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Harvard Scientists to Clone Human Embryos 592

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the asking-for-trouble dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Harvard University scientists claim they will soon start trying to clone human embryos to create stem cells. Even with the history of controversy and fraud researchers hope they can one day use the newly created stem cells to aid in battle against many diseases. From the article: 'The privately funded work is aimed at devising treatments for such ailments as diabetes, Lou Gehrig's disease, sickle-cell anemia and leukemia. Harvard is only the second American university to announce its venture into the challenging, politically charged research field.'"
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Harvard Scientists to Clone Human Embryos

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  • Would someone... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417)
    Would someone PLEASE think of the childr...

    No. That joke's tasteless. I won't.
  • Controvesy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @05:48AM (#15485900)
    Ever since some of us started looking into nature people have said, "you know, that's God's work, you shouldn't really been looking at it."

    Just a few years ago the Pope told Steven Hawking that though the Catholic Church believed in the theory of the big bang, what happened before that was the hand of God and not to be meddled into be humans.

    If we could rid ourselves of silly arbitrary superstitions great advancements in science will follow.
    • If we could rid ourselves of silly arbitrary superstitions great advancements in science will follow.

      Yeah... Sure. Isaac Newton spent time researching alchemy than actually working on physics. Roger Bacon came up with the scientific method. Copernicus came up with the theory of the heliocentric model of physics.
    • Re:Controvesy? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      Lots of great science is possible if you throw off the shackles of ethics. Medical research would be 100 times easier if you could use humans as guinea pigs, there's no doubt about it. People still debate whether to use Nazi data on subjects such as hypothermia, because they got the data nobody else was willing to get.
    • If we could rid ourselves of silly arbitrary superstitions great advancements in science will follow.

      Yes, if only scientists could be free to walk under ladders and break mirrors, their experiments would be much easier to carry out.

      Oh, wait, by "silly superstitions," you meant ideas like "life is sacred because God created it." Ideas accepted and elaborated by great minds throughout the centuries, which you so easily dismiss.

      Even without considering whether those "superstitions" are based on truth,

  • Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Is all this technology assisting with breeding a race of second rate homo sapiens?
    • by RobertKozak (613503) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:25AM (#15486005) Homepage
      Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Is all this technology assisting with breeding a race of second rate homo sapiens?

      As a group were are not first rate homo sapiens.

      There is natural selection and sexual selection. As long as ugly people, stupid people and politians* keep getting laid we will always be a race of second rate homo sapiens.

      * (also people who drive slow in the fast lane, people that try to take out a second mortgage through the ATM machine, RIAA lawyers, people that answer cell phones in the theatre, most of my ex girlfriends (but not their hot girlfriends), terrorists, people involved in the Garfield movie, the religious right, all those bullies from gym class, fanatics of any kind, people who like onions, dog owners that dont scoop, the people who invented rebate pricing, people who fart in the elevator just as the doors close and telemarketers. )

      ** NOTE TO MODERATORS: I would really prefer a +1 interesting over a +1 Funny.
      • ...There is natural selection and sexual selection. As long as ugly people, stupid people and politians* keep getting laid we will always be a race of second rate homo sapiens.

        * (also people who drive slow in the fast lane, people that try to take out a second mortgage through the ATM machine...


        Also people who say "ATM machine" and "PIN number".
    • by Surt (22457)
      Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Is all this technology assisting with breeding a race of second rate homo sapiens?

      Of course not. We're still constrained by survival of the fittest, just like always. It's the environment that's changing.

      Some people get advanced degrees and don't have kids. Some die crossing the street as children and don't reproduce. Etc. Etc. The rate of death before reproduction is still perfectly reasonably high, so the species is getting 'better' as much as any species
      • A 'grandfather', or two generations, is generally considered to be about 50 years. A few thousand generations is a few 25-thousand year blocks of time.

        you think it'll take 25000 years for changes to appear in the human race? Records over the past 1000 years alone show increased average height, larger brain cases and so on. A child looks like its parent - but also has variations from both parents. Step changes in evolution happen every few generations, or at a stretch every few tens of generations - not ever
        • by Surt (22457)
          I meant what I said. 25,000 years is in the right neighborhood.

