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Stem Cell Research and the Presidential Candidates

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 19th, 2008

Barack Obama and John McCain

Over the weekend, the presumptive presidential candidates of the major American political parties each described their positions on embryonic stem research. At a televised conversation with popular pastor - and author of the best selling nonfiction book besides the Bible - Rick Warren, both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama made clear they support embryonic stem cell research, but with different emphases.

McCain gave a slightly befuddled response:

For those of us in the pro life community, this has been a great struggle and a terrible dilemma because we're also taught other obligations that we have as well. I've come down on the side of stem cell research, but I am wildly optimistic that skin cell research which is coming more and more into focus and practicability will make this debate an economic one.

Obama's answer was much clearer and more detailed:

Keep in mind the way that stem cells legislation that was vetoed by the president was structured, what it said was you could only use embryos that were about to be discarded, that had been created as a consequence of attempts at in vitro fertilization. So there were very tightly circumscribed mechanisms that were permitted. I think that that is a legitimate moral approach to take.

If we are going to discard those embryos and we know that there's potential research that could lead to curing debilitating disease, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, if that possibility presents itself then I think we should in a careful way go ahead and pursue that research. Now, if in fact adult stem cell lines are working just as well, then of course we should try to avoid any kind of moral arguments that may be in place.

But I want to make a broader point, Pastor Rick on an issue like stem cell research. It's not like people who are in favor of stem cell research are going around thinking to themselves boy let's go destroy some embryos. That's not the perspective that I think people come to that issue on. I think what they say is we would not tolerate a situation in which, you know, we're encouraging human cloning or in some ways diminishing the sacred necessary of human life and what it means to be human, but that in narrow circumstances, you know, there is nothing inappropriate with us pursuing scientific research certain of that could lead to cures so long as we're not designing embryos for that purpose.

Obama has consistently supported research that uses embryos created for reproductive purposes but that would otherwise be destroyed (1, 2 [PDF]), and implicitly opposed creating embryos specifically for research purposes and cloning-based stem cell research.This position is also in line with the tenor of the draft 2008 Democratic Party platform [PDF], which calls for funding using "cells [sic] that would have otherwise have been discarded."

Because the two major candidates are in agreement not only about removing President Bush's restrictions on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, but also over cloning-based stem cell research, the issue is unlikely to feature during the campaign. Of course,McCain could bow to conservative pressure to change his position, or Obama could propose that the product of somatic cell nuclear transfer is not really an embryo. But these scenarios are unlikely, at least before the election, as candidates typically move to the center once they've secured their party's nomination.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Questions for Egg Donors

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on August 18th, 2008

Thousands of young women undergo egg retrieval procedures for other people's fertility treatment each year in the U.S. alone. But though egg retrieval is known to pose non-trivial risks, and though fertility clinics are profitable businesses, there has been almost no follow-up study of these women.

This much was acknowledged in a 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science:

''There are no registries that track the health of the people who have taken part in IVF, and much of what is known about the women who have participated in IVF may not be directly applicable to oocyte donors. It will be important in the coming years to accumulate extensive health data from the women whose eggs are harvested and to monitor them for long-term effects.''

Now the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), a non-profit that "advocates for the right to honesty and transparency for donor kids," has launched a survey of egg donors. Their questionnaire's 19 questions are aimed, DSR says, at getting "a better understanding of how egg donation affects women as time goes on, as we know of no medical studies or formal research on this topic." DSR hopes the results of their qualitative study will encourage "the medical community to further investigate how egg donation physically affects woman who donate."

Kudos to DSR. Thank goodness someone's trying to mind the store.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

This Week in the News

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 15th, 2008

South Korea is considering allowing payments to women who provide eggs for the reproductive purposes of others.

In the field of animal cloning, a key licensing venture - Start Licensing - and commerical cloning subsidiary company - Viagen - will merge.

The Sunday Times of London reported that Irish women and couples are becoming reproductive tourists, heading to Spain, the Czech Republic and Crete for more accessible eggs and cheaper treatments.

ScienceNews explored the prospect of genetic doping at the current summer Olympics.

The Strange Saga of "Bernann" McKinney

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 14th, 2008

"Bernann" McKinney and one of her little Boogers (AP)

The story of  the first happy customer of RNL Bio's new pet dog cloning service is almost too outlandish to mock. When we first encountered her last week, Bernann McKinney appeared overjoyed that the spirit of her deceased yet beloved pit bull, Booger, had been recaptured in the five clones. Then we learned that the former beauty pageant queen was on the lam from the British authorities. In the 1970s, she became obsessed with a young man while in college in Utah. She later said, "I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to."

McKinney, then known as Joyce McKinney, followed him to the UK, where he was serving as a door-to-door Mormon missionary. In 1977, she and a friend kidnapped  him and held him at a remote cottage as her sex slave for days. Although she was arrested, McKinney fled to Canada disguised as a mime, and then went into hiding in the US disguised as a nun. Years later, the missionary saw McKinney watching him, and police subsequently found handcuffs and a rope in her car.

To top it off, she obtained Booger, the dead cl­oned dog, by breaking into an animal shelter, where he was scheduled to be euthanized after he had attacked some joggers.

Simply put, you can't make this stuff up.

Couple McKinney's saga with an alien love cult, a nation's scientist hero revealed to be a fraud (1, 2), and an eccentric billionaire who spent $10 million trying to clone his dog, and one could dismiss the cloning endeavor as nothing but a freak show. While the practice certainly seems to attract more than its share of eccentrics, a dismissal is inappropriate. Despite a broad consensus that human reproductive cloning  should be banned (as it already is in about sixty countries), there's no shortage of bioethicists and pundits who fail to see anything wrong in the practice, and supposed cloning opponents who limit their concern to matters of safety.

Update (Aug. 15): McKinney is also wanted in Tennessee, where she is accused of convincing a 15-year-old to break into a house so that she could buy a prosthetic leg for her three-legged horse.

Update (Aug. 19): McKinney has now left South Korea, but without her clones of Booger.

Update (Aug 20): The head of RNL Bio, Ra Jeong Chan, said that "criminal records would not disqualify future customers, adding that the cloned animals could even help them find stability and thus prevent crimes" (a paraphrase from the International Herald Tribune).

Previously on Biopolitical Times:



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