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Well, you probably don’t expect Pope John Paul II and Bible-toting
Bill to agree on abortion. So you were probably not surprised that,
after Clinton announced the Final Federal Guidelines on Pluripotent Stem
Cell research last week, the pope immediately addressed in
English
an international congress being held in Rome of the
Transplantation Society.

The Pope said, “Attempts at human cloning with a view to obtaining
organs for transplants … insofar as they involve the manipulation and
destruction of human embryos, are not morally acceptable.”

Now some newsies reported that the pope had come out against
“cloning” humans, which he hadn’t. And from some news accounts you may
have supposed that Bill Clinton had completely reversed his position of
only three years ago, prohibiting the cloning of humans, which he
hadn’t.

You see, it’s just fine with Clinton to clone human embryos, just so
long as you abort them before birth. Until born — partially or
otherwise — for Clinton-Gore, an embryo is just an unfinished
construction job from a “blueprint,” a DNA blueprint being all you need
to

construct an individual human being from scratch.

Ruling by decree, Clinton had prohibited human cloning three years ago because an overnight poll told him that the majority of voters didn’t want human beings — or even any more sheep — cloned. (Frogs were all right, but no mammals.) Clinton also immediately introduced legislation in Congress banning human cloning, by which he meant constructing a new human being from scratch, using an already existing DNA blueprint.

But then along came Pluripotent Stem Cell research. What a potential legacy for the president! The polls still showed most Americans didn’t want to see “Invasion of the Body Snatchers Part III,” but surely most Americans would be everlastingly grateful to Clinton for providing them an unlimited supply of new body parts, like hearts and livers and kidneys. So, the Final Federal Guidelines on Pluripotent Stem Cell research were “spun” that way to the Medicare Crowd; free heart-liver-kidney transplants for all.

What is stem cell research? Every cell in your body has, in its nucleus, identical DNA. Contrary to Clinton and his sidekick, Tony Blair, DNA is not very much like a blueprint, after all. DNA is more like a library of how-to manuals. Most of the manuals — call them genes — tell the cell how to manufacture a specific protein. And although all of your cells in the fetus are, early on, essentially identical, as the cells multiply and the fetus grows, the cells begin — under God knows what influence — to specialize. So after awhile, even though each of the increasingly specialized cells in your body still have the same DNA library, they no longer all check out the same how-to manuals.

Once the cells have become specialized, they are called upon to produce different proteins. The cells needing to provide hormones for your brain don’t check out the same DNA library books as do the cells needing to provide enzymes for your liver. And, by the time you’ve become an adult, most of the cells in your body not only quit multiplying, they also quit checking out any books from the DNA library at all.

But many of your cells are, apparently, just resting. A stem cell is a cell that has not lost its capacity to multiply, and can not only be cloned — be induced to duplicate itself in the lab — but can also be induced to essentially produce new specialized cells, just as happened when you were growing up. The newly produced specialized cells now check out different sets of books from the DNA library than they did before they stopped to rest. That is, by controlling the external environment of the bone-marrow-derived stem cell, you can get the cell to check out the DNA library books that only a liver cell would ordinarily check out. For all practical purposes, you have changed a bone marrow cell into a liver cell.

A pluripotent stem cell is one which can be induced to produce specialized cells that can — in principle — produce tissues for almost any organ in your body. That is, a pluripotent stem cell will be induced by some procedure to produce cells that make part of the heart and by another procedure to produce other parts of the heart. The possibility exists that it will soon be possible to produce complete human organs, such as hearts, from this pluripotent stem cell cloning process.

Here’s the rub. Where do you suppose Clinton’s researchers currently get those pluripotent stem cells to clone? You guessed it. Mostly from human embryos, which are “grown” to the point where the desired specialized pluripotent cells are being produced, the pluripotent cells extracted and the embryo then discarded or destroyed.

But, you protest, isn’t that against the law? Well, yes; current law does prohibit federally-funded human embryo “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.” But, you know Bill Clinton. It all depends upon what the meaning of “is” is. Under the Final Guidelines, the feds are not going to actually get involved — will not spend appropriated funds — until after the pluripotent stem cells have been already recovered from the process. Bible-toting Bill is not going to actually rob the bank; he’s just going to drive the getaway car.

Now you know why the pope (and the so-called “Religious Right”) are so unhappy. What they care about are the souls of saints and sinners and they believe that embryos have souls. But the pope, at least not yet, isn’t condemning human cloning. He condemns “the manipulation and destruction of human embryos.”

In fact, the pope goes on in that same address to the Transplantation Society to praise their cloning efforts. However, he said that experiments to produce organs for transplant by cloning “should be performed with adult stem cells, which can be retrieved from bone marrow and other organs of consenting adults.”

And, apparently, the Pope understands exactly what he is saying when he encourages cloning of adult stem cells. If scientists really can take more or less pluripotent adult stem cells from bone marrow and induce them to make hearts for transplant, it will be very interesting to see what happens next. After all, there are cells called totipotent stem cells. What are they? Well, they are like the cells you had very early in the life of the fetus, having the capacity to specialize into just about anything you need: extra-embryonic membranes and tissues, the embryo, and all postembryonic tissues and organs. In other words, if it can be accomplished without “the manipulation and destruction of human embryos,” Hollywood-style cloning is just around the corner. Invasion of the Body Snatchers Part III — coming to a theater near you, soon.

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