Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Hwang a Fraud! Paper Withdrawn!


The Science paper claiming that Woo-Suk Hwang created cloned embryonic stem cells has been withdrawn! It was all faked. And yet, it was published in Science, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world.

This will have huge repercussions. What does it tell us about the peer review process? Did the reviewers of Hwang's work so WANT to believe and that they couldn't see the fraud? Will the media finally report on how so much of the advocacy on behalf of therapeutic cloning is hype and spin? Will the adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell successes finally receive the coverage they deserve? Will the Science Establishment come to recognize how science is being corrupted by the intense desire of cloning advocates to win the political debate and defeat George Bush's funding policies?

This is a scandal of historic proportions. The human cloning cause has been set back years, and indeed, it is possible--and to be hoped--mortally wounded.

Jack Kevorkian’s Drive to Commit Human Vivisection


The recent announcement that clueless Hollywood will make a biopic lionizing Jack Kevorkian got me looking back into my files about the ghoulish, unemployable pathologist. Even I had forgotten just how surreal that period in history was. In this NRO piece, citing his own words, I describe the motives that drove Kevorkian to commit serial assisted suicides and become, for a brief infamous period, the most famous doctor in the world.

Hwang May Be Imploding: American Author Removes Name From Cloning Paper


Holy Cow! Now, Gerald Schatten, of the University of Pittsburgh, who quit Woo-Suk Hwang's cloned stem cell banking venture over the egg issue, has cast tremendous doubt on the veracity of Hwang's claims to have cloned human embryos and derived individualized embryonic stem cell lines from them by removing his name from the paper in which the "breakthrough" was announced. This is huge. Good for Schatten for having the integrity to do the right thing even though it hurts the therapeutic cloning cause in which he so deeply believes. (Science has refused, and is expressing continued confidence in Hwang's work, although the chorus is growing for independent verification.)

Exploring the “Egg Problem” With Human Cloning


Nigel Cameron and M. L. Tina Stevens weigh in subtantively in the San Francisco Chronicle on the ethical problem of exploiting women for their eggs in the human cloning enterprise. Another informative piece worth reading.

Therapeutic Cloning “Hucksterism” and Bias in Professional Journals


Richard Doerflinger nails it in this impressive NRO piece.

Pluripotent Bone Marrow Stem Cells Found In Mice


This is a potentially tremendous story: bone marrow stem cells have been discovered in mice that have been changed into many types of body tissues. It won't matter to the pro cloners who will just shrug their shoulders and keep on cloning. But it will matter to the rest of society.

I have long said that this debate will be won when and if people come to see that adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells have the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells. This takes us a big step closer to that tipping point.

Human Brain Cells Engineered Into Mouse Brain--Again


This isn't a first, but it is a continuing effort. Researchers have used stem cells to create a mouse with human brain cells in its brain. The amount is minute, but it begs an important question that isn't even close to the public discourse front burner: How much human DNA into an animal is too much human DNA in an animal?

Hwang May Have Falsified Cloning Data


The smoke is billowing ever thicker at Woo-Suk Hwang's cloning lab. There are now charges being made by a subordinate and published in the Korean media that Hwang falsified some of the data he published. His university is now insisting on independent verification. Again, I have no idea if it is true. And again, a source who I trust implicitly on these issues is still betting the cloning was real. But if Hwang falsified data, the entire therapeutic cloning enterprise will be cast into serious doubt and set back years. This will be one of the biggest science scandals of modern times.

A True Understanding of SCNT


I received this correspondence from a reader about my piece in the Daily Standard exposing the bias-by-omission of the media when failing to fully and accurately describe what is entailed in therapeutic cloning:

"The deliberate confusion in terminology by commercial interests regarding cloning of human embryos for profit could aptly be renamed: 'Semantic cell nuclear transfer'"

I wish I had thought of that.

Feinstein Umbilical Cord Blood Bill Obstructionist?


As I wrote this week in the Weekly Standard, the uncontroversial umbilical cord blood stem cell bill is ready to be passed. Senator Frist has unanimous consent among Republicans to get it to the floor for a vote, but one or more unnamed Democrat senators are obstructing. According to the National Journal, it may be Senator Diane Feinstein. From the Journal, byline Neal Munro:

"But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told National Journal earlier this fall that she would oppose the passage of the umbilical-cord bill until the Senate approves legislation boosting federal research on embryo stem cells. Her worry, she said, was that President Bush would sign the umbilical-cord bill "with a big hoopla and say, 'We've done our job,'"thus diminishing the chances for passage of the far more controversial embryonic-stem-cell bill.

