Saturday, December 31, 2005

"Human cloning was always a scientific roadshow" - Great article by Mark Henderson, science correspondent of The Times, agrees with everything that the anti-cloning lobby has been saying for years. Great. So can we ban cloning now?

After over a month of revelations that the media-described cloning "superstar", Woo Suk Hwang, from Korea had exploited a junior researcher to obtain human eggs and finally confirmation that he had in fact not cloned any embryos at all, ("BBC S Korea cloning research was fake (23/12/05)", Mark Henderson science correspondent of Times has written an article headlined " The retreat of the clones One scientist's fêted work has been discredited, but human cloning was always a scientific roadshow". Given the initial enthusiasm with which most of the media greeted Hwang's cloning announcement in May 2005 and obscured the arguments see BBC interviews cardiologist opposed to cloning but fails to ask him about adult stem cell success with cardiology (even though a careful reading of the scientific paper revealed that the clones would have the same diseases as the patients they were cloned from and therefore could not be used in treatment), this dismissal of cloning as scientifically flawed is something of an amazing but very welcome development. Finally the point that cloning is flawed is being given proper attention. Take just one example about the number of human eggs needed for so-called therapeutic cloning, Mark Henderson says in his article:

"Cloned embryos might be the ideal source of therapeutic stem cells, but they are not going to be a practical one for the foreseeable future. To create them, one must first have plenty of human eggs, and this raw material is in very short supply. Egg donation is complicated and risky for the donor, and there are insufficient quantities available to treat infertile couples, let alone to serve regenerative medicine. The idea there will be enough to treat Britain’s 120,000 Parkinson’s patients, let alone two million diabetics, with tailor-made clones is monumentally far-fetched."

I couldn’t agree more. That cloning is massively impractical and unlikely to work was an argument used by all the anti-cloning groups across the world repeatedly, including Student LifeNet which campaigned in 2000 against cloning legislation when I was in my final year at university drawing attention to the 101 reasons to oppose cloning including exploitation of women for eggs and calling for a proper debate and across the Atlantic, the American Senate heard testimony from a pro-abortion organisation who opposed cloning because of the exploitation of women.The facts for anyone who chose to listen are definitive as this cloning fact from Americans to Ban Cloning shows, Where Will They Get the Eggs? 12/03/02 :

“Let’s review the math. More than 100 million people in the United States suffer from medical conditions for which embryonic stem cell therapies are being promoted as promising – Parkinson’s disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, juvenile diabetes, and more… would take 800 million eggs just to treat just 16 percent of the Americans who suffer from conditions for which therapies involving cloned embryonic stem cells have been promised. If ten eggs are harvested per woman, then 80 million women of childbearing age would have to submit to the risks of drugs that induce hyper-ovulation and a surgical extraction procedure to provide the eggs that would be needed to develop therapies for just a fraction of those who are suffering from these conditions…. The “egg dearth” is a mathematic certainty. It is one reason why researchers say that therapeutic cloning will not be a generally available medical treatment. For example, a year ago biotech researchers Jon S. Odorico, Dan S. Kaufman, and James A. Thompson admitted the following in the research journal Stem Cells: “The poor availability of human oocytes (eggs), the low efficiency of the nuclear cell procedure, and the long population-doubling time of human ES cells make it difficult to envision this [therapeutic cloning to obtain stem cells] becoming a routine clinical procedure even if ethical considerations were not a significant point of contention.”

So where was the media’s reporting of these facts over the last five years? Mostly the media have overlooked the arguments. It has become normal to recite that prolife groups are opposed to cloning in quite a boring way. But the facts are so overwhelmingly against cloning that there has been some very good journalism too. In 2001, the editorial of the New Scientist described UK Ministers “like old records” out of touch with international scientific opinion in the same week as the UK Government rushed through the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill – November 2001 claiming that therapeutic cloning was necessary for medicine when the majority of bench scientists thought it was a waste of time. As the ProLife Alliance pointed out at the time in numerous press releases about their judicial review of the Government, and Cloning Remains Blockedwhat was needed was a proper and thorough debate of the facts, the kind of thing that should be standard when passing laws, nothing exceptional.

