Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

What Is It About Cloning?


So now the human cloners in the UK have had a falling out. One researcher has accused his former partner of trying to steal the credit, or some such thing, and taken a job in Spain. He also accused the team of publishing their cloning findings before full peer review. The Newcastle cloning program is on hold as a new team is assembled. Such disorder in the scientific ranks!

It Isn’t Just Koreans Who are Blinded to the “Truth” About Cloning


This Washington Post story summarizes the near hysteria in South Korea over Hwang and his fraud. Even in the face of facts, many of the people just refused to believe the truth that he is a charlatan and had not derived ES cells from cloned embryos.

But we also see that here. Despite a lack of scientific verification, scientists and media still assert unequivocally that cloning and ESCR are the "best hope" for regenerative medicine. The treasure trove of peer reviewed articles demonstrating the tremendous optimism we should have about adult/UCB stem cells do not penetrate outside the media screen.

In California, where trauma centers and emergency rooms are shutting down, voters refused a very minor tax on phone bills to keep them open. At the same time they agreed to borrow $7 billion (including interest) to chase the ESCR/cloning rainbow, that even if it works--a big if--is decades away. Today, states around the nation are in an Oklahoma Land Race frenzy to throw money at cloning and ESCR, even though the private sector is generally sitting on its collective wallet in this area of research.

Cloning and ESCR are being sold by Big Biotech and their media and university allies as a veritable fountain of youth. In this hyper-emotional atmosphere, reason and rationality are in short supply.

ES cells Morphed into Islet Cells Apparently Produce Little Insulin


FYI: This has been shown in other studies.

Insulin Secreted by Embryonic Stem Cells Is Derived From External
Sources, Concludes a Study in Cloning and Stem Cells

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan 10, 2006 - Cultured
embryonic stem cells induced to form insulin-producing Islet-like
cell clusters--intended to replace the insulin production lost in
diabetes--do not produce detectable amounts of new insulin,
according to a report in the December 2005 (Volume 7, Number 4)
issue of Cloning and Stem Cells, a peer-reviewed journal published
by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The paper is available free online.

Nothing Matters but the Cloning


Hwang is a fraud and a charlatan. Yet, he apparently was able to create cloned human embryos, although after using more than 2000 eggs, he was not able to derive one cloned ES cell line. He lied. He exploited women on his own research team for their eggs. He blamed others for his fraud. He sure seems to have taken money for cloning research under false pretenses. He caused not one, but two, fraudulent papers to be published in Science, not only causing great damage to that journal but calling into question the adequacy of peer review as currently practiced.

But, apparently none of that matters. According to a UK cloning research, Hwang should be given a "second chance." Nothing should get in the way of human cloning.

Ethics? For some it has little meaning at all.

Hwang Should Become the Forgotten Man: Perhaps in Jail


Now Hwang is blaming his junior researchers for the fraud he committed on the world. What a total creep. The time has come for the media to quit reporting what he has to say, since very little of it is truthful. Let him go play with Snuppy the cloned dog until the prosecutors come to his house with an arrest warrant for defrauding the Korean government and any private investors who relied on his lies when investing in his human cloning research.

Now, Cloning Was Never A “Realistic” Therapy?


The international media continues its effort to minimize the Hwang scandal. Whereas before, we were told therapeutic cloning was going to make embryonic stem cell therapy (the most "promising" stem cell form, they tell us in every story despite the utter lack of scientific proof) doable because it would prevent immune rejection: We are now being told in several stories that it was never a realistic likelihood to be used widely in the clinical settings. Yet, when opponents used to say the same thing, we were branded anti-science and stealers of hope.

Also notice that there have been almost no comments in Hwang stories from opponents of cloning research. The purpose of this, it seems to me, is to keep the parameters of the story relatively narrow and permit continuing boosterism of ES cell research as a central focus of attention in the public's mind despite the continuing cascade of adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell research successes.

Some Wisdom About Hwang


James Kelly is a paralyzed American who is deeply involved in the therapeutic cloning debate, as he fervently wants to walk again. For years now, he has researched journal articles about stem cell research, corresponded with the scientists engaged in it, and become something of a lay expert in the entire field. He began a supporter of embryonic stem cell research. But he changed his mind. In his view, every dime that is poured into ESCR and cloning, is money unavailable for the areas where, based on his concentrated study, he sees his greatest hope for regaining mobility.

