Joke: Feminist appointee in Missouri debates thinks Weldon/Brownback definition of "cloning" is "scientific"

Dianne N. Irving
March 10, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

While defending (sort of) the prolife argument that "therapeutic cloning" really is cloning (and not just "stem cell research") - counter the false Weissman-type scientific definitions used in Missouri's proposed constitutional amendment to protect "stem cell research" -- a feminist appointee to the President's Council on Bioethics surprisingly supports her argument by proffering the equally false scientific definition of "cloning" used in the federal prolife Weldon/Brownback "total ban" on human cloning bills. [See David Castillo, "Stem-cell initiative discussed; Bush appointee says embryonic research necessitates cloning", The Missourian, March 10, 2006.]

According to Diana Schaub, the political science chair at the Jesuit Loyola College of Maryland, the real scientific definition of cloning is: "the asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all stages of development, genetically identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being." Little does she realize that the joke is on her.

It is scientifically accurate to define any type of human cloning as "the asexual production of a new human organism", but it is grossly scientifically false and naive to include in that definition the description of the product of all human cloning as "at all stages of development, genetically identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being" - the legal definition of "cloning" used in the Weldon/Brownback federal cloning "bans". One would think that the recent Hwang cloning scandal, as well as the documentation that Snuppy the dog probably really was cloned by "nuclear transfer" (rather than by twinning), would finally set to rest this false and dangerous scientific definition of "cloning" once and for all.

That is, there is no genetic identity between the cloned embryo and the donor when "nuclear transfer" is used as the cloning method. Why? Because the foreign mitochondrial DNA from the oocyte used during "nuclear transfer" is incorporated into the resulting cloned embryo - thus making "genetical identity" scientifically impossible. Indeed, any human embryo reproduced by nuclear transfer would thus be genetically unique rather than "genetically identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being". It would be genetically different from any human being whatsoever. And if the cells from this cloned embryo were to be injected into the donor patient, this genetic non-identity would cause serious immune rejection reactions in that patient.

In short, this feminist has refuted the false Weissman-type "scientific" definition of "cloning" rampant in the current Missouri debates with her own false scientific definition, one "patented" by Weldon and Brownback. How is it that this specific particular false definition of "cloning" from a "prolife" total human cloning "ban" is annunciated verbatim by a well-known and respected feminist?

I and most others would seriously caution anyone from relying on a purely political definition of a scientific fact. Political "science" is definitely not natural science. Politicians should not be allowed to rewrite the laws of nature and make them relative to every whim and fantasy of political favor. To do so is courting disaster. While it is a well-established scientific fact that "nuclear transfer" does produce a new embryo regardless if it has been produced for "therapeutic" or "reproductive" purposes, it is also a well-established scientific fact that not all cloning uses the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique, and that the embryos produced by different cloning methods are different.

An example of a clear and precise scientific definition of "cloning", and one which refutes both the Weissman-type and Weldon/Brownback-type political "science", can be found in this human molecular genetics text by Strachan and Read:

"Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, .... A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. ... The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. ... Nuclear transfer technology was first employed in embryo cloning, in which the donor cell is derived from an early embryo, and has been long established in the case of amphibia. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again." [Strachan and Read, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1999), pp. 508-509]

Clearly, human beings could be reproduced both sexually (fertilization/conception) and asexually (without the use of sperm and oocyte) - and thus it is scientifically incorrect to claim that all human beings begin to exist at fertilization/conception only. Clearly, one of two naturally occurring human monozygotic twins in utero is a genetically identical human clone produced by "twinning" - not to mention human twins produced in vitro in IVF clinics for "infertility treatments" (blastomere separation, blastocyst splitting, embryo division, etc.). Clearly, the kind of cloning involved with both "therapeutic" or "reproductive" cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) - only one of many different kinds of cloning - in which the embryo cloned is not "virtually genetically identical" to any "existing or previously existing human being" because of the presence of the foreign mitochondrial DNA from the oocyte used. This is precisely why Hwang could not possibly have produced "patient-specific" stem cells by using nuclear transfer, and why the embryo cloned by nuclear transfer is not a "genetic twin" of the donor. By definition there is no absolute "genetic identity" when using the nuclear transfer cloning technique! And clearly, the embryo asexually produced by cloning (whether in utero or in vitro) is a new single-cell human organism, a human being - just as is the embryo produced sexually by fertilization.