Instead, the Government rushed through loopy legislation purporting to ban cloning (live birth) while allowing the cloning of embryos still. If there had been a proper debate instead, everyone would have come to the conclusion that the New Scientist were aware of in 2001 and that Mark Henderson writes now in 2005, that cloning is “a scientific roadshow” and cures from cloning are “monumentally far-fetched”. There was no rush for cloning legislation in 2000. There was plenty of time for debate and reflection.

So Mark Henderson’s analysis is very welcome. Like the journalists who properly pursued the story that Hwang had exploited a junior researcher for eggs and fabricated all the results, the public depends on rigorous evidence based journalism to ensure that the claims of the biotech lobby are properly questioned and that scientists do not go beyond proper ethical boundaries. It is right that the public should know the truth about cloning because it involves the destruction of embryos, the dehumanising exploitation of women for eggs, and the massive waste of time and money that could be spent on further ethically unproblematic treatments using bone marrow and umbilical cord stem cells that is already proving promising but adult stem cell research needs funding that is being wasted on cloning. And if a scientist manages to get fraudulent work published in Science (which should never have happened in the first place) it is entirely proper that this work is publicly retracted. Credit too to the BBC for giving this proper top story coverage in order to correct the misleading impressions created by the overly pro-Korean cloning reports in May 2005.

But having agreed with Mark Henderson’s conclusion, it is curious that he arrives at exactly the same conclusion as the anti-cloning lobby, namely that cures from cloning is “monumentally farfetched” due to the need for vast numbers of eggs, while strangely attacking the anti-cloning lobby for holding this same view, saying that the revelations of scientific fraud and exploitation of a researcher for eggs has “played into the hands of the technology’s opponents” whereas in fact the explotation of women for eggs exists whether or not Hwang personally exploited a junior researcher as the United Nations stated in a declaration passed in February 2005.

Far from seizing on the international scandal of Hwang’s fraud, the anti-cloning lobby has always been very interested in the science of cloning and in the much more efficacious use of adult stem cells and non-embryonic stem cells, and this has been a main feature of opposition, simply that cloning does not work, so why destroy embryos pointlessly and exploit women and patients when perfectly good ethical alternatives exist? The ProLife Alliance has consistently and thoroughly put forward a comprehensive case against cloning as unethical and unnecessary and is currently backing a legal challenge against the first UK cloning licence on the grounds that it is unlawful (as research could be carried out without cloning).

Simplifying the anti-cloning case to simply opposition to the destruction of embryos, ignores the fact that there are 101 arguments (as Student LifeNet put it) against human cloning. The fact that it doesn’t work and is exploitative of women is a very good reason to ban it – these were key arguments last February when the United Nations passed a declaration against human cloning. The exploitation of women is such a serious point that if this was the only argument against cloning then cloning should be banned worldwide. Way back in February 2004, when the Koreans announcement that they had cloned an embryo, the ProLife Alliance said “'Not only does this technology abuse embryos but it also exploits women, exposing them to the risks of superovulatory drugs and using them as egg farms. We would all welcome the development of treatments for conditions, such as Parkinson's disease and Multiple Sclerosis and are greatly encouraged by the successful use of adult stem cells.'Leading stem-cell researchers, Dr Thomson, Professor Trounson and Thomas Okarma have all indicated that they are not optimistic about the future for therapeutic cloning because of the low efficiency of the procedures, risk of abnormalities and the fact that the product of an expensive and time-consuming procedure is only useful to the donor.'"

Henderson says for example that “Embryo rights activists who object not only to cloning but to any use of ES cells” .... but he doesn’t explain why we oppose the use of embryonic stem cells and fails to mention that embryonic stem cells have many scientific flaws including their tendency to cause cancerous tumours and be rejected as not compatible with the patient, whereas adult stem cells have already been used in treatment and are compatible with the patient from which the stem cells are taken – ie. Bone marrow to treat heart patients, nasal stem cells to treat spinal cord injury. (see CORE )

Henderson says the anti-cloning lobby have “seized on Hwang’s downfall to stir public doubts about the probity and potential of the entire field. If the stem cell emperor is clothed in nothing but hype and deception, they contend, shouldn’t this research be shut down? Does it really deserve the £520 million that Britain is being urged to invest over the next decade? This argument, however, rests on a pair of fallacies. Hwang’s reprehensible behaviour does not in any way justify ad hominem attacks on other scientists, such as Alison Murdoch, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, who are pursuing similar work. That one researcher has fabricated data does not mean that others are bound to do the same, and Britain’s strict embryo research rules provide strong safeguards that should prevent similar abuses here.”

