By Hilary White
NEWCASTLE, April 19, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pro-life groups and a U.S. bioethics expert have condemned the creation of cloned human embryos with “three parents,” announced by scientists at Newcastle University last week. In a report published April 14 in the journal Nature, the researchers said that they expect children to be born via the process within three years, should the law be changed to allow it.
Anthony Ozimic, the communications manager for the UK’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), called for an immediate halt to such research, saying, “Scientists should stop killing and abusing human beings in experiments.”
While an article by Naturenews, the website of the journal, used ambiguous language to describe the procedure, it clearly stated that the purpose of the research was to create viable embryos, free of mitochondrial genetic disease, that could be brought to term.
Dianne Irving, a U.S. expert in bioethics told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that, despite the media’s reluctance to use the term, the article is describing human cloning. The procedure described, she said, although similar to a technique called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT), is more accurately called “pronuclei transfer, a form of cloning.” In this research, she said, instead of replacing the nucleus of the embryo with one taken from a mature body cell, as in SCNT, the material was taken from the pronuclei of another embryo.
The media has widely reported this breakthrough as the creation of embryos with “three parents” – referring to the adult parents of the donated embryos. But because the organic material was actually taken from the embryonic human beings, Irving said, the third embryo created by this technique is more accurately described as the cloned “child” of the two “parent donor embryos.” She points out that should embryos cloned using this technique be implanted, another parent, that of the “gestational mother” would be added to the list.
Naturenews reported that the scientists had implanted “genetic material” from “fertilized eggs” that had been rejected for use in in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because of abnormalities. However, David Prentice of the Family Research Council described the use of the term “fertilized egg” the term as “a scientifically inaccurate misnomer and misleading.”“Once fertilization occurs, these are no longer eggs but rather embryos,” he pointed out.
Naturenews explained that, “At this early stage [of embryonic development] the sperm and egg nuclei, which contain most of the parental genes, have not yet fused.” These portions of the unfused nuclei, properly called “pronuclei,” were removed from one embryo and transferred into another “fertilized egg cell,” or embryo, with healthy mitochondria, from which the full nucleus had been removed.
Naturenews noted that lead researcher Douglass Turnbull and colleagues are working with the UK’s Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority, “to determine what further studies must be done before a human embryo that has undergone the procedure can be brought to term.”
“There isn't a license in place to do this at the moment,” Turnbull said. “We've proved in principle that this sort of technique can be used to prevent transmission of mitochondrial diseases in humans.”
Naturenews reports that the experiment used 80 embryos as “donors” of pronuclei. Of the resulting clones, only 18 survived to the eight-cell stage. Naturenews said that “a small number” of the 18 reached the blastocyst stage of about 100 cells. The embryos were allowed to live and develop for 6 to 8 days, tested for the condition of their mitochondria and then destroyed.
Mitochondria are the tiny “organelles” in cells that supply the cell with energy and control cellular differentiation, cell growth and death. There are at least 50 known genetic diseases caused by problems with mitochondria.
SPUC’s Anthony Ozimic said about the new procedure that, “Each of those embryos were members of the human family, with a right to life equal to those of the scientists who killed them. Human life begins at conception. Any grounds for denying human rights to human embryos are arbitrary and self-serving.
“Creating embryonic children in the laboratory abuses them, by subjecting them to unnatural processes. Scientists should respect human life and pursue ethical alternatives which are much more likely to be successful in the long-term.”
Dianne Irving commented to LSN, “Why they continue to try to clone humans is very questionable when the researchers know – or should know (but probably don't) – that the science won't work.”
She said the research sounded more like a case of “wooing research grants and Nobel prizes” than a “sincere attempts to help vulnerable women” who are led to believe that they can have a healthy child from the procedure.
“It would seem that IVF clinics and laboratories have turned into nothing more than a huge monstrous source of human biological ‘parts’ for use by wacko researchers.”
Read related LSN coverage:
Embryologists to Media: There are no Such Things as Human “Fertilized Eggs”