"Moments later, Feinstein revised her comments, saying she would support the passage of the umbilical-cord bill this year if the Senate agreed to debate the embryonic stem cell bill early next year. "I don't think we should hold up the cord-blood bill," she said."

As I wrote, Frist has already agreed to allow the ESCR bill for a vote early next year. And as I wrote, the problem getting the bill out is on the Democrats side. If not Di Fi, who? Senator Reid, we are waiting for your leadership.

Health Care Rationing Against Obese and Smokers in UK


So, the UK government has stated that the NHS may refuse medical treatment for smokers and the obese if their conditions might mean the treatment would be less efficacious or not cost effective. This is neo Puritanism. Following this logic, people with multiple sex partners should not be treated for VD, nor gay men and drug users treated for AIDS if their conditions would make the treatments less effective. If the government is going to invalidate a sick person's claim under government funding to medical treatment based on lifestyle choices, then it should be applied across the board to the politically connected and those with cultural panache as well as the politically incorrect. But of course, people should receive care when they are sick regardless of their lifestyle choices.

Professor Hwang’s Troubles Continue


Now, South Korean academics at Woo-Suk Hwang's own university want independent verification that he actually created cloned human embryos and extracted tissue-specific embryonic stem cells from them. Earlier this week, Hwang's lab said that there would be no independent verification allowed. But if his own colleagues won't accept his word as verification, it means Hwang's credibility is really shattered--especially noteworthy given his status in South Korea as a national hero.

One of my most trustworthy sources tells me that Hwang almost certainly did what he claimed. But I must say, if his lab's resistance to an independent verification continues,the billowing smoke will begin to look a lot like fire.

U.S. Life Expectancy Hits All Time High


Not bad for a time in which the country is supposedly being led by anti-science Luddites.

Good Article on Adult Stem Cells, But Can We Please Get the Science Right?


This is a good article on the potential of adult blood stem cells to treat heart disease. I am glad it was reported by Time. But I can't help gnashing my teeth at the bad science reporting that is epidemic in the mainstream media about embryonic stem cells, to wit: "Unlike other stem-cell therapies, which make use of bone marrow or--more controversially in the U.S.--the blood of human embryos, Fulga believes the procedure patented by TheraVitae is simpler, safer and less invasive. The patient is effectively treating himself with his own blood, so there is very little danger of rejection," says Fulga, an ophthalmologist. "It's the safest kind of stem cell you can get." (My emphasis.)

Yes, adult stem cells are not only safer, embryonic stem cells are unsafe as they often cause tumors, in addition to the rejection issue. But there is no blood in the early embryo. None. This may seem a small point, but there is so much ignorance out there about these issues--unlike this article, some of it sowed intentionally in my view--that it is important to keep the science accurate.

In any event, good for Time for reporting on this adult stem cell story.

Israel Not Doing Euthanasia by Machine


This story in the Telegraph is stupid. Israel has passed a law permitting life support to be terminated. That isn't euthanasia as it is now commonly understood: It is ending unwanted life-sustaining treatment.

I am not criticizing Jewish law, but the legal analysis engaged in by the Israeli lawmakers seems very bizarre to me. Under Jewish law, it is apparently illegal to kill someone in the medical context, which is good. But Israeli lawmakers want doctors to be able to remove unwanted life support, but worry that to do so would be killing. So, they have decided to have machines do it, as if programming a machine isn't the same thing as a person doing it.

This seems so unncessary. Removing a respirator that is not wanted is not killing. If the person dies--he or she might live--it would be from underlying condition, not by an act of man.

So, despite the headline, Isreal has not legalized euthanasia. It has permitted the refusal of unwanted treatment, but has done so in an unnecessarily convoluted manner.

Read This Interview


MIT Associate Professor James Sherley has much to say in this interview about cloning, adult stem cell research and, in my view, one of the great unreported stories of our time: the fact that so many scientists feel that if they come out against cloning they will be branded anti-science and face professional repercussions.

He opposes ESCR and therapeutic cloning, first, because as a matter of science, an embryo is a human being, which he defines thusly:

"A human life begins when a diploid complement of human DNA is initiated to begin human development. Therefore, a life can be initiated by the fusion of sperm and egg or by the introduction of a diploid nucleus into an enucleated egg (i.e. "cloning")...A human life is the experience of a human being until its death. It begins with a single cell that has a diploid complement of human DNA, programmed for human development."

