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Stem Cells

[recorded for NPR "Morning Edition" December 2003; postponed to wait for a "news hook," eventually lost in a system crash]

When reports of human cloning first began appearing in the news, a lot of us had the initial reaction, "You’re kidding, right?" They weren’t kidding. This bizarre field of medical research is rarin’ to go. We don’t have much time to consider the question: should it?
The idea of a full-grown human clone is creepy enough, but what about cloning for medical purposes—making an embryo with a patient’s cells, then killing it to use in the patient’s treatment? Even here we know instinctively that something’s wrong. We know it isn’t right to mix up a baby in a test tube and then, when it starts growing, chop it up for medicine. It isn’t right to make medicine out of people.
What confuses us is the terrible suffering these patients endure. They hope this new research will ease their pain and lengthen their lives. Their situations are heart-rending, and as we look at their anguish we feel like we’d do anything to help.
But, when we think about it, we know that isn’t *literally* true. There are things we wouldn’t do, no matter how much it would help. We wouldn’t kill prisoners to get their kidneys, so our friends won’t have to go on dialysis. We wouldn’t buy black-market babies and take their corneas, so blind children could see. There are ways of treating illness that might actually work, but we simply wouldn’t use them, because we know they’re wrong.
This is where medical science stands, asking us if it should proceed. Stem cells from cloned embryos, they say, might be useful in many ways. It’s up to us to ask the prior question: *should* a human life be created, then destroyed, merely to be useful? Should humans be treated  like livestock, bred to supply replacement parts? We have to answer no. To those researchers we have to say: Don’t fool around making tiny human beings just to destroy them. There are other promising sources for stem cells, which don’t involve killing anybody-cells from umbilical cords, or the patient’s own cells. Use those.

Some will call us cruel for drawing this line, but history has shown that when science hits a roadblock, it does its most creative thinking. Something better than cloning is waiting to be discovered-something that won’t come at the price of our very humanity.

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