My personal bet is that so-called therapeutic cloning will not be therapeutically useful in terms of applying those cells for transplantation. It’s not that they couldn’t be theoretically. I think there’s no reason why the procedure won’t work. It’s more about cost and where the technology’s likely to go in the next 10 years or so. I could be wrong because again my colleagues disagree with me on this. But I believe that there ultimately will be other technologies to accomplish the same thing, that don’t require a human oocyte. It’s the cost of the human oocyte and the ethics of obtaining those oocytes in reasonable numbers.
Those “other technologies” that don’t require human eggs or embryos include new cell reprogramming techniques that could turn adult cells into embryonic stem cells without embryos (as teams at Harvard and more recently in Japan have shown), newly discovered germ-line stem cells that might possess the abilities of embryonic cells, and other emerging alternatives. They are still in development, to be sure, but most are further along in human experiments than somatic cell nuclear transfer, and they offer the promise of advancing stem-cell science without human cloning or the destruction of nascent life.
All of which should make the people of Missouri wonder just what they’re being asked to vote for and why. A vote for the state’s ballot initiative would be a vote for a constitutional right to clone, for super-legal status for stem-cell scientists and their employers, for making their state a prop in a political fight that has little to do with Missouri, and for hype and false hope for millions of patients who have been made pawns in that struggle.
A vote against the initiative, meanwhile, would not be a vote against any science, any technique, any ongoing or new research. It would be a vote against hypocrisy and deception, and a vote for keeping legislative options open as the facts change. The Show-Me State should not be duped.
– Yuval Levin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and senior editor of the The New Atlantis magazine.