Features

After Dolly

"After Dolly" Continued...

Issue: "Hope or hype?," Jan. 20, 2007

But as quickly as it rose, Hwang's star crashed to earth. In November 2005, Schatten denounced his affiliation with Hwang and accused the South Korean of ethical breaches. Over the next few months, the researcher's success unraveled amidst accusations, investigations, and ultimately Hwang's own confession that he had faked his results. Seoul National University's final report on Hwang's deception concluded that he probably had succeeded in cloning human embryos but not in extracting their stem cells.

Evangelical bioethicists now use the Hwang scandal as an example of the temptations and motives that can drive human cloning research.

"We live now in a very consumer-driven, capitalist, scientific era where whoever gets there first and patents a new therapy or drug stands not only to make a mark, but they also stand to make a fortune," said C. Ben Mitchell, director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.

Wilmut has expressed a sympathetic desire to help disease sufferers like his own father, who died of diabetes, but he also does not deny his personal lust for control over nature. "I want to be able to change my destiny rather than be condemned to a particular fate," Wilmut wrote in his recent book, After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning (W.W. Norton, 2006). Under potential "uses," he lists harvesting stem cells from cloned embryos to treat diseases, correcting genetic anomalies in embryos before implantation in the uterus, and helping infertile couples have children by using stem cells to produce viable sperm and eggs. Really, the only act Wilmut counts as a "misuse" is cloning for cloning's sake, "the ultimate act of vanity."

In the lab, Wilmut's uses and misuses of cloning look exactly the same until a scientist decides whether to put the embryo into a petri dish or a uterus. "No matter how slippery that slope," he writes, "it is easy to draw a well-defined line on it in this particular case. Society can have the good and reject the bad."

Prather's view is different: Good can come from animal cloning without the need to experiment on embryos. In his experiments on pigs, he has identified a gene that makes an enzyme that opens blood vessels and helps prevent heart disease. He has developed fluorescent cells that can be used as markers in genetic experiments. He's working on a pig model of the disease cystic fibrosis so scientists do not have to experiment on children to find a cure.

Even Prather's work is arguably a slippery slope since it lays the foundation for similar experiments on human embryos. Some students he has trained have gone on to do embryonic stem-cell research. But Prather emphasizes that his career has been guided by conclusions he drew from the Bible as a post-doctoral fellow almost 20 years ago. "I dealt with it then and have stayed the course," he said.

Lynde Langdon
Lynde Langdon

Lynde lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. She holds degrees from the University of Missouri in journalism, Russian, and business administration. She is in a long-term, committed relationship with the Lutheran church. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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