          The changes in humans over the last thousand years are believed to be mostly nutritional, and it's likely we've seen most of the improvement we're going to see from that (note that developing countries, such as China are experiencing a height boom, and it's not from intermarrying with us). Plus our population pool is now much larger, so any drift is going to be that much slower to get established as a widespread preference.

          Every citation I cou
    • Survival of the fittest? It's still there...except now the criterion is the thickness of one's wallet.
    • Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Is all this technology assisting with breeding a race of second rate homo sapiens?

      Because homosapiens use intelligence to be the most fit to survive. That's why we're kicking ass!

    • natural selection tends to select out diseases that kill before child bearing age. That's why there are so many age-relaited diseases, but terminal diseases are much less common in children. Some diseases that typically emerge before child bearnng age are still around because at one time the genes that cause them may have had a bennefit (type 1 diebeties is fatal without insulin, which is yet the diesease has not been selected out). Some medical technology might be doing what you describe (for example, i
  • by itsthebin (725864) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:01AM (#15485942) Homepage

    why can't the people who object to this just put themselves on a 'do not clone register'.

  • by Jugalator (259273) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:02AM (#15485945) Journal
    I support cloning, because that's the only way I assume I'll reproduce. :-/
  • by CosmeticLobotamy (155360) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:02AM (#15485946)
    Harvard, doing its very best to ensure the guys running the Republicans have enough nonsense issues to keep control indefinitely.
  • Morality? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mantrid42 (972953) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:10AM (#15485969)
    I don't see where the big morality issue is. If you saw a man with a wife, children, friends and a job, and he was dying of some disease, as the rest of his family looks on helplessly, would you leave him to die if you had the option of saving him? Why does the life of an embryo with no family, or home, or even gurantee of survival, outweigh the life of someone who is already established in society; who loves and is loved, who has built up a life, and who would be sorely missed by many people? This is a pretty clear-cut moral decision.
    • by JonathanR (852748)
      But then how does she cash in his life insurance? This is a pretty clear-cut moral decision.
    • Not that I really disagree, but from the Devil's advocate point of view:

      Why does the life of an orphaned baby, with no family, home, or even guarantee of survival, outweigh the life of someone who is already established in society; who loves and is loved, who has ...

      To the people who consider an embryo a human life, the difference between embryo and baby is only in the amount of effort required to keep the child alive. Both will be guaranteed to perish without intervention. Both might live full happy live
    • Re:Morality? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LordLucless (582312)
      I don't know, would you go murder a homeless child, butcher it, remove it's heart, and take it to this man for a transplant? After all, the homeless child has no family, home, guarantee of survival, have not built up a life, and their death would probably go pretty much unnoticed.

      Most people seem to consider that all human life is equally valuable, no matter their station in life. You know, the whole "all men are created equal" thing. The real question is whether or not embryonic humans are really humans.
      • Re:Morality? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by rohan972 (880586)
        Good to see that someone else can cut to the chase on this. Although you may come to a different conclusion than I do, "Is the embryo human" is the one question that if answered would render most other arguements invalid. The way I think of it is: What are the consequences if I'm wrong?"

        In cricket, if there is doubt about a decision regarding a wicket being taken, the batsman is given "The benefit of the doubt", ie: since the batsman (if out) is out for the innings, but the bowler gets to bowl again, if th
    • Re:Morality? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by killjoe (766577) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:58AM (#15486081)
      You I guess I don't think it's bad that people die. They are going to die eventually anyway what a few years more or less. Let's face it most people aren't going to do anything all that great in their remaining years anyway.

