Australian Pro-Lifers Challenge Stem-Cell Terminology

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Australian pro-lifers are challenging the terminology used by advocates of embryonic stem cell research, and they are urging their political leaders to outlaw all human cloning for any purpose whatsoever.

In a letter to the various branches of the Australian government, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders, joined by a host of medical figures and others, affirmed the sacredness of all human beings, of whatever level of maturity, dependency or ability."

It comes at a time legislators in state and federal governments are considering the ethical issues surrounding cloning and related technologies.

The signatories attacked the use of the labels "reproductive" and "therapeutic" in the cloning debate.

The terms have generally been used to distinguish between cases in which an embryo cloned in a lab will then be implanted into a womb and carried to birth, and those in which an embryo is cloned in order to be stripped of stem cells, and is destroyed in the process.

The latter case is known as "therapeutic" cloning because of the therapeutic benefits embryonic stem cells are believed to possess in the treatment of diseases. On the basis of this distinction, Britain earlier this year legalized "therapeutic" cloning, while insisting a ban on "reproductive" cloning would be enforced.

But pro-lifers argue that the term "therapeutic cloning" is a misnomer, intended to fudge the issue.

" 'Therapeutic' sound like its providing therapy, a good thing," David Cotton of New South Wales Right to Life said Friday. "But by definition it's taking the stem cells from an embryo and then not following through with the life of that embryo.

"They've called it therapeutic cloning to try to cause society to think, 'This sounds good, we're cloning for therapy, to help people with Parkinson's Disease or whatever.' But in fact it's the dismembering of the embryo by removing the stem cells. The embryo itself gets no therapy at all, rather total destruction."

In their letter, the Australian religious leaders and others tackle this issue.

"To produce an embryo is always 'reproductive'; to destroy an embryo is never 'therapeutic'," they write.

"So-called 'therapeutic cloning' involves the manufacture of a new race of laboratory humans with the intention, right from the beginning, to exploit and destroy them as if they were laboratory animals."

In fact, the signatories argue that cloning with the intention of destroying the embryo once it is harvested of its stem cells is even worse than cloning a human being which is allowed to be born and develop as a child.

"Much worse than cloning human beings to reproduce children would be the creation or use of human embryos for the purpose of destructive experimentation," they say - while making it clear this does not mean they support the former.

"Cloning humans would also occasion a whole range of new ethical and social dilemmas, because the process radically dissociates procreation from the loving union of a man and a woman, and opens up new possibilities for designing our progeny, controlling their genetic destiny, or exploiting them for the advantage of others," they state.

Pro-lifers want to emphasize their support for research into potential benefits deriving from stem cells, Cotton of Right to Life said.

"Stem cell research is marvelous, as long as the stem cells do not come from embryos," he said.

The letter's signatories asked politicians to support research involving "adult" stem cells.

Scientists in various parts of the world have reported exciting potential from stem cells coming from a patient's own tissue, for example from bone marrow, umbilical cords or placentas. Adult stem cells have been found capable of transforming themselves into tissue that could be used to treat liver, kidney and brain damage.

The letter has been signed by the leading clerics of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist and other churches, as well as prominent Jewish leaders, academics, theologians, doctors, lawyers, ethicists and pro-life advocates.

Last September, an Australian federal parliamentary committee published a report urging a ban on "reproductive cloning" as well as a ban on "the deliberate creation of embryos for experimentation."

The members of the legal and constitutional affairs committee differed, however, over whether embryos left over from fertility treatment should be used for stem cell research. Four of the ten felt all research work leading to the destruction of human embryos should be prohibited.

The report also called for a national approach to legislation governing the issue. Nonetheless at least one state legislature, that of New South Wales, has now introduced its own legislation aimed at banning cloning.

See also:
'Exciting' New Adult Stem Cell Discovery Announced (July 25 2001)

Europe Grapples With News Of Imminent Human Cloning Bid (Aug. 9, 2001)