Say It Ain’t So, Jim!

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Missouri, Republicans, Saint Louis, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Hat tip: Arch City Chronicle. Also, Jamie Allman discussed this article this afternoon on 97.1 FM Talk while filling in on the Dave Glover Show. He mentioned an email I sent him regarding some of these issues.

The Post-Dispatch reports Senator Talent's capitulation on banning embryonic stem cell research in Missouri, and, as usual when reporting on stem cell research, gets the story completely wrong.

First, on the poor reporting:

Following the lead-in, the article makes the following statement:

Wading into a political minefield that has pitted abortion-rights opponents against some scientists and families struggling with debilitating diseases, Talent, R-Mo., said Friday there were "no prospects" for enacting the ban on human cloning—a bill he has co-sponsored for the last four years.

The argument that this debate pits abortion-rights opponents against scientists and families struggling with debilitating diseases is both specious and sensational. It evokes the entirely unproven notion that embryonic stem cell research has shown at all any unique promise in therapeutic benefits in order to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of an otherwise-ignorant audience. (See this previous post for related links.) The inarguable reality is that, for those families struggling with debilitating diseases, the only real hope exists right now in adult stem cell research. While embryonic stem cell research has produced not one benefit, adult stem cell research has produced some sixty-five benefits (as of July 2005) for cancer, auto-immune diseases, cardiovascular and ocular problems, neural/degenerative illnesses and injuries, anemia and other blood conditions, metabolic disorders, and various wounds and injuries.

Without this context, the uninformed reader is led to assume that without embryonic stem cell research, no hope exists for therapies or cures for such debilitating diseases. Without this context, such a reader is left ignorant even of the differentiation between adult and embryonic stem cell research. Without this context, the reader does not recognize that the ban only applies to embryonic stem cell research, preserving the efficacious adult stem cell research.

Toward the end of the article, the following statement appears:

In his speech Friday, Talent said the new form of stem cell research makes therapeutic cloning unnecessary.

In that process, also known as or somatic cell nuclear transfer, the nucleus of an unfertilized egg is replaced with the nucleus of another cell from a human body. The egg is then stimulated to divide, as it would when fertilized by a sperm, and the early stem cells are harvested. Stem cells can mature into a variety of cells to form organs and other body parts.

Now here's a semantic argument I've not yet heard; likely, because Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) and therapeutic cloning are exactly the same thing. The two terms are interchangeable:

Therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, cell nuclear replacement, research cloning, and embryo cloning)...

What is unclear from this simplified description is that what results from this process is a genetically complete human cell. Stem cells are extracted from the developing embryo (at this stage, referred to as a "blastocyst"), destroying the embryo in the process. Left to its own devices, it would develop into a fully formed human being. This point is indisputible. From Clone The Truth:

SCNT is the same in both therapeutic and reproductive cloning. The only difference is whether the cloned embryo is implanted.

Implantation differentiates between therapeutic and reproductive cloning - not the process that yields the embryo in question.

It appears that the Post-Dispatch just got the story completely wrong. From the Kansas City Star, Talent is favoring not SCNT, but a technique known as "altered nuclear transfer" (ANT):

Saying new scientific research may make it possible to create stem cells without cloning human embryos, Sen. Jim Talent on Friday withdrew as co-sponsor of a bill that would ban all human cloning and make it a crime for anyone to take part in the process.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Talent said the alternative research made the bill unnecessary. The new research - called altered nuclear transfer - would provide common ground for people on all sides of the issue, he said.

First, a brief description of ANT:

Altered Nuclear Transfer uses the technology of NT but with a preemptive alteration that assures that no embrye is created. The somatic cell nucleus or the emucleated egg contents (cytoplasm) or both are first altered before the somatic cell nucleus is transferred into the egg. The alterations cause the somatic cell DNA to function in such a way that no embryo is generated, but pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are produced.

"...no embryo is generated, but pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are produced" - a curious statement, that. In layman's terms, ANT alters the two components prior to the nuclear transfer, such that the embryonic development is genetically altered to prevent the ability of the embryo to develop fully. The claim that the embryo is non-human is clearly untrue; it is simply a human embryo genetically altered to prevent its full development. Contrary to the claims that this method eliminates ethical concerns over SCNT, I find the method to be even more morally repugnant, as researchers assume even more God-like power over the embryo, choosing which will be allowed to develop, and which will not.

ANT still performs a nuclear transfer; this process is, by definition, cloning. Regardless of how the components are genetically altered, the resultant clone still develops enough to produce human embryonic stem cells. Only a human embryo can produce human embryonic stem cells.

Now, on to Senator Talent:

From the article:

In a surprise turnabout, Sen. Jim Talent withdrew his support Friday for a controversial ban on human cloning and offered what he said was a compromise proposal that would heal the deep divide over stem cell research.

