More Stem Cell Initiative Misinformation

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Several news outlets are reporting on the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative (the Initiative); unfortnately, most are getting the facts entirely incorrect. First up is this wildly innacurate statment found in a report from KMBC-TV 9 in Kansas City, MO [emphasis added]:

Talent had come under pressure from McCaskill to take a position on the proposed constitutional amendment. The measure specifically bans human cloning, but would permit all federally allowed stem cell research in the state.

The issue has created a rift among Missouri Republicans. Business and medical leaders strongly support the measure while religious and anti-abortion leaders have campaigned against it, saying the procedure amounts to human cloning.

First, the Initiative does not specifically ban human cloning; it specifically allows human cloning, and specifically prohibits the state legislature from prohibiting human cloning. The initiative intentionally re-defines "cloning" in a manner inconsistent with any biological, scientific, or other reasonable understanding or definition of the term. From the text of the Initiative:

38(d).6.(2) “Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being.

For reference and clarification, below are several actual, accepted definitions of "cloning".

From Wikipedia:

Cloning is the process of creating an identical copy of an original. A clone in the biological sense, therefore, is a single cell (like bacteria, lymphocytes etc.) or multi-cellular organism that is genetically identical to another living organism. Sometimes this can refer to "natural" clones made either when an organism reproduces asexually or when two genetically identical individuals are produced by accident (as with identical twins), but in common parlance the clone is an identical copy by some conscious design.

From How Stuff Works:

Cloning is the process of making a genetically identical organism through nonsexual means.

From the Roslin Institute:

Depending on the age of the dictionary, the definition of biological cloning can be:

  • A group of genetically identical individuals descended from the same parent by asexual reproduction. Many plants show this by producing suckers, tubers or bulbs to colonise the area around the parent.
  • A group of genetically identical cells produced by mitotic division from an original cell. This is where the cell creates anew set of chromosomes and splits into two daughter cells. This is how replacement cells are produced in your body when the old ones wear out.
  • A group of DNA molecules produced from an original length of DNA sequences produced by a bacterium or a virus using molecular biology techniques. This is what is often called molecular cloning or DNA cloning
  • The production of genetically identical animals by 'embryo splitting'. This can occur naturally at the two cell stage to give identical twins. In cattle, when individual cells from 4- and 8-cell embryos and implanted in different foster mothers, they can develop normally into calves and this technique has been used routinely within cattle breeding schemes for over 10 years.
  • The creation of one or more genetically identical animals by transferring the nucleus of a body cell into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed. This is also known as Nuclear Transfer (NT) or cell nuclear replacement (CNR) and is how Dolly was produced.

From the National Acadamies:

Clone - 1) An exact genetic replica of a DNA molecule, cell, tissue, organ, or entire plant or animal. 2) An organism that has the same nuclear genome as another organism.

Cloning - The production of a clone. (For the purpose of this report, generating an individual animal or person that derives its nuclear genes from a diploid cell taken from an embryo, fetus, or born individual of the same species.)

From the National Institute of Health:

In biology, a clone is a cell or an organism that is genetically identical to another cell or organism... The verb "to clone" refers to the process of creating cloned cells or organisms. The process differs, depending on the kinds of cells used in the cloning procedure and the desired result. Usually, when scientists clone an animal, they take the nucleus of a cell -- which contains chromosomes made of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins -- and place it into an egg cell (also called an oocyte) from which the nucleus has been removed. The egg cell then divides to produce an embryo that develops into an animal, if the procedures work as planned.

Now that we're clear on the actual definition of "cloning", we return to the wording of the Initiative, which far from specifically prohibiting human cloning, specifically prohibits the legislature from prohibiting human cloning, or research derived from human cloning [emphasis added]:

38(d).2.(7) All stem cell research and all stem cell therapies and cures must be conducted and provided in accordance with state and local laws of general applicability, including but not limited to laws concerning scientific and medical practices and patient safety and privacy, to the extent that any such laws do not (i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by the provisions of this section other than this subdivision (7) to be conducted or provided, or (ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies and cures.

This inconsistency is not an honest oversight; it is an intentional attempt to mislead Missourians into constitutionally mandating that which they believe themselves to be constitutionally prohibiting. The justfication? What amounts to what the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures (the Coalition) describes as a sort of "common-law" understanding of "cloning" as meaning implanting a cloned embryo in the uterus and bringing to full-term the cloned baby.

I also just found this wildly incorrect statement on the Initiative's ironically titled "Setting The Record Straight" section:

Opponents of stem cell research claim that making stem cells in a lab dish is the same thing as "human cloning." Scientists and most other people disagree with that view and understand that "human cloning" means creating a duplicate human being - not making stem cells in a lab dish.

Supporters of the Initiative know full-well that stem cells cannot just be "[made] in a lab dish", and that the only way to derive stem cells is to harvest them from a human embryo - whether that embryo be sexually produced, or cloned.

Complicit in this deception, Claire MacCaskill is demonstrating her political opportunism with respect to the Initiative [emphasis added]:

"I don't think you can have the luxury of calling an issue personal or political just to muddy the waters when a tough issue comes along," McCaskill said Tuesday.

"To me this isn't that complicated," she said. "I support this research, I have consistently and enthusiastically, and I urge Missourians to do the same."

"Life does not begin in a petri dish. Life begins in a womb," McCaskill told KMBC.

This statement is so very wrong on so many levels. I hate to break it to you, Claire, but life can and does begin in a petri dish. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), the process by which embryonic stem cell (ESC) research proponents hope to use to harvest ESCs, is the same process by which Dolly the Sheep was cloned (as every single cloning definition reference listed above indicates).