      My father was supposed to die many years ago. The doctors permormed miracles and brought him back from the edge of death. But he is not the man he used to be. He suffers from many disabilities as a result of his illness and the operation used to save him. He is continually miserable too. He is my father, when he finally dies I am going to be profoundly sad and it's going to change my life but I still think he should have died back then. I don't believe in god and I don't think he is going to heaven or hell. I just think it was a mistake to force him to live when his body had given out, just to resurrect him as a crippled and sad old man. I hate seeing him this way and I have made sure I have a living will so that I will never be in his position either.
    • The big morality issue for me is where you draw the line between the destruction of an embryo being moral and immoral. If you're using the term embryo to refer to a potentially viable human being capable of maturing into a fully functional human being, then at what point does it deserve a degree of protection? Regardless of whether you draw your answers from God, Bob or his noodly appendage, it seems to me that you have to have reasonable grounds for making this kind of distinction, otherwise it's just ent
      • If you saw a man with a wife, children, friends and a job, and he was dying of some disease, as the rest of his family looks on helplessly, would you leave him to die if you had the option of saving him?

      We do it all the time.

      In this country (USA), where we have huge amounts of wealth, resources and expertise, we continue to place people in power who support the idea that first rate medical care is something only the rich can afford. The rest of the people get whatever can be cobbled together by so-calle

    • Re:Morality? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by caudron (466327) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @08:30AM (#15486365) Homepage
      Why does the life of an embryo with no family, or home, or even gurantee of survival, outweigh the life of someone who is already established in society; who loves and is loved, who has built up a life, and who would be sorely missed by many people?


      What you've done is base your reasoning on an emotional plea rather than a logical framework. It is a tragedy when someone so firmly entrenched in the human community passes from us---of that there can be no debate, and that depth of tragedy does not exist in cases of abortion, IVF, and other examples of the destruction of human embryos. We will all miss the guy with the family more than the embryo we never knew.

      But that was never the claim of those with a religious objection to the act. Religious and moral objections center around the question of the Rights of Man and at what stage in life those rights are accorded to us (Embryonic? Fetal? Infant? Puberty? Adulthood? etc...). The religious arguement is that those rights are accorded to each individual as soon as that individual comes into being. In short, "God bless everyone...no exceptions". Others argue that those rights are prematurely granted and shouldn't be accorded until birth. The law takes a graduated approach, saying that rights are accorded piecemeal as we move through the stages of life, and the most basic of rights (the Right to Life) is granted (conditionally) sometime around the third trimester of pregnancy.

      Nowhere in the discussion do the religious folk claim that the people who would be saved don't deserve to be saved, just that the price is too high.

      That argument in an (WAY) oversimplified nutshell: You and four others are in a hot air balloon and the balloon begiuns to sink into a volcano (too much weight!). Some quick calulations reveal that if just one of you jumped overboard the rest would survive. Do you toss someone overboard? If so, how do you determine who? Destruction of the embryo to save other lives is akin, in this argument, to saying that you determine the person to toss overboard by evaluating their life and determining which one has the fewest friends and family who will miss them, or alternatively by which is least capable of fending off the forced toss.

      There are, of course, arguements on boths sides and such implausible scenarios can always be gamed in logical debates like this, so don't carry it too far. I'm not trying to get into a tit-for-tat over the specifics of the fantasy example, but rather just trying to show you the gist of the argument.

      This is a pretty clear-cut moral decision.


      Many people would vehemently disagree with you. There are quite few "clear cut" moral decisions in life. If there were, we wouldn't need to argue so much about them.

      Disclaimer: I am against the destruction of embryos in this context for religious and moral reasons. I am not approaching this from an unbiased perspective (like anyone does!). Your mileage may vary. Do not stare at happy fun ball, etc.... :)

      Tom Caudron
      http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]
    • Re:Morality? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bob Uhl (30977)

      Why does the life of an embryo with no family, or home, or even gurantee of survival, outweigh the life of someone who is already established in society; who loves and is loved, who has built up a life, and who would be sorely missed by many people?

      The embryo's life doesn't outweigh the adult's; it is worth the same. Your question is much like asking why the life of a homeless man--with no family, or home or even guarantee of survival (they freeze to death all the time)--outweighs mine, for I'm establish

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @06:12AM (#15485974)
    The government will shut this down. Speaking as an American, and as one with a severely handicapped child, the day the United States values science that much over superstitious ignorance is the day pigs fly. For over ten years, I've only looked to other countries for scientific advancement. That's where I'm looking for the advancement of medical science, too, and I've been seeing it there.
  • I assert, from conviction, not from evidence, that viruses are alive, and therefore the Salk vaccine is immoral.
  • my opinion is that it does not, since there is not such a thing. But if there is...
    • by mapmaker (140036) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @07:09AM (#15486110)
      But if there is...