Actually it is entirely legitimate to ask whether if Hwang was able to get away with it for so many months and even fooled the internationally renowned scientific journal Science, what about the cloning claims of UK researchers? Henderson doesn’t mention that in fact the Newcastle scientists were rebuked by the scientific journal Nature for rushing their results out on Reproductive Biomedicine Online without proper peer review. Neither does Henderson mention the legal case against the Newcastle cloning licence which is based on the lack of scientific detail in the cloning application. It is naïve to say that Britain has strict embryo research rules. We have the most destructive embryo research laws in the world! Thousands of embryos are destroyed each year, and licences are given for research by the HFEA which is an unaccountable quango.

But perhaps most objectionable of all is Henderson’s point that “critics are also exploiting a common misconception that therapeutic cloning and stem cell research are essentially the same thing.” I am not alone in being frustrated that the media as a whole lumps stem cell research altogether and doesn’t explain that we support adult stem cell research and non-embryonic stem cell sources like the placenta, amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood whereas we oppose embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Even a brief look at either CORE or shows that these organisations are meticulously accurate in discussing the exact source of stem cell.

For example on the 5th August, CORE issued a statement that “research published in the Journal of Stem Cells reveals that the placenta contains some 300 million amniotic epithelial cells which can be transformed into liver, heart, nerve and pancreatic cells to treat disease. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh predict that if these cells were retained for research rather than discarded, they could easily be multiplied to between 10 billion and 60 billion cells to provide a limitless source of ethical cells to treat disease. ‘CORE has always advocated research on tissue obtained from ethical sources including the placenta,’ said a spokesperson for Comment on Reproductive Ethics. We are delighted that this research is gaining international recognition and serious funding in the United States with grants from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.’” These are cells that are being discarded in hospitals every day.

Ironically, nowhere in Henderson’s article does he mention that adult stem cells and umbilical cord sources of stem cells exist! It is the media that needs to be much more accurate when it discusses stem cell research.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

UK researcher dismisses promising research using adult stem cells on the grounds that the US has a political agenda... so how would he respond to UK research into treating spinal cord damage with nasal stem cells since that is happening in London?!

The BBC reports that a woman from Merseyside's will travel to the Netherlands to receive the world's first umbilical cord stem cell treatment for Ataxia. Umbilical cord stem cells have already been used successfully to treatmultiple schlerosis sufferers. The day after the report about Ataxia, the BBC reported further promising research from the United States about adult stem cells. As part of the same report, the BBC quotes the dismissive comments from a UK embryonic stem cell researcher who downplays the success of adult stem cells as part of the "political agenda" in the States. This is ironic for two reasons. Firstly, political agenda or no political agenda, it should be a cause for joy if medical research using adult stem cells is leading to possible treatments and cures because this provides an ethical alternative to destroying embryos for research.

If the real aim of scientists is the cure and treatment of patients and they support all avenues of research, why not encourage research using adult and umbilical cord stem cells, why be against an avenue of research that has no ethical problems? Even if the ethical problems with embryonic stem cells did not exist, they are hardly close to delivering treatments, adult stem cells are ahead for a vast range of conditions and have technical advantages over the problems of embryonic stem cells. Lastly, less than two weeks ago, on 30th November, the Guardian reported "The nose cells that may help the paralysed walk again - Surgeons in London to try revolutionary stem cell technique on crash victims"". Ten operations on young people who have spinal cord damage as a result of motor bike accidents willbe carried out. The team is being led by the neuroscientist Geoffrey Raisman, who heads the spinal repair unit of University College, London and has been researching the use of nasal stem cells for 20 years and has proved that the treatment works in animal models.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

University of Oslo researchers find that abortion causes more longer term anguish than miscarriage

The Telegraph, BBC News Online and The Daily Mail all report research from the University of Oslo published in the journal BMC Medicine that shows that abortion causes women more longer term anguish than the immediate anguish experienced six months and a year after a miscarriage. One of the key statistics highlighted in the Telegraph editorial is that five years after a miscarriage, less than 3% of the women who suffered a miscarriage demonstrated distress, whereas 20% of the women who had an abortion showed symptoms of distress. The reports draw welcome attention to the need for support for women.

