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The problem with the stem cell bill

Mitt Romney

A FUNDAMENTAL principle of an ethical society is that no life should be exploited for the benefit of another. A just legal code recognizes the inherent value of every life. This is where our founders began: Every human being has inalienable rights, and first among them is life.

This is the principle at stake in the debate about human cloning -- a debate which will soon take a momentous turn in Massachusetts. The Legislature is considering a bill to permit research based upon cloning human embryos. Our challenge is to establish a standard that both encourages the stem cell research that saves lives and sets the ethical limits that respect lives.

Supporters of the bill are correct that state law regulating embryonic research is ambiguous and in need of revising. A proposal designed to give the law clarity, however, should not be vague on the matter of human cloning. This is the problem with the bill. Despite the comforting assurances of its supporters, it would not ban human cloning. On the contrary, the bill would countenance the cloning of embryos for research, and it may invite even worse abuses down the road.

The bill's sponsors promise us they have ''crafted strong ethical safeguards," resting their case on the distinction between cloning for human reproduction and cloning for research. Research cloning involves the creation of a human embryo for purposes of experimentation, with the intent to destroy it. Reproductive cloning would continue the process by implanting this embryo into a uterus.

However, the process of cloning only occurs once, with the creation of the embryo -- a unique genetic entity with the full complement of chromosomes. Once cloning occurs, a human life is set in motion.

Calling this process ''somatic cell nuclear transfer," or conveniently dismissing the embryo as a mere ''clump of cells," cannot disguise the reality of what occurs: A genetically complete human embryo is brought into being. It is manipulated and experimented upon like so much research material. And then that emerging life is destroyed and discarded. Imagine row after row of laboratory racks, filled with growing human embryos: a ''Brave New World."

Some fear that, without cloning, Massachusetts biotech could fall behind other states. That is not the case. Only 3 percent of the biotech companies nationwide are doing stem cell research of any kind. The figure is even smaller in Massachusetts. And avenues to obtain stem cells other than by cloning are ample.

Stem cell research does not require the cloning of human embryos. Some stem cells today are obtained from surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. I support that research, provided that those embryos are obtained after a rigorous parental consent process that includes adoption as an alternative. Further, the greatest successes in stem cell research to date have come from the use of adult and umbilical cord stem cells. Stanford professor William Hurlbut, a physician and member of the President's Council on Bioethics, has proposed a promising approach. Known as altered nuclear transfer, this method could allow researchers to obtain embryonic stem cells without the moral shortcut of cloning and destroying a human embryo.

A bill that includes methods such as these and bans all human cloning would receive my full support. I share the excitement and hope that new cures to terrible diseases like multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, and Parkinson's could soon be within our reach.

Like other powers gained through modern science, the power to clone life presents a challenge not only of intelligence and resourcefulness, but also of character and conscience. Massachusetts has never been short on any of these qualities, and our best traditions of science and social conscience are needed here as well. By using the powers of science wisely, by doing the right thing in the right way, our state can set the standard for all America and for all the world.

Mitt Romney is the governor of Massachusetts.

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