He knows of what he writes. This column, published in the Seoul Times makes some important points that the American MSM keep (willfully?) ignoring: Cloning is almost certainly not the best hope for cures for spinal cord injury in the soonest period of time. Well worth your time reading if you are interested in this issue.

The Hwang Media Template


It is amazing how similar every story I have read on the Hwang fraud follows the same template, including this AP report. Ditto this New York Times story that ran on the front page below the fold.

1) Report the facts that Hwang is a fraud, but don't accurately describe the process of cloning;

2) Have scientists assure that the field will go forward, perhaps with even more vigor.

3) Describe the dashed hopes of people with degenerative conditions, but do not breathe a word about the adult stem cell research that offers at least as much, if not more, hope to these people--and sooner.

The AP story has an ironic twist. It quotes Australian stem cell researcher Alan Trounson as wondering how a scientist could lie. But as described in detail in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, he was forced to apologize himself after testifying before a parliamentary committee that embryonic stem cells had helped mice to walk, when the experiment in question hadn't involved ES cells.

Still no meaningful exploration of the history of hype surrounding cloning and ES cell research, whether the peer review system needs reform, the politicization of science, etc.

Thank goodness we have alternative media.

Hwang Used More Than 2000 Human Eggs!


This is incredible. Not only was the 2004 cloning study faked, but from November of 2002 to November of 2005, Hwang used a total of 2061 eggs from 129 females, and obtained zero cloned embryos. And high school girls were volunteering to donate after he was exposed as a fraud, a charlatan, and probably a criminal since he appears to have gained millions of dollars in research funding based on false research results.

The Hwang fraud illustrates the problems with human cloning in a nutshell: The hype, the wild promises, the exploitation of women for their eggs, the eclipsing of more promising research involving adult or umbilical cord stem cells, the lack of skepticism by the mainstream media, the politicization of science--it is all there.

This is the link to the official report of the Hwang investigation.

Hwang Did Not Clone Embryos in 2004


So, Hwang has apparently never cloned any human embryos nor created cloned embryonic stem cells. But he did clone Snuppy the dog.

The stories about this fiasco are almost all being written as if it were a crushing blow for people with degenerative diseases. I can understand their disappointment, but it could be substantially mitigated if the media would report on the adult stem cell successes that are already beginning to do what cloning only hoped to begin doing in ten or twenty years. Their ongoing refusal to do so is a terrible indictment of the state of contemporary journalism.

Sharon and Quality of Medical Care for Everyone Else


I see that Ariel Sharon might be coming out of his coma after several surgeries to treat a series of strokes. Well, good for him. What strikes me about this is that I recall seeing on several news channels that had he not been the prime minister, doctors would have declared him dead. And they certainly wouldn't have performed the surgeries that may have saved his life.

First, let me say that the news in a 24-hour cycle is notoriously inaccurate. It wasn't the doctor making these statments but a reporter, who could have garbled the whole thing up. And I know that world leaders will get a distinctly different standard of care than the rest of the people. That may be unjust but it is a reality. But what concerns me is that if the reporter had it right, the Israeli doctor was basically saying that he would have let a regular person with a stroke like Sharon's die, rather than try to save him. If more information about this comes out, it will be worth looking into.

Hwang Patent Theft


Gerald Schatten, the University of Pittsburgh researcher who started Woo-suk Hwang's downfall by accusing him of buying women's eggs and lying about it, is now being accused in turn by Korean media of trying to steal Hwang's cloning technique by patenting it here in the United States at a time that he and his now disgraced Korean former partner were still colleagues.

So, the Koreans are mad that Schatten tried to claim ownership of a now discredited technique that apparently didn't work well enough to derive stem cells lines, if it worked at all. And Schatten helped bring down his former colleague after he apparently double-crossed him while the two were still "friends."

Whew. We're not in Kansas anymore, Todo.

LA Times Fails to Offer Hope to Paralyzed Boy After Hwang’s False Promise


This Los Angeles Times Story about Woo-suk Hwang promising a 12-year old paralyzed boy that he would walk again even though he knew his research was fraudulent, tells us all we need to know about the world's most infamous scientist. What a creep.