Predictably, proabortion organisations like BPAS and the Family Planning Association, which are responsible for carrying out the terminations and lobby for abortion to be allowed at any time up to birth, and for any reason, immediately dismissed the research. BPAS is quoted saying that women do not return to BPAS for counselling following abortion, but it doesn't take much understanding or empathy to imagine a woman who has suffered and does not want to return to the clinic that was responsible for carrying out the abortion in the first place. How likely is it that staff whose whole business is the daily termination of life would sympathise with a woman grieving for her child, which BPAS repeatedly describes as the product of conception?

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians is reported as saying "It has always been considered, and this study also shows, that the decision to terminate may bring with it long-standing feelings of anxiety and guilt.... when necessary, the need for ongoing support and counselling should be recognised and appropriate help given.". But until women are no longer kept in the dark or given only proabortion propaganda, but have a right to know more about the reality of the abortion procedure, the baby’s development and the physical and psychological risks in advance of undergoing an abortion and have alternative options and the negatives of abortion fully spelt out rather than hidden from them by the abortion agencies, they cannot be said to have a real choice. Counselling can only genuinely help women if it precedes abortion not just attempts to alleviate the trauma that could have been avoided. It also must be mandatory, proper funded, professionally run, and carried out by organisations independent of the abortion providers and genuinely sympathetic to the woman’s loss.

Proabortion agencies who go to incredible lengths to avoid the word “baby” are unlikely to want to carry out the researchers recommendation that women should be given information about the psychological effects of losing a baby from miscarriage or abortion. It is standard practice to refer to the baby following a miscarriage as a baby, so how can society pretend that a baby of the same gestation that is deliberately aborted is intrinsically any different?

The Telegraph has a superb editorial which draws the logical and important conclusion that "every month, medical research or horrifying news stories strengthen the argument - and public support - for a tightening of Britain's abortion laws" and obviously that counselling is not a solution in itself as in "the short term, more post-abortion counselling is needed. In the long term, the need for it should be reduced by a change in the law." The Telegraph is right to say that the current abortion limit of 24 weeks (and up to birth for abortion on grounds of disability) is “appallingly high”, however the main subject is that women suffer distress regardless of the gestation of the baby so women need help and support before any abortion and the numbers of abortions overall should be reduced, in order to reduce the harm done to women currently pressurised into abortions.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Front page where it should be - Official inquiry into the 50 babies that are born alive after botched NHS abortions AND 28 year old survivor of 7 month abortion speaks against abortion

It is commonplace for the killing of a child to be front page on newspapers and for politicians to state that it will never happen again, but in spite of the scandals surrounding botched abortions and reports that babies have been born alive in February and August, until Monday 28th November, no newspaper had given the babies that survive abortions front page coverage. Finally this week, the infanticide of babies, born alive following abortion, received serious attention in at least 2 newspapers, and this time it was not just description without action, but the promise of a serious inquiry into the issue, welcome both on democratic and human rights grounds. The Sunday Times and Daily Mail (front page) reports that there will be an investigation by the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH) into the fifty babies a year which are born alive after abortion.

The Confidential Inquiry is a hugely important step forward in treating this issue with the seriousness that it requires and addressing the awfulness of highly developed babies being killed by feticide, placed in intensive care with horrific injuries due to deliberate medical practice, or struggling to survive after being born alive. The survey of 31 babies born in northwest England between 1996 and 2001 following abortions after 18 weeks appeared in the August edition of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and is commented on here. It revealed that babies were being born alive after abortions at 18 weeks, and are being left to die and struggling to breathe for up to 5 hours, raising concerns about the numbers of babies affected throughout the country. That was in August and still the practice of babies being aborted at late gestations continues without any democratic scrutiny.

