Despite the number of credible scientists who argued against human cloning, the Australian Senate nonetheless went ahead and voted for it to occur here. Not only have scientists been warning about the dangerous direction of cloning, but many women’s groups have also voiced their concerns.
Monique Baldwin is both a scientist and a woman, and her concerns should be given a fair hearing. She argues that cloning is bad news for women, and should be avoided altogether.
Writing in the November 8, 2006 Melbourne Age, so warns, “Do not allow exploitation’. She makes the case pretty clearly. We cannot get embryonic stem cells unless we first have embryos, and we cannot have embryos without women’s eggs. And it is the getting of the eggs that is so problematic.
Says Baldwin: “As a scientist, I believe the provisions that allow stem cell research in Australia are already very generous. The existing legislation allows research on human embryonic stem cells using excess embryos from IVF programs. Scientists here have used only 179 excess IVF embryos from more than 104,000 embryos in storage, yet they are asking for more embryos, deliberately cloned to be destroyed.”
And to get the number of embryos required will take a whole lot of eggs: “Cloning human embryos is dependent on a continuous supply of women’s eggs. How many eggs? No scientist can tell us because no one really knows. The Korean researchers led by Hwang Woo-suk used more than 2000 eggs without producing a single human clone. Pro-cloning advocates dismiss the claim that thousands of eggs would be required for cloning, suggesting only a few embryonic stem cell lines will be required to study specific diseases. But if scientists want to create disease-specific ES cell lines via cloning, they will need a sufficient number for specific patients. On present evidence, even if it could be done at all it would likely require hundreds of eggs per ‘success’.”
Getting the eggs will be problematic, and most likely lead to egg-buying: “Where will all the eggs come from? Scientists are up-front about wanting large numbers of freshly obtained human ova, perhaps even within an hour of collection. But they still can’t tell us how to do that in a way that is safe for women. . . . However, acquiring thousands of eggs will take more than an appeal to the altruism of volunteers. In the US, scientists are begging for permission to pay women for their eggs. ‘Do you want the research to go ahead or not?’ cried Robert Lanza of the US company Advanced Cell Technology. The UK licensing authority has approved commercial incentives. This is despite the fact that the research has been legal for only a few years. If research cloning is given the tick, it will pave the way for a commercial trade in eggs here. Disadvantaged and marginalised women will be most at risk.”
Egg extraction is an onerous, and often unsafe, activity: “Egg extraction involves weeks of psychological and medical testing, followed by more than a week of hormone injections. When the time is right, the donor is sedated as a doctor uses a long needle to pierce the wall of the vagina, access the ovaries and extract the eggs. One cycle typically produces seven or eight usable eggs. Up to 10 per cent of women develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a painful condition that is sometimes fatal. Some research points to reproductive cancers in later life.”
Baldwin cites some scientists who even question the need for embryo experimentation. Yet women are still being asked to undergo these risky medical procedures. “Standard scientific method demands that animal experimentation precede any experimentation on human beings. This animal research has to be exhaustive to prevent all possible harm to the sick patients you are trying to save. It makes no difference how many papers on ESCs have been published since 2002 because they go nowhere. Not a single one demonstrates that ESCs can be used safely in humans. How can we ask women to provide informed consent to a risky procedure to extract their eggs when there is insufficient evidence from animal studies to prove a need for cloning?”
Concludes Baldwin, “There are no credible reasons to approve cloning. All the experiments to justify a need for cloning can be done right now under the existing legislation. There is no scientific justification for pursuing cloning and putting the lives of Australian women at risk. A yes vote will reduce the status of women to mere producers of biological goods.”
While many of us would argue that experimentation on leftover IVF embryos is also ethically problematic, she is quite right to argue that a very clear line must be drawn at human cloning.