...

Talent said his alternative proposal, which he is still developing, would fund a newly emerging technology that avoids the most dicey element of the debate -- the destruction of human embryos that occurs in traditional stem cell research.

...

But even as Talent outlined his new position on Fridays -- saying he’d spent a year researching the issue -- the Missouri senator still declined to take a position on a state initiative petition that has made the stem cell debate so hot at home.

Mr. Talent, with all due respect, if you have "researched the issue" for an entire year, surely you wouldn't make the mistake of trying to differentiate between any form of nuclear transfer and therapeutic cloning. Surely you would know that no such "emerging technology" exists that would avoid the destruction of human embryos. From one of your staunchest supporters, know that you will have a great deal of explaining to do, and will have an extremely difficult time trying to justify this move.

Senator Talent, your argument fails on two points:

First, if ANT, as its proponents claim, is not cloning, and does not produce a human embryo, then it is not inconsistent with a proposed ban on human cloning. Passing such a ban - either federally, or in Missouri - would not prevent research that neither clones human DNA nor produces human embryos.

Second, if ANT is a form of human cloning, and does produce human embryos, then all the same ethical and moral questions remain. It is not then a "compromise" acceptable to both sides of the controversy, as you claim:

"There's a sense on both sides of the controversy that if you propose something that concedes something to the other side, you give up something yourself," Talent said. "It is going to become increasingly clear that the way for both sides to get what they want is to compromise."

Senator Talent, with respect to the destruction of human embryos, we have no intention of compromising on the sanctity of every life, no matter at what point in its development. We have no intention of conceding even a single human life.

Consistent with the Clone the Truth campaign, I am committed to ensuring that the truth about adult and embryonic stem cell and related research is made known. I am likewise committed to ensuring that this deceptively worded and ill-advised ballot initiative is defeated.

UPDATE:
Clone the Truth references this post, and calls ANT a "Trojan Horse."

UPDATE II:
ProLifeBlogs is now running with this story, as well, linking also to Secondhand Smoke, who in turn references Ramesh Ponnuru in NRO.

After Work Nap

Filed in PersonalTags: Cats, Pets, Photos

Millie decided that we should take a nap when I got home from work today. She made her wishes known by planting herself on me:

millie 025

All your human are belong to me.
Photo © Chip Bennett, all rights reserved.

OYB February 10

Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Devotions, One Year Bible

Today´s reading:
OT: Exodus 30:11-38, Exodus 31:1-18
NT: Matthew 26:47-68
Ps: Psalm 32
Pr: Proverbs 8:27-32

Today´s notable verse:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD "—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Selah

Psalm 32:5 (NIV)

What a relief it is to confess our sins to our Lord! When we keep our sin to ourselves, the weight of it is heavy upon us (verse 4); but when we confess it, the burden is lifted - often, tangibly so.

The One Year Bible Blog asks:

Comments from you & Question of the Day - Psalm 32 is a powerful Psalm on confession and forgiveness. How do you confess your sins these days? Do you confess them verbally to someone else - a pastor / minister / priest / mentor / friend / accountability partner? Why do you confess them verbally? Do you confess your sins to God in prayer? After confessing your sins verbally or in prayer do you feel any different? Do you think confession is relevant? Do you think confession is a spiritual discipline?

One of the difficult things about moving around somewhat frequently (twice since college graduation) is the formation of relationships sufficiently intimate to allow for accountability. I am just now getting to the point in some close relationships that I can count on one or two as accountability partners, one in particular. I think it wise to have two types of relationships: one peer relationship, and one mentor relationship. I am working on both. Since college, the majority of my confession has been to God alone, in prayer; but I think the principle confession to one another is extremely important:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

James 5:16 (NIV)

However confession is made, I always "feel better" and am able to "move on" afterward. The reason is that, before confession, when we willfully withhold that confession, we open ourselves to worldly sorrow and guilt; but when we yield to the Spirit, and openly confess our sins, we are blessed with Godly sorrow:

10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

II Corinthians 7:10-11a

Worldly sorrow - that to which we open ourselves by withholding the confession of our sin - brings death: Satan condemns us of the guilt of our sin, and the wages of sin is death. That death is spiritual death, or separation from God. The longer we withhold our confession, the longer we allow the Accuser to separate us from God by overwhelming us with the guilt and sorrow of our sin.

But when we confess our sin to the Lord, we accept Christ's atonement for our sin, and no longer bear the burden of its guilt, which Christ bore for us on the cross. Instead, that condemning guilt is replaced, through the Spirit, with a desire to right wrongs and to do right and to pursue Godliness and holiness. Praise God for His grace!