Human Exceptionalism

Ian Wilmut Rejects Human Cloning!

Well, this is some unexpected good news: Ian Wilmut is turning his back on human cloning.

Wilmut has had several positions on this morally contentious and volatile issue. In his book The Second Creation, Wilmut wrote that he would not engage in human cloning. Then, he supported reproductive cloning, at least in some circumstances. He also obtained a license in the UK to attempt to clone human embryos, suggested that ESCR be conducted on dying patients in what I perceive to be an unethical manner, but now has decided he won’t participate in the human cloning project. Whew. From the story in the Telegraph:

Prof Ian Wilmut’s decision to turn his back on “therapeutic cloning”, just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before. But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago, as part of a drive to find new treatments for the devastating degenerative condition, Motor Neuron disease.

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient’s own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson’s, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as “nuclear transfer.”

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade.

Cell regession is one of the “alternative methods” that President Bush recently ordered the NIH to potentially fund, amidst great derision from Big Biotech and the bioethics establishment. But who is laughing now? Ian Wilmut, of all people, thinks it–and not cloning–is the wave of the future.

Let us fervently hope that the writer of the article is right and that Wilmut’s “Dear John” letter does mark the end of therapeutic cloning. And it well might. It seems to me that Wilmut would not have rejected his license unless he were convinced that cloning is just not going to work or be sufficiently efficient–given the human egg dearth–to be more than a novelty.

This is heartening news. Wilmut has no moral objection to human cloning. But perhaps he has looked into the tea leaves and made a pragmatic decision that bodes well for the human race.

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