It is bad enough when politicians go about destroying science itself for whatever lofty or otherwise deceptive reasons. But when they incorporate such scientific myths into bills and regulations, there are serious legal ramifications that must be taken into account in these debates. As lawyers know perfectly well, if a bill does not specifically address something, then it is not covered by the bill. If a bill mis-defines something, then only that mis-defined thing is covered by the bill. If a bill containing such scientific myths is passed, then such scientific myths become legal precedent (stare decisis), and will be applied by the courts to all future similar scientific issues (as happened in Roe).

Now, feminists, push the logic: If cloning is defined only in terms of SCNT, then all other kinds of human cloning are not covered by the bill (e.g., human cloning by germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT), "twinning", parthenogenesis, pronuclei transfer, the use of artificial human chromosomes, genes, sperms and oocytes, and other human genetic engineering and nano-techniques). Therefore, all of these cloning techniques could be legally used for "reproductive" cloning too.

If cloning by SCNT is mis-defined, where the embryo cloned is supposedly "virtually genetically identical" to an "existing or previously existing human being", then the bill does not cover human cloning using the real SCNT cloning technique. Therefore, not even the SCNT human cloning technique is covered by the bill - not even for "reproductive" purposes.

Now, wouldn't it be simpler - and safer -- to use the well-known and long-documented accurate natural science to begin with? Otherwise, it just smells like a very bad political science joke to me. Proceed at your own risk.

[For documented and accurate scientific references in concert with the international nomenclature committee on human embryology, as well as legal and historical analyses, please see Irving:

The Missourian
March 10, 2006
By David Castillo

Stem-cell initiative discussed

Bush appointee says embryonic research necessitates cloning.

A member of George W. Bush's President's Council on Bioethics says the language in Missouri's proposed constitutional amendment to protect stem-cell therapeutic cloning is deceptive.

"I certainly agree that banning cloning to produce children is a good idea, but I disapprove of deceiving voters into thinking that embryonic stem-cell research by means of SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer, the common method for stem-cell research) is not cloning," said Diana Schaub, who is also the political science chair at Loyola College of Maryland.

Schaub made her remarks at the Stem Cell Research in the Heartland symposium held at MU on Wednesday and Thursday. The two-day session focused on a wide array of subjects regarding the controversial issue including Schaub's session, which focused on the constitutional and ethical implications of state science.

Stem-cell research has caused debate across Missouri as the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures gathers signatures to propose a state constitutional amendment to ban human cloning. Supporters of the ballot initiative need to gather 150,000 signatures by May 9 to put it on the November ballot. The problem, Schaub says, is that the process by which embryonic stem-cell research takes place technically does require cloning.

According to Schaub, the scientific definition of cloning is: "the asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all stages of development, genetically identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being."

Somatic cell nuclear transfer, says Schaub, is the procedure for cloning a somatic cell, or body cell, and putting it into a nucleated egg (an egg in which the nucleus has been removed) and then stimulating that egg to produce cell division. The result is a clone, or an organism that has the identical genetic makeup to the donor of the somatic cell.

"In both cloning for children and cloning for cures, the initial process is the same," Schaub said. "SCNT is a cloning technique."

The deception, she says, is that the amendment defines cloning as involving implantation.

"It pretends to ban human cloning in total, when in fact, it only aims to ban the cloning of a live born human child," she said. "We should have an honest discussion about whether human cloning for research purposes, should it become possible, whether that's a good idea or not."

MU philosophy professor and panelist Bill Bondeson also says there are problems with the wording of the bill.

"I do take the point accurately that it is not fair to lump what's often called human reproductive cloning together with therapeutic cloning," Bondeson said. "I don't see that line drawn here quite as neatly as I would like."

Bondeson also questioned whether it was prudent to address this issue by way of a constitutional amendment.

Alex Bartlett, a panelist and lawyer who was involved with writing the initiative's language, disagreed with Schaub's assessment. He said the ballot language, which seeks to ban the cloning or the attempt to clone a human being, outlines very specifically what cloning is and what it is not.

"I think John Smith on the street or Joe Blow, when they think of cloning they are thinking of creating a human version of Dolly the sheep (the first cloned animal)," Bartlett said. "We tried to get at that and that's we were preventing."

To see a full copy of the ballot's current wording, go to [] or the Missouri Secretary of State's Web site,