Monday, July 03, 2006

Non-scientific Motivations: James Sherely on Harvard's Stem Cell Plan

A few weeks ago I pointed to a Boston Globe editorial by M.I.T. biological engineer and Harvard graduate James Sherley in which he criticized Harvard's plan to attempt human embryo cloning for stem cell research on scientific and ethical grounds. In a recent interview with MercatorNet (HT: Mere Comments), he gives more reasons for his opposition and asks the most critical question. Some excerpts:

MercatorNet: As a world-renowned university, Harvard prides itself on the calibre of its cutting-edge academics, not only in science, but also ethics, theology and politics. But has the desire to maintain Harvard's reputation affected its ethical judgement?

Sherley: The public should demand to hear this question addressed by Harvard professors of ethics, politics, history of science, and economics and also by Harvard professors who have a dissenting view. They may be silent, muted, or unreported on the issue. The public needs to know which is the case. Surely, this revered faculty of original and independent thinkers, who recently cast out their President for his regressive prejudicial ideas, is not monolithic in its view on the moral status of human embryos and their treatment by Harvard scientists.

MercatorNet: You seem pretty convinced that human embryos are human beings. Can you explain briefly why?

Sherley: My answer is, "What else could they be -- aliens?" Scientists who want to conduct experiments with human embryos are quick to say what human embryos are not. I challenge them to tell the public what human embryos are. There is only one answer to this question, "living human beings."

MercatorNet: But why can't you convince your colleagues at Harvard and MIT of your point of view? What's the stumbling block?

Sherley: When scientists arrange their own press conferences to announce promises for the future that involve significant self-gain, let the public beware. The stumbling block is non-scientific motivations.
I encourage you to read the whole thing. And if you'd like to read my reaction to Harvard's stem cell initiative, I blogged about it here.

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