Monday, January 02, 2006

Pro-cloning spin? You decide: Either The Times is right and "stem cell medicine was never going to depend on clones" or The Guardian is right and "Research that gave hope to millions of people with incurable diseases has been put "back on the starting line" by one of the worst cases of scientific fraud"

Having met a commercial lobbyist once who said he advised the biotech lobby in the UK in 2000 to concentrate on evoking images of cured patients in order to win support for human cloning, I wasn't surprised to see an article in the Guardian opening in the aftermath of all the negative publicity of the cloning scandal by the previously highly respected Korean cloner, with the words "Research that gave hope to millions of people with incurable diseases has been put "back on the starting line" by one of the worst cases of scientific fraud". Transparently as Wesley J Smith points out on his blog, Second Hand Smoke Current Spin: Hwang Fraud Not a Setback For Science (05/01/06) this is a means to counter some of the criticism and bad press surrouding cloning. Not only is the idea that cloning will lead to treatments factually untrue because cloning is practically difficult requiring vast numbers of eggs, as Mark Henderson pointed out in the Times HUman cloning was always a scientific roadshow (30/12/05), but it is also a strange way of putting it as though an act of fraud makes any difference to cloning's success.The point is not the act of fraud setting back cloning research, but the fact that cloning is so difficult that the scientist fabricated the results because he had no actual success to show. Moreover, contrary to patients' hopes being dashed by revelations of fraud, it is surely in patients' interest to know the truth. The truth is that cloning is unlikely to work, yet patients' hopes were raised says more about cloning hype and spin that allowed Hwang to get away with his cloning claims in the first place, even though it plainly stated in the research paper that the cloned embryos would not be able to be used in treatment because they would have the same condition as the patients they were cloned from.

The Guardian headline, "Cloning fraud hits search for stem cell cures " is therefore wrong on several different levels at once. Fraud does not help scientific endeavour, in fact it obscures it, so the cloning fraud revelations help the search for cures. At the same time, if cloning was never going to deliver cures anyway for the "millions of patients" in the Guardian's opening paragraph, which is recognised internationally, HUman cloning was always a scientific roadshow (30/12/05) then it is just as well that this avenue does not consume time and resources which would delay cures, even ignoring the ethical problems with cloning. Finally, by quoting patient groups that support cloning research and the use of embryos, the Guardian conveys the impression that the only avenue for cures is cloning and embryo research, failing to mention the success and promise of non-embryonic sources of stem cells such as bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and nasal stem cells.

Equally unsurprising as pro-cloning spin was the report in the Scotsman "Dying can aid stem cell research" which wasn't as I expected about the ethically acceptable donation of organs after natural death which I fully support, but Dolly-the-sheep cloner, Ian Wilmut's advocacy that embryonic stem cells should be tested on dying patients. The idea that terminally ill patients should be used as guinea pigs is clearly worthy of a shock headline or two, especially when it is casually mentioned that the purpose should be "saving their lives or at least speeding up the pace of research" which raises questions about what the risk to the patient would be from experimental treatment, whether they would be worse of by having embryonic stem cells injected which are known to cause tumours to form (which makes any possibility of clinical trials unethical, an issue raised at the Medical Research Council conference in November 2002), and seems massively premature as a suggestion at the very time when the Guardian is stating that embryonic stem cell research has been "put back to the starting line" because of the cloning fraud. Hardly the moment to try these cells out on the terminally ill. The use of human beings in research is an ethical boundary that should not be crossed unless it is demonstratably clear that the treatment has no harmful effects at all. That is not the case with embryonic stem cells. The Scotsman quoted Ainsley Newson, a researcher in medical ethics at Imperial College London as greeting "Prof Wilmut's idea with cautious optimism". This does not bode particularly well although she was quoted as saying that "all other avenues have been exhausted" - that experiments with animals have been tried, that terminally ill patients are not being exploited and that participants are aware preliminary research may only benefit future generations." In the light of the Guardian article and the spin surrounding embryonic stem cell research, it is questionable how realistic and accurate patients' understanding of the reality of embryonic stem cell research is, or for that matter that adult stem cells and non-embryonic stem cell sources are more likely to work.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't usually comment, but love learning from what you write.

Thanks

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Why do you think the Media is against the pro-life side of the argument?

Why was abortion made legal in the first place?

Why do people who are in favour of abortion have a monopoly on the Human Rights angle?

What do you think the main reasons are for women choosing abortion? If abortion was made illegal how would you solve the issues which lead women to make the abortion choice?

How do you react to the argument that if it was not legal that there would be 'back street' abortions. Also, would there be any occasion where abortion would be ok? (ie, if the child was concieved through rape or would be born a vegtable or threten the mother's health).

9:00 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

thanks very much for the kind comment, anonymous, would be interested in any thoughts you have. best wishes.

Nick, thanks for posting. As your comments are about abortion rather than cloning, I'll answer them here: http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=14922747&postID=113304444401659374

10:53 AM  
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