It is disgraceful that to date, abortion agencies both NHS facilities, funded by the public and private facilities which should never be outside of the law, have been able to get away without any public scrutiny or accountability - quite literally getting away with infanticide. The report in the BJOG, despite being written by proabortion authors admitted that official guidelines are being ignored, including the midwives code of practice and BMA guidelines which state that the baby if born alive must receive medical care. It is not necessary to be a professor in obstetrics to agree with Professor Stuart Campbell, who pioneered the 4D ultrasound images of the baby at 12 and 14 weeks, that medicine that results in a baby born crying following an abortion at 19 weeks and is left to die or harmed by the brutality of the abortion procedure is the victim of "substandard medicine". It is difficult to see how it can be described as medicine at all.

The abortion agencies continue to obscure the barbaric nature of how abortions are carried out and how highly developed babies are during the second and third trimester. It is time that pro-abortion claims were interrogated properly by a sceptical media. They have been given a free ride for too long. The abortion groups are keen to stress that there are only small numbers of abortions at later gestations. However, as the Sunday Times points out, there were 7,432 abortions at 18 weeks or more last year. Hardly small. The public have a right to facts. The Sunday Times also points out that "70%-80% of babies in their 23rd or 24th week of gestation now survive long-term." Not for the first time it is pointed out Britain is out of step with Europe wiht the highest legal limit for terminations (24 weeks or up to birth on grounds of disability), compared to France and Germany which limit so-called “social” abortions to the 10th and 12th weeks.

Most of all debate on the issue of abortion should be grounded in facts, not pro-abortion euphemism and vagueness. Both the Sunday Times and Daily Mail reported that a 28 year old American woman is currently speaking in Irish universities and will be speaking in the UK about surviving an abortion. Her story urgently needs to be heard:

My name is Gianna Jessen. I am 19 years of age. I am originally from California, but now reside in Franklin, Tennessee. I am adopted. I have cerebral palsy. My biological mother was 17 years old and seven and one-half months pregnant when she made the decision to have a saline abortion. I am the person she aborted. I lived instead of died. Fortunately for me the abortionist was not in the clinic when I arrived alive, instead of dead, at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of April 6, 1977. I was early, my death was not expected to be seen until about 9 a.m., when he would probably be arriving for his office hours. I am sure I would not be here today if the abortionist would have been in the clinic as his job is to take life, not sustain it. Some have said I am a "botched abortion", a result of a job not well done.

...I have met other survivors of abortion. They are all thankful for life. Only a few months ago I met another saline abortion survivor. Her name is Sarah. She is two years old. Sarah also has cerebral palsy, but her diagnosis is not good. She is blind and has severe seizures. The abortionist, besides injecting the mother with saline, also injects the baby victims. Sarah was injected in the head. I saw the place on her head where this was done. When I speak, I speak not only for myself, but for the other survivors, like Sarah, and also for those who cannot yet speak ...

see Gianna Jessen's testimony given before the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on April 22, 1996. here

see also Telegraph 4th December Gianna Jessen was aborted at 7½ months. She survived. Astonishingly, she has forgiven her mother for trying to kill her.

an extract from the Sunday Telegraph interview:
..."at 17 months, Miss Jessen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, caused by her brain being starved of oxygen during the termination. "The doctors said I was in a horrible state," she says. "They said I would never be able to lift up my head, but eventually I did. "Then they said I would never be able to sit up straight, but I sat up straight. Then they said I would never be able to walk, but by the age of three I was walking with a frame and leg braces." She pauses before adding: "I have a little bit of feistiness in me."
It is this "little bit of feistiness" that has enabled her to become a full-time disability rights and anti-abortion campaigner. Although she lives in Nashville, Tennessee, she travels the world to talk about her experience and, last year, ran her first marathon in seven-and-a-half hours. She is entered in the London Marathon next April for the Stars Organisation for Cerebral Palsy, a charity that raises funds with the help of celebrities, and hopes to better her time. "I'll be running furiously till then, trying out my brand new leg muscles," she says, with a laugh.

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