(A human diploid cell contains the full 46 compliment of chromosomes.) In other words, human life begins once the new single cell embryo comes into existence at the conclusion of fertilization or cloning. It is different from a simple cell because it is an organism and is genetically programmed for human development.

From the scientific understanding that an embryo is human, he applies a moral and ethical analysis. One can agree or disagree, but this is the proper method of coming to a moral conclusion about these issues, not the game of hide the embryo being played by Big Biotech.

As to scientists being afraid to speak out if they oppose cloning, I have seen and been told examples of this all over the country--all in strictest confidence because people really are afraid for their jobs or, better stated, career trajectories--a point Professor Sherley makes in this exchange:

MercatorNet: Do you think that most stem cell scientists have an open mind towards adult stem cell research?

Sherley: It's rather hard to know what most stem cell scientists or cell biologists in general, for that matter, think about these issues. I have asked the leaderships of both the American Society for Cell Biology and the International Society for Stem Cell Research to conduct anonymous on-line polls of their membership regarding their views on human embryo research. Neither has been willing to do so. Many scientists who do not support human embryo research are afraid to speak out because of possible reprisals from powerful scientists who can affect grant success, publication acceptances, tenure promotion, and employment.

Another Example of Poor Journalism in Describing Therapeutic Cloning


I know I wrote an article on this type of media bias just a few days ago. But, they just keep on coming. Perhaps, I should start collecting the erroneous/inaccurate descriptions of somatic cell nuclear transfer and therapeutic cloning published in newspapers and use them for wrapping paper.

Here's one sent me from yesterday's New York Times (natch), written by Nicolas Wade:

"The two scientists' article, published June 17, attracted considerable attention because it reported the first step toward the proposed goal of therapeutic cloning, the idea of treating patients with new tissues generated from their own cells. Dr. Hwang said he had converted the adult cells of 11 patients suffering from various diseases into embryonic form, in each case by transferring the nucleus of an adult cell into an unfertilized human egg. Scientists hope that tissues developed from such embryonic cells could be used to treat a wide range of serious diseases."

Adult cells were not "converted" to embryonic form. What Hwang did was create human embryos through cloning. He developed the embryos for about a week and then destroyed them for their stem cells. The cells were no more the DNA donor's than the cells of a natural embryo are those of its parents. That's the biological fact, but the NYT doesn't think its fit to print.

Juv. Diabetes Research Foundation Supports Cloning but Won’t Fund Human Trials With Adult Stem Cells


I find the JDRF very puzzling. They put more than $1 million into Proposition 71, yet when Harvard Researchers cured late stage juvenile diabetes in mice with adult spleen stem cells, you could hear the crickets chirping at the JDRF. Even though the FDA has approved the Harvard team's project for human trials, the JDRF has three times refused to fund this effort. So, Lee Iacocca is out beating the bushes looking for money.

Now, they are endorsing the Missouri proposed initiative to create a constitutional right to conduct human cloning research.

Hmmm. Supporting techniques that might or might not result in treatments many years from now while refusing to support a technique that has demonstrated true promise and could be available much sooner. If my kid had juvenile diabetes, I would be very ticked off!

Hwang Story Gets Weirder and Weirder


First we had the case of the sold eggs that were supposedly donated. Then, American researchers back away from Hwang's cloned embryonic stem cell banking scheme. Then, one of his female scientists mysteriously disappears. Then, high school girls in Korea volunteer to donate eggs, as cloning becomes a nationalistic issue for S. Korea. Now, Hwang is too stressed to continue his work. This has the feel of in implosion to me. Time will tell.

Proposition 71 Lawsuit About to Get White Hot


The Court is allowing the lawsuits against Proposition 71 to go to trial on the merits. This means facts and evidence will be presented in open court, which could get very interesting.

Before that, there will be an intense period of "discovery," that is written questions, document production, and depositions (statements taken under oath). Discovery is the heart of any case where victories and defeats are crafted, and thus things can get very heated in even mundane cases--and this is no mundane case.

After that will come a very public trial, which will be covered by media from around the world.

The judge seems intent on getting the case to trial quickly, which is understandable. The date currently set for trial is February 27, 2006. But don't be surprised if discovery disputes delay that date, as I don't expect the powers that be at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine to give up their secrets easily.

In any event, contrary to Institute head Robert Klein's blithe assertion that the case was all but over, it has really just begun.


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