      Then identical twins only have half a soul each.

    • I find the concept of "soul" as commonly held to be antiquated and quaint.

      Aristotelean categories took Christian theology down a path of academic masturbation, and now we're left with the fallout: people who actually believe it's significant to ask questions like "Do clones have souls?", and the whole transubstantiation mess.

      The world would be much better off if Christendom hadn't embraced Helenism so wholeheartedly as a reaction to their institutionalized anti-Semitism. The Jews have a much more balanc

  • You know, I have always had a problem with things like this. Not because I'm a religious fanatic, not because I stand behind (your) Fearless (incompetant) leader (C), but rather because I have seen science do this quite often. It says, hey now THIS is a good idea! Let's throw it out into the world and see what happens. Then, as Malcolm from Jurassic Park, says: Nature finds a way to control what is being done. SO now we cure certain problems, and new ones will arise.
    Anyone ever think that some (certainly
    • I'd like to see most medications tested for at least 2 generations before being released -- it wouldn't halt everything, but it might stop a reoccurance of Thalidimide

      Did it occur to you that the benifit of releasing new drugs more rapidly out weights the risks? Take for example anti-HIV/AIDS medication. If we tested it for two generations not even the most primitive types would be available and there whould be a lot fewer people still living with HIV/AIDS. As another example consider new antibiotics -

  • by Colonel Angus (752172) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @07:22AM (#15486142)
    As someone who has loved ones afflicted with three of the four conditions mentioned, I'm all for it.

    I'm not religious. I don't believe that an embryo is a life. It's a collection of cells with the ability to become life if allowed to develop fully.

    Please don't mod this as flamebait or troll. I'm not alone. This just happens to be my point of view and I believe that if cures and treatments may be found from such research I will support it wholly until the day I die.

    It's been painful watching my Uncle deteriorate by the week. He's afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrigs). I've attended the funeral of a six-year-old girl who died of leukemia. My uncle has lost his sight due to diabetes.

    Those who oppose such research based on their religion, to me, are no better than those who deny life saving treatments to their children or themselves due to religious reasons. Religion makes people do things like this [dailytimes.com.pk].

    Why is it so hard to imagine that your God gave man the ability to do such things as a means to improve our lives?
    • by Bob Uhl (30977)

      I don't believe that an embryo is a life. It's a collection of cells with the ability to become life if allowed to develop fully.

      So when, in your opinion, does life begin? It's pretty obvious that birth is a poor milestone, since there's no real difference between a baby one minute before it's born and one minute afterwards. Viability's not good either, as it moves backward with medical progress: an unviable foetus thirty years ago may be perfectly viable now. What about the presence of certain major o

      • So when, in your opinion, does life begin?

        I really don't understand the difficulty here. When do we determine life *ends*? When the brain no longer functions, correct? So why not use the exact same metric to determine when life begins?
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)
        Hey, that's actually a good point -- souls can't split, but embryos can. Since stem cell researchers are after, well, stem cells, I suspect they'll be fine with harvesting their embryos at a point when they're still balls of mostly stem cells. If divided at that point they would happily grow into twins.

        I disagree that viability is the point where technology can sustain a fetus (or embryo, but that would be quite a trick -- embryos have neither red blood cells or alveoli in their lungs). Viability is when
  • by frietbsd (943773) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @07:41AM (#15486188)
    identical twins been doing this for years.
  • this is great news... I can now not bother with exercise, healthy food, etc and eat what I like, drink what I like, safe in the knowledge that the DNA I put in the fridge can be used to clone me a new healthy body ready for a brain transplant when my current body wears out.

    even better, I can ensure my new body/face is exceptionally good looking and thus I can be a film/rock star in my second "incarnation".

    the only snag is I'm too lazy to earn the money to pay for it all, but with my new patent on "body

  • What is an embryo? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Down_in_the_Park (721993) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @08:34AM (#15486389)
    I guess some of you have a quite expicit picture in your mind, a little less developed baby, as somebody here even said baby killer. May be you should know that cloning an embryo to "produce" stem cells means, that you have a developing human, yes, but this developing human is a little sphere of cells. This aggregation of cells becomes a blastocyst and one part of it becomes the embryo. Befor this happens you want to take out these cells, as these cells are omnipotent stem cells, which means they can develop and differenciate into different tissues, hopefully and only once there a implanted there. In the future they may even develop into tissue ex vivo i.e. outside of your body, but thats far fetched.

