Wilmut Gives Up Cloning

Despite the therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem (HES) cells, many people believe that HES cell research should be banned, because the present method of extracting HES cells involves the destruction of the embryo, which for many is the beginning of a person.  Elsewhere, I have argued for a compromise solution, what I call the Blastocyst Transfer Method, which, I argue, meets the ethical requirements of those who believe that embryos are persons.  Today, BBC News reports that Professor Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep, is giving up human therapeutic cloning in favor another compromise approach that does not destroy embryos, though, according to Professor Wilmut, he has made this decision not because this approach is “ethically better,” but because it is scientifically better. 

           According to the BBC, in a work that is due to be published in a scientific journal on Tuesday, Professor Shinya Yamanaka from Kyoto University, Japan, has developed a technique involving genetically modifying adult cells to make them almost as flexible as stem cells. The research has been conducted on mice, and Professor Wilmut’s research team has met and agreed that the Japanese method has more potential than the use of embryonic cells.  Professor Wilmut believes that within five years this technique could provide a better alternative to cloning embryos for medical research.

If this technique is indeed viable, it would certainly bypass the kinds of ethical objections that plague the present method of extracting HES cells.  In addition to the issue regarding the destruction of human embryos, there are also issues about therapeutic cloning, the creation of cybrids, and problems of egg donation, which would be obviated by this technique.  It remains to be seen whether Professor Wilmut is right that this method is scientifically better.  As someone who has advocated compromise solutions so that we can reap the therapeutic benefits of stem cells as soon as possible, I think this technique is worth an outing. 

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