Human cloning has been accomplished, but the field remains generally stalled because of a shortage of human eggs–one needed per cloning attempt–and eggs for use in research are hard to come by.
That impediment may soon be overcome. Scientists have changed human blood cells into immature egg cells. The next steps should go even farther, eventually allowing for the eventual mass lab-creation of eggs capable of being fertilized or used in cloning. From the Motherboard story:
The eggs produced by Saitou and his colleagues are far too immature to be fertilized, much less grow into a human child. Still, they open the door for babies made from the genetic material of relatives, dead or alive. They could also provide a way for infertile people or same-sex partners to produce a child made from their own DNA.
The next step, according to the researchers, is to apply a similar process to the production of human sperm and to create egg cells that are mature enough to be fertilized. This will not only require a lot more research, but creating viable human eggs in a lab is also sure to be incredibly controversial.
And here’s the thing: It isn’t just eggs and cloning. Biotechnology researchers are creating the most powerful technologies invented since the splitting of the atom. For example:
- CRISPR allows any cell or life form to be genetically engineered, potentially used in life-saving genetic therapies or the unleashing of a genetically altered viral pandemic.
- Three parent embryos are being created in labs to be brought to birth.
- Artificial life forms are being created with no predicate in creation or evolution.
- Researchers are putting human stem cells into mouse brains and making other forms of chimeric lab animals.
The list goes on and on.
And yet, there are few concerted national and international discussions outside the research community to find ways to govern these experiments or to draw firm boundary lines. Indeed, other than some government funding restrictions, scientists are generally ethically bound only by their own consciences. That is unacceptable.
George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics attempted to carry on a systematic ethical conversation about these crucial issues. But the Council was roundly attacked in the media and among mainstream bioethicists for daring to have a conservative perspective and, as a consequence, much of its intellectually sterling work is too often ignored.
Time and scientists wait for no one! Yet, President Trump dithers. He only recently appointed a White House science adviser and there is no serious discussion that I can discern within the administration about gathering a bioethics/biotechnology advisory council together.
That is an abdication of leadership. We need a robust societal debate, led, I believe, by a council with members holding various, even conflicting, ethical and political perspectives–I call it a populist bioethics council–to duke it out publicly. Nothing attracts media attention or public interest like a good policy donnybrook, out of which we can hopefully achieve at least some policy and societal consensuses.
It’s time to focus! Anything goes, or leaving our biotechnological future “up to the experts,” is not a wise or sustainable approach.