Human Exceptionalism

ESCR Arguments in the UK: “Beware False Promises”

The UK is debating a new embryo bill that would, among other things, explicitly permit the creation of human/animal cloned hybrid embryos for use in research. And even though there is no attempt in the UK to outlaw human ESCR or human cloning using human eggs, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears on the defensive due to the great successes so far in adult stem cells. From “Beware False Promises,” written by the the neuroscientist Neil Scolding:

Dazzled by the promises, the public stands by in awe of the science. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority allows everything: it has thus far not ultimately rejected a single embryo-research-related application. Pro-embryo-research scientists have a ready mouthpiece in politicians and journalists beguiled by the claims. How could anyone oppose these miraculous cures? What we have seen in the determined efforts of some of the bill’s more politically motivated protagonists is a confusion of the issues and a classic sleight of hand–in two separate ways. Both need exposing if people of conscience are to form honestly informed views.

The first is tacitly to allow the exciting advances in adult stem-cell treatments to illustrate the far more speculative therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells; to use the former to justify the latter. Thus Gordon Brown: “With adult stem cells already being used as treatments for conditions including leukaemia, severe combined immunodeficiency, and heart disease, scientists are already close to the breakthroughs that will allow embryonic stem cells to be used to treat a much wider range of conditions. Medical researchers now believe that stem-cell therapy has the potential to change dramatically the treatment of many other human afflictions: including not only Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s but perhaps also cancer, spinal-cord injuries and muscle damage.

Right out of the Missouri and California playbooks: Sure there have been some successes in asult, but that means embryonic will be even better! Classic.

Scolding points out some other truths:

Adult stem cells, present in most if not all specialised organs, have evolved as cells for repair: that is their purpose, and they successfully achieve this in many ways. But all this is barely relevant to the new bill. For here lies the second sleight of hand. The debate has, falsely, been turned into a referendum on all embryonic stem-cell research. What is proposed is actually “only” the licensing of various forms of mixed animal-human embryos as possible new sources of stem cells. But all the justifications for experiments using cybrids (embryos that are largely human but contain a minute quantity of animal material) are based on the falsehood that they are vital for developing embryonic stem-cell-based cures for dreadful diseases as argued by Lord Patel and Gordon Brown…And the suggestion that there is “no alternative” to cybrids is not even close to the truth. Rather, clinical scientists around the world have been extraordinarily excited by the emergence in the last year of a new technique for producing so-called “inducible pluripotent stem cells” (IPSCs).

Never mind that ESCR still can’t be used in humans. And never mind that human cloning remains very rudimentary, or that ISPCs look to do most of what you could get from human cloning research, or that health care systems to treat today’s sick are terribly strained or in meltdown–the politicians, Science Establishment, and media demand ethics and financial blank checks. This results in a new Gilded Age and little accountability, as in CA, where the CIRM is pouring hundreds of millions into fancy buildings rather than research.

Support for bioscience has become religion. Facts don’t matter. What counts is belief.

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