This was a good story worth recounting. But it is maddening that the Times failed to also report that there is growing hope for such boys with umbilical cord blood stem cells and olfactory stem cells-- both of which have been reported to restore some feeling and mobility to spinal cord injury patients. (The umbilical cord blood success has been reported in a peer reviewed journal. Olfactory successes in mice have also been written up, which is far more than we can say about ES cells. Dr. Carlos Lima has helped about three dozen patients with olfactory tissues. I am told this research will be reported this year.)

Is it too much for the mainstream media to report such facts when relevant, as it clearly was to this story? Apparently it is. But if it were embryonic stem cells demonstrating such promise, you wouldn't be able to fit the headlines on the front page.

Pew Poll “Right to Die” Terminology Misleading


The Pew Poll, which I reported on below, also finds huge majorities favoring the so-called "right to die." This is an ambiguous term, often used by assisted suicide advocates to identify their cause. But this section of the poll is not referring to euthanasia or assisted suicide. Rather, it measures the belief that people have the right to refuse or stop unwanted medical treatment. That is a completely different moral issue from killing as a response to the difficulties associated with illness or disability.

The poll finds an unsurprising 84-10 in support of permitting death to come from natural causes by withdrawing life-sustaining treatment or other measures. Count me among the majority. As a former hospice volunteer, whose father died while under hospice care, I understand completely the importance of having the right not to have a respirator, chemotherapy, surgery, or even antibiotics. In the old parlance, people should not be hooked up to machines against their will.

However, I believe that feeding tubes should be analyzed differently. I believe cutting off feeding tubes from people based on quality of life judgments or cognitive impairment alone is immoral.

But I am not the dictator. It seem clear that people want the right to be dehydrated by removal or withholding of tube-supplied nutrition and hydration if they become profoundly cognitively disabled. And indeed, that is the law in all fifty states.

That being noted, it does seem to me that given the fact that depriving people of water and nutrition can only have one outcome, and given the profound symbolism inherent in refusing to provide such basic care, the responsibility for refusing feeding tubes should be on the patient and should have to put in writing. Absent that, the strong presumption of the law should be to provide such sustenance in all medically appropriate cases. Otherwise, we risk resurrecting the notion of the life unworthy of life wherein people are taken out to put them out of our misery.

Pew Poll Shows Support for Assisted Suicide Beneath 50%


Almost every time I am interviewed about the legalization of assisted suicide, reporters bring up the point that majorities supposedly support legalizing doctors providing people with the means to kill themselves. My response to such questions is that it depends on the poll. Some polls show that support for legalizing physician-assisted suicide does not reach 50 percent, although you can count on the media not publicizing those findings. Also, I point out that almost all real polls that have been held on the issue--elections--show that majorities oppose legalizing assisted suicide (the exception being with the Oregon).

This Pew Poll illustrates my point. Only 46% supported legalizing physician-assisted suicide, while 45% oppose. In other words, if the once seemingly unstoppable juggernaut is moribund, perhaps even losing support.

This seems right to me based on my sense of the "feel" of the environment based on almost 13 years of intense involvement with the issue. Moreover, I detect no real intensity to legalize assisted suicide outside a small cadre of committed advocates and their few legislative allies. This is why California's legalization legislation went nowhere last year and we news reports state that Vermont legislators have said that the assisted suicide bill pending there is not going anywhere.

This is good news, but the watchword of the day must continue to be vigilance. Euthanasia backers may be few, but they are intensely committed to their cause. Look for them to continue to prod and probe looking for an exploitable wink link to move their agenda forward.

Current Spin: Hwang Fraud Not a Setback For Science


This is a riot. When the charlatan Hwang was thought to have successfully cloned human embryos and derived patient-specific stem cells, it was lauded universally in the science community as a big and important step forward for regenerative medicine. Now, that it is clear Hwang was lying, the science spin seems to be developing that it's not even a step backward.

Check out these quotes from a story on the BBC: "I don't think it has set back research, but clearly we weren't as far forward as we thought we were," says Jack Price, professor of developmental neurobiology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Professor Peter Andrews, a stem cell expert at the University of Sheffield, broadly agrees: "Whether or not the cloning works has very little impact on most of the research going on into human embryonic stem cells," he told the BBC News website."

If that is their story, they should stick to it. But it is going to be harder to squeeze hundreds of millions out of public coffers and gain private investments when the ability to engage in human cloning has gone from speculation, to seeming accomplishment, and back again to speculation.