    If you say that this amount of cells are already a human being, than you have to monitor every female human, as natural failure after fertilization occurs every moment. Most women get pregnant and lose their "baby" in the first six weeks without even noticing.

    Cloning human (tissue even) is certainly something one should discuss, but keep in mind that you put a very high value on one unborn human, while the same society doesn't have any problem in spending 100 times more on military (and using it) than others on medicine.

    Furthermore all the implications this may have on society should be discussed; a longer life span, but less and less work for everybody (now a problem in europe and US, soon one in china and india), who will get the benefit, the one with money or everybody? In other words will we have rich 1000 year old and poor that won't reach the age of 80?

    Certainly a lot to discuss, but you have to get some background knowledge, otherwise it is just "I have a strong feeling against it"...
    • by Ihlosi (895663)
      If you say that this amount of cells are already a human being, than you have to monitor every female human, as natural failure after fertilization occurs every moment. Most women get pregnant and lose their "baby" in the first six weeks without even noticing.

      And the point of this is ... ?

      Just because lots of people die from cancer, myocardiac infarction and traffic accidents doesn't mean that intentionally killing people is allowed.

  • by unity100 (970058) * on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @09:16AM (#15486602) Homepage Journal
    We do not know at what point the consciousness starts to develop in human embryo. Without knowing this, in fact without not even knowing human psyche, it is plain murder to commit such 'research'.
    • by demigod (20497) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @10:22AM (#15487022)
      We do not know at what point the consciousness starts to develop in human embryo.

      I think we can be certain consciousness does not develop before the nervous system.

      From the article they are harvesting cells after 5 days and the nervous system starts to develop after 17 day [ifisiol.unam.mx].

      I assume that changes you mind about this, unless, of course, you think one can have consciousness without a nervous system.

  • Wait, huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Doches (761288) <Doches.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @09:54AM (#15486825)
    I'm seeing a lot of Slashdot comments suggesting that the Harvard researchers aren't going to get very far because the U.S. government is going to shut them down. There is no legislation (at the moment!) to support such an action; In the recent controversy over government regulation of stem cell research, Congress passed a law which denies federal funding to researchers who use artificially fertilized embryos to produce stem cell lines. The article specifically mentions that Harvard is doing this with private funding. They're home free; I wish 'em luck.
    • Re:Wait, huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WillAffleckUW (858324)
      The reality - the cold hard fact - is that scientific research will simply relocate to Taipei (which has a fine series of labs doing stem cell research), China (yes, they do this too), the Caribbean (many Dutch and French labs), or Europe.

      We either lose the genetic research race or we win it. Shutting the doors won't stop the research, it will just make we scientists do the research in other countries, which will then get the glory of the Nobel Prize.

      It's time to pay attention to the reality of research -
  • by Luscious868 (679143) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @09:55AM (#15486826)
    Let's add a check box to the IRS form. Check it if you want some of your tax dollars used to fund this kind of research, don't check it if you are opposed.

    If you've always opposed this kind of research then you are not allowed to benefit from any of the treatments that may come about as a result of it. Let's see what these social conservatives have to say if it leads to cures or significant improvements in treating some of these horrible diseases somewhere down the line should they themselves become afflicted. Any nut job who takes things on "faith" (aka they believe absolutely in what they read in a book and/or in what they are told to believe in by others without any other outside supporting evidence) should not be allowed to make scientific and/or medical decisions for the rest of the country.

    I don't hear many of these social conservatives bitching and moaning that their tax dollars are being used to fund the war in Iraq. Not a peep about their tax dollars being used to execute inmates. The whole "sanctity of life" principle as espoused by social conservatives is kind of selective thing, isn't it? How convenient ...

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