Here is a good opportunity to point out that, once again, the Coalition's "Setting The Record Straight" gives intentionally incorrect information, in this case, regarding SCNT:

The two basic sources of ES cells are: (1) leftover fertility clinic embryos that will not be implanted in a woman's uterus and would otherwise be discarded and destroyed; and (2) the Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) process, which uses stem cells made in a lab dish with a patient's own cells and an unfertilized, donated human egg.

Again, the only way to derive embryonic stem cells is by harvesting them from an embryo - and the Coaltion knows it.

The result of SCNT is a zygote genetically identical to the somatic-cell donor.That the genesis of this zygote was asexual rather than sexual does not negate that, genetically and biologically, a zygote resulting from cloning a human somatic cell is, in fact, a human zygote. This human zygote - again, whether sexually or asexually produced - will, of its own volition, begin the process of mitosis, and will self-direct its development through the various stages from embryo to adult human. This self-volition of growth and self-direction of development is, essentially, the biologically accepted definition of "life".

From Wikipedia:

While there is no universal agreement on the definition of life, scientists generally accept that the biological manifestation of life exhibits the following phenomena:

  1. Organization - Living things are comprised of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.
  2. Metabolism - Metabolism produces energy by converting nonliving material into cellular components (synthesis) and decomposing organic matter (catalysis). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  3. Growth - Growth results from a higher rate of synthesis than catalysis. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
  4. Adaptation - Adaptation is the accommodation of a living organism to its environment. It is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the individual's heredity.
  5. Response to stimuli - A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism when touched to complex reactions involving all the senses of higher animals. A response is often expressed by motion: the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun or an animal chasing its prey.
  6. Reproduction - The division of one cell to form two new cells is reproduction. Usually the term is applied to the production of a new individual (either asexually, from a single parent organism, or sexually, from two differing parent organisms), although strictly speaking it also describes the production of new cells in the process of growth.

    From Developmental Biology Online:

    The genetic view takes the position that the creation of a genetically unique individual is the moment at which life begins. This event is often described as taking place at fertilization, thus fertilization marks the beginning of human life. During this developmental event, the genes originating from two sources combine to form a single individual with a different and unique set of genes. One of the most popular arguments for fertilization as the beginning of human life is that at fertilization a new combination of genetic material is created for the first time; thus, the zygote is an individual, unique from all others.

    Back to MacCaskill's egregiously erroneous statement, now addressing her assertion that life begins in the womb: again, MacCaskill, if biology is too difficult for you to grasp, perhaps you need to stick to politics. Life begins at conception; no credible biologist will refute this fact. (To be perfectly clear: for sexual reproduction, a new life emerges the moment the haploid sperm and egg conceive, resulting in a new, unique, diploid cell - called a zygote. For either a sexually or an asexually produced zygote, life is evidenced at the first cell mitosis.) By the time the embryo reaches the womb, it has long-since established itself as a unique, individual life form.

    To be fair, I must once again disagree with Senator Talent, and challenge the assertion that Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT) is not "cloning":

    Earlier this year, Talent withdrew as a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would ban all embryonic stem cell research and impose a $1 million fine and jail sentence on violators. At the time, Talent said he backed another form of research -- called altered nuclear transfer -- that would not result in human cloning.

    The only difference between SCNT and ANT is that, with ANT, the somatic cell is altered such that certain gene expression, required for the embryo to develop past the blastocyst stage (the stage at which ESCs are harvested, destroying the embryo), is disabled/prohibited. Genetically, the somatic cell is still human. Genetically, the result from the ANT process is still a human embryo. Claiming that ANT does not produce a human simply because the embryo has been genetically altered to prevent its development past the blastocyst stage is analogous to claiming that genetically or hormonally preventing a child from developing through/past the adolescence stage renders that child non-human.

    The evidence that ANT results in a human embryo lies in the fact that ANT is intended as a method to harvest human ESCs. Only a human embryo can develop human ESCs. If the result of ANT were not genetically human, it would not develop human ESCs.

    Some use the specious argument that the result of ANT is no more living than the somatic cell used to produce it. Recall the definition of life: self-volition of growth, and self-direction of development. A somatic cell neither attempts to grow or develop. It is no longer a living cell once it is removed from its donor. The embryo produced by ANT, however, demonstrates that it is living by both undergoing mitosis of its own volition, and directing its own development.

    However, regardless of my disagreement with Mr. Talent with respect to our understanding of ANT, I understand the consistency of his position (incorrect though it may be). For one who thinks that ANT is not cloning, it is entirely consistent to support ANT while at the same time opposing the Initiative. Likewise, withdrawing support from a blanket ban on human cloning due to the belief that such a ban would prohibit ANT - under the assumption that ANT is not cloning - does not constitute a "flip-flop" on support for banning human cloning. Perhaps this position is too subtle for MacCaskill and this negligent KMBC-TV report to grasp.

    Via John Combest.

    OYB May 5

    Filed in ReligionTags: Christianity, Devotions, One Year Bible

    Today´s reading:
    OT: Judges 21, Ruth 1
    NT: John 4:4-42
    Ps: Psalm 105:1-15
    Pr: Proverbs 14:25

    Today´s notable verse:

    23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

    John 4:23-24 (NIV)

    Worship is not merely something we do; rather, it is what we are - every action, every decision, every thought and attitude: each one presents an opportunity for worship, and each one demonstrates our true nature, whether we are worshippers of the Father, or of the world.

    The One Year Bible Blog's commentary for today.