Adult Breast Stem Cells Discovered in Mice


This discovery could lead to important insights into breast cancer, and eventually, the ability to regrow breasts after mastectomy. We live in an amazing world.

Saletan on Hwang


I have been waiting with some anticipation Will Saletan's take on the Hwang scandal. Even though I disagree with Saletan often, I find him to be one of the most provocative and interesting writers covering the science and ethics beats. Good for Slate for giving him seemingly free rein.

Saletan has now weighed in on Hwang, and I confess that I am a bit disappointed. He focuses intensely on the charlatan's exploitation of women for their eggs and on the lies he apparently told to make cloning seem efficient enough to be used in regenerative medicine. Saletan also regrets that Hwang may not have cloned human embryos at all.

I hope human cloning cannot be done. One reason is that, as Saletan has written about in other columns, there is simply no way that the use of cloned human life would be limited to harvesting early embryos in Petri dishes for their stem cells.

But Saletan's support for therapeutic cloning is not why I feel a bit let down. And I certainly agree with him about the egg issue. I think this column misses the true import of the Hwang fiasco, issues that should be in Saletan's sweet spot for hammering over the center field wall.

But then, there is only so much room to opine in one column. Hopefully Saletan will return to Hwang and address crucial issues the scandal raises such as peer review, the lack of skepticism about biotech in the mainstream media, the politicization of science, and other matters of pertinence and concern.

Murdering History


Bradford Short is a friend of mine, a young man with a big brain and a passion for bioethics and defending the sanctity/equality of human life. In this NRO piece, he takes the pro euthanasia bioethicist Margaret Pabst Battin to task today for "murdering history."

I haven't read her book, but apparently Battin strongly suggests that Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, committed assisted suicide or hastened their own deaths so as to die on July 4. In other words, Battin is trying to wrap the dignitas and reputations of two of America's Founding Fathers around the euthanasia movement.

Her premise seems to be that it is just too convenient for both to have died on the 4th. And she presents a few flimsly pieces of evidence, for example Adams wondering as he aged whether it would be better to die. But coincidences happen. Two lions of British letters, C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, both died on November 22, 1963, for example. (They were cheated out of their deserved headlines by the same day assassination of John F. Kennedy.)

Besides, Battin's theory is patent nonesense. One of my avocations is American history and I have read much about the lives of both Adams and Jefferson. David McCollough's sterling biography John Adams, for example, has no hint of his doing himself in. Indeed, when I toured the Adams' home in Qunicy, I recall the guide pointing to a chair in an upstairs parlor, and telling us that was the chair in which Adams was sitting when he apparently had a stroke. And if it was a plot hatched by the ex presidents, why were Adams' last words, "And Jefferson lives?" (not knowing that his old friend and political antagonist had died hours earlier.)

If Short correctly presents Battin's premise, and he is a man of integrity so he would not intentionally distort her thesis, then his criticisms of her work are more than warranted.

Holy Cow: South Korean Government May Be Implicated in Hwang Scandal


USA Today is reporting that the South Korean Government may have known Hwang's science was fraudulent but boosted it anyway. Here's another aspect of the cloning controversy in a nutshell; the stampede effect to get government boosting this research with bountiful grants of the public's funds to the point that hysteria, rather than the actual state of the science, seems to become the primary factor in decision making.

And here's a key quote that implicates the media's continued malpractice in fully reporting the story and its desire in the midst of this fiasco to still tout cloning as the primary hope for sick patients: "Richard Arvedon of Hartford, Conn., says his 8-year-old daughter, Emma, has had type 1 diabetes since she was 13 months old. She actually met Hwang at a United Nations conference on stem cell research several years ago.

"The family hoped that his research would help provide the breakthroughs that might one day cure Emma.

"Since 1999, Arvedon has volunteered with the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research to help foster U.S. stem cell research. He says he's disheartened by the news from South Korea, but adds, 'We know we have all these reputable scientists, all these wonderful people, working on this. We knew somebody's going to do it. Maybe Hwang hasn't, but we know somebody's going to.'"

See, here's the thing: At that point the reporter could have written that Type 1 diabetes has been cured in mice using adult stem cells from the spleen and that the experiment is approved for human trials. But the media still can't--or won't-- see the forest for the trees.


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