Human Exceptionalism

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.


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