Want cures from stem cells? There's a simple solution, writes William Saletan of Slate.

Havest older embryos.

Saletan hasn't gotten to the ethics part in his five part series "The Organ Factory," so it's too early to say what his eventual point will be. But the subtitle --"the case for harvesting older embryos" -- points to a frightening possibility, that seems conjured right out of the Matrix--creating human clones as raw material.

Here's how part one begins:

Two weeks ago, members of Congress held a press conference to demand Senate ratification of H.R. 810, a bill to expand federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell (or hES) research. Alternative schemes to get stem cells without killing embryos would take too long, they argued. "There is only one bill which may quickly open the door to medical solutions. That is H.R. 810," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del. He pointed to the glut of embryos left over from fertility treatments and concluded, "It simply makes no sense at all not to take advantage of what is already immediately available."

But the Castle bill isn't the quickest way to open the door to medical solutions. If we're going to take advantage of what's already available, the quickest way is to open a different door. The Castle bill, which has already passed the House, would open a door President Bush closed on Aug. 9, 2001, when he agreed to fund hES research on cell lines derived before that date but not afterward. Research proponents dismiss Bush's rule as irrational. At the press conference, Michael J. Fox asked, "Once you say we can do this much of it, what's the difference?"

The other door, the one that's blocking more-immediate help, has been closed by research proponents themselves. To get transplantable tissue your body won't reject, cells from somebody else—the cells you'd get from the Castle bill—won't do. You need cells with your DNA. You need a clone.

This is where the rubber will hit the road. So far, Saletan reports, animal tests have show that if a cloned embryo is allowed to grow for 6 weeks or so, and then the tissue from that embryo is removed and harvested--ie, killed--it's cells can be implanted in the original animal (from which the clone as created) and used to grow new tissues.

The embryo becomes, in effect, an organ factory.


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