Jason Pontin

A View from Jason Pontin

Two Kinds of Potential

Writing in Science, South Korean researchers Dr Woo Suk and Dr. Shin Young Moon of Seoul University announced what Gina Kolata at The New York Times calls “a high efficently recipe for producing human embryos through cloning, and then…

  • May 20, 2005

Writing in Science, South Korean researchers Dr Woo Suk and Dr. Shin Young Moon of Seoul University announced what Gina Kolata at The New York Times calls “a high efficently recipe for producing human embryos through cloning, and then extracting their stem cells.” It is, in fact, a very significant breakthrough for therapeutic cloning. Stem cells created by therapeutic cloning are exact matches of the donor, and will be used to study the genetic blueprint for certain maddening diseases likes Parkinson’s. Scientists hope therapeutic cloning will one day be used to replace cells destroyed by a variety of genetically implicated diseases.

The Koreans produced no less than 11 stem cell lines from donors that ranged in age from 2 to 56! This is the same research team that produced a single stem cell line from a cloned embryo. This is very, very cool stuff, providing researchers with a new order of tools. In my opinion, therapeutic cloning has more potential to ease human suffering than the biotechnology revolution of the 1970s. But in this country the Korean breakthrough will inevitably be seen through the prism of the debate about “the culture of life”–that is, the political and religious arguments about abortion. The debate is depressing because it is intractable, and life scientists do themselves no favors by pretending otherwise. Human embryos are destroyed in harvesting stem cells from cloned blastocysts (pictured); if one believes (see The New Altantis for a highly intelligent, civilized form of bioconservatism) that the potentiality for human life has the same moral value as the life of a child or adult human, one must necessarily believe that therapeutic cloning is murder.

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