. But look alive stem-cell-research foes, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep has abandoned the widely used cloning method for one that creates stem cells without an embryo. This would, it seems, weaken the ethical argument against stem-cell research.

How do I know about embryologist Ian Wilmut‘s change of heart? Because I read about it on FaithWorld, a fantastic new blog from the Reuters religion desk that I added yesterday to my still-small blog roll. Here’s the FaithWorld post:

I was intrigued by a line high up saying: “Most of his motivation is practical but he admits the Japanese approach is also “easier to accept socially.” If I read that correctly, it means that science — which helped create this moral dilemma by developing the embryonic stem cell technique — may solve it eventually with another breakthrough that looks equally (or more) interesting to the scientist. That could take care of this issue, but others are bound to pop up that cannot be solved with a technical fix. Wilmot discusses this on a linked page publishing an extract from a book that he and Highfield wrote called After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning. He believes an embryo cannot be considered a person until it is about 14 days old because it has no nervous system. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, counts personhood from the moment of conception, since it considers the potential in the embryo just as important as the cells that are already there. It’s hard to see how a technical breakthrough can bridge that gap.

Science writers like Highfield can explain the details of the procedure far better than I, so please look their way (here’s a quick Google News search) for more. What interests me is the impact this may have on opponents of embryonic stem cell research. Will they embrace this as the moral alternative, or oppose this as well as “playing God”? Would those who say they want the often-mentioned benefits of stem cell research but oppose public funds for the embryonic type on moral grounds now campaign to have this new method bankrolled with taxpayers’ money?

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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