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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

The Future of Stem Cells

Disease Research Hindered by Reproductive Cloning Threat, Experts Say
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Deliberate Confusion

That's not likely to happen, says Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of the center for bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

"Of course the issues should be separate," Caplan tells WebMD. "But as sensible as this seems to be, the critics of stem cell research see that to split the issues is to lose the debate. Many of those who support a total ban on cloning would back off if reproductive cloning were off the table. It is specifically mixed up by those who are critical of stem cell research. They want to fuzz the line because that is their best bet to ban everything."

Buried in the debate is an ethical issue. That's the question of whether the collection of human cells known as a blastocyte is a human being. If the blastocyte is healthy -- and many blastocytes formed by SCNT are flawed -- and if it is transferred into a human womb, it might grow into a fetus, though it's unlikely.

One argument advanced by some abortion opponents is that a woman's egg is a human being from the moment it is fertilized. Banning research on stem cells -- particularly on human blastocytes, even if they've never been placed in a woman's body -- might set a legal precedent for banning abortion.

"Opposition to abortion is the 900-pound monster hiding behind this confusion of stem cell research with reproductive cloning," Caplan says. "They think that if we're all frightened enough about cloning people, they can get legislation saying that embryos are human from the moment of conception. That would help them get a ban on abortion."

Cloning and Stem Cell Research

Can stem cell research proceed without cloning? Yes and no, says Alta Charo [SHARE-row], JD, professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Cloning is something that is not essential to stem cell research," Charo tells WebMD. "Most research will go on with discarded embryos from reproduction assistance clinics."

But some important research will require the use of cloning techniques, although there might be less confusing ways to talk about it.

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