Monday, June 12, 2006

Crossing the Line: A Harvard Grad Speaks Out

In today's Boston Globe, James Sherley, a stem cell biologist and Harvard graduate, critiques his alma mater's new stem cell institute (which I blogged about last week). Here's a sample:
The provost and board members had better get ready to answer to their decision to vacate their responsibility to protect and safeguard the life and health of human research subjects. Harvard scientists who wish to clone human embryos now face a better-informed public that is increasingly aware of the vast gap between promises from human embryo research and scientific reality.

In particular, there is more awareness that embryonic stem cells, whether derived from natural human embryos or cloned ones, cannot be used to treat diseases in adults or children. To get permission to enter the human embryo cloning race, scientists at Harvard and other planned centers for human embryo cloning in this country are now feeding their review boards and the public a new line. They promise that cloned embryos will allow determination of the cause of a person's illness by analysis of embryonic stem cells derived from the person's own cloned embryos. They pronounce that this research is too important to not do.

However, they fail to disclose that pigs will grow wings and fly before this approach leads to successful medical therapies. Besides being a falsehood hidden under research future-speak, their promise is also logically inconsistent with their past statements.

Using cloned embryos to investigate the basis of disease in adults and children will often, if indeed not always, require that the embryos undergo maturation. Just a couple of years ago, these same would-be-cloners told us that permitting cloned embryos to mature was exactly the line that they would never cross. What scientists on the Harvard review board allowed such an obvious contradiction to be bypassed?
Good question. But what's a little contradiction and falsehood as long as they're accompanied by good intentions?

May the leaders of this illustrious institution have the courage, humility, and integrity to heed their graduate's call to repentance:
"The members of Harvard's review board should fear the temptations of the line they're crossing, reconsider their decision, and withdraw from a race that will occur on a track littered with innocent human lives."

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