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Interview with Bernard Siegel
Bernard Siegel is the Executive Director of the
Genetics Policy Institute (GPI) which is a nonprofit organization
dedicated to establishing a legal framework to advance scientific
research for cures. Mr. Siegel practiced law in South Florida for
nearly 3 decades before establishing GPI. In December 2002, he filed
the landmark case to have a guardian for the alleged cloned baby
"Eve" and is widely credited for proving that the so-called
"human cloning company" was a sham. Realizing the damage
cloning charlatans were having on the stem cell debate, he has recruited
to his organization some of the world's preeminent scientists and
has become a leading champion of science and stem cell research.
He has appeared in media around the world including CNN debates
with Rael of the Raelian Movement and Richard Doerflinger of the
US Council of Bishops. This year his organization staged the UN
Science Conference "Human Cloning Issues in all its aspects."
Would you please briefly describe what
the Genetics Policy Institute is and what it does?
The Genetics Policy Institute is a non-profit organization constructing
a legal framework to advance scientific research for cures. The
immediate topic that we have been focused on is to draw a bright
line to distinguish reproductive cloning from therapeutic cloning.
We have a very well-regarded science advisory board and legal human
rights advisory board. On the science board we have some of the
leading stem cell researchers in the world, including Ian Wilmut,
the creator of "Dolly," Rudolf Jaenisch at MIT, Doug Melton
of Harvard, and others. On the legal advisory board we have retired
World Court Judge Christopher Weeramantry, Princeton emeritus international
law professor Richard Falk and others.
What do you see as the benefits of cloning?
We do not see any benefits to reproductive cloning. In fact we are
quite outspoken about this, saying that reproductive cloning, we
believe, is a violation of international law, if not a crime against
humanity. It is unethical human experimentation, and personally
I regard it as a species-altering event. It is something that cannot
be done safely.
However, we think that therapeutic cloning (which has several different
namesit is also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT,
nuclear transplantation and biomedical cloning) is tremendously
important. As a matter of scientific research and medical research,
it holds the hopes of understanding and treatments and even, possibly,
cures for many of mankind's illnesses and medical conditionsthings
like spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's, neurological disorders,
diabetes, Parkinson's, and such. We think it is very important
that the public, the media and the key decision-makers recognize
the two, which are rhetorically connected only, as having a distinction
between them. And while one should be curbed and bannedthat
is, reproductive cloningtherapeutic cloning, we hope, can
advance because of its promise.
Were President Bush's 2001 regulations on stem cell
research--limiting the number of stem cell lines to receive federal
We feel that the restrictions went too far. Research cannot advance
at a proper pace. First, the number of stem cell lines that were
actually available was far less than originally assumed, and that
was a big problem. Secondly, there is a need for the research to
have more stem cell lines, and considering that the greatest source
of medical research funding is the National Institutes of Health,
if we do not have stem cell lines available for funding research,
then the pace of the research is not going to advance. The implications
of this are that promising young stem cell scientists are either
not going into the field, or else we are finding somewhat of a "brain-drain"
where scientists are being forced to go overseas. The dilemma of
this is if you have a cutoff date (August 9, 2001 in this case),
as President Bush articulated, what do we do with the 17 new stem
cell lines prepared by Harvard University scientists that are now
available to the world? Why should we not fund research on those
new lines? Once the decision has been made that will allow some
funding on stem cell lines, it makes sense to allow continued funding
for others. So I think while it did not preclude the research altogether,
it certainly curtailed it in a way that the scientific research
could not advance adequately.
Along the lines of federal regulations--following the 2003
vote by the UN, there are virtually no restrictions on cloning for
at least two years. With few restrictions and open knowledge of
how to clone an embryo, how much of a threat is there of maverick
scientists actively practicing reproductive cloning? What should
be done about this?
I don't know that I agree entirely on the first premise, because
some countries and some states have passed laws against reproductive
cloning, but surely there are some big holes in the landscape here
and it would be an ideal issue to handle by treaty through the United
Nations. As far as the risk of experimentation, I think there is
a great risk. We have Dr. Panos Zavos (who claims to have implanted
a cloned egg in a woman) saying that he has done these types of
experiments, and we have Dr. Severino Antinori in Italy. I place
no credibility, however, in Clonaid and the Raelians. I had personal
dealings with them in the case that I filed in Florida, and I do
not think that they have credibility. But the others have a shred
of credibility and there could be others who want to make a name
for themselves. I do not think that any of them will succeed in
producing a live birth any time soon, but they create an inordinate
amount of mischief and create harm to women, potential miscarriages,
and I think their activities should be curbed.
Some people, including the Department of Justice, feel that
it would be impossible to enforce a ban solely on reproductive cloning,
arguing that such a ban may end up giving resources and funding
to those who want to secretly practice reproductive cloning under
the guise of therapeutic cloning. Does this make anything less than
a universal ban negligent?
No. I disagree with that analysis. A clear line can be drawn saying
reproductive cloning is illegal and the prohibitions must be made
enforceable. It would take more than just a single person to cause
this to happen, and it is unlikely that if it is a clear articulation
that this is a serious crime, scientists, researchers and doctors
are going to engage in this practice where cloning activities are
illegal. I disagree with the "slippery slope" argument
that if you allow SCNT research in a petri dish that it is automatically
going to result in cloned human beings walking amongst us. I do
not think that is the case. I think we have a window of opportunity
now, while successful application of technology is beyond reach,
to draw this line. As years go by, it is going to be, perhaps, more
Why not use only adult stem cells and restrict cloning to
only tissues, organs and DNA--avoiding the cloning of controversial
I think it has been pretty much shown by most scientists, even in
the adult stem cell field, that while there is some promise to that
it does not have the same promise as embryonic stem cell research.
That is, panacea, that is what is needed to get the job done to
find potential cures for millions of people. So, I think that some
opposed to embryonic stem cell research are trying to make adult
stem cell research sound better than it actually is. Adult stem
cells do not have the same plasticity of embryonic stem cells, and
if there is a way we can properly regulate this industry (embryonic
stem cell research), then I think it holds the most promise for
the most people.
Do you feel that the practice of cloning devalues or poses
any risks to women?
Actually, I do not. I think the use of egg donors can be made safe.
It can be something that is regulated, so that there is no exploitation
of women, and surely where you are able to regulate something like
that properly, there should be no risk. I think in a vacuum, where
you make no effort to regulate it or anything, there is always a
chance for abuse. But I do not think that should be an excuse to
shut down an entirely promising area of medical research holding
the greatest promise of any, because of this concern that can be
taken care of through regulation.
In regards to the future of cloning, do you see this as
another scientific discovery with controversial beginnings but that
will one day be commonplace in society?
As far as reproductive cloning, I think no one has a crystal ball
and can look ahead centuries from now as to what can happen. All
we can do is deal with the immediate term, and the immediate term
is that it certainly cannot be done safely. There is no reason to
produce a baby through reproductive cloning, so reproductive cloning
should be banned. The term "cloning" is a sledgehammer
word. I think that one has to always make a distinction between
the technique of somatic cell nuclear transfer, which as long as
it is in the dish will not lead to a human being, as long as those
cells are not placed in a uterus. So I think there has to be a distinction
made between reproductive cloning and medical research.
Lastly, how soon and in what way do you see therapeutic
cloning affecting the general public?
Each medical condition is different. Certainly in the area of spinal
cord injury and diabetes this is one of the highest priorities of
many researchers. I do not think we have a timeline, to be honest,
because we have just had the first therapeutically cloned stem cell
line created in Korea. We are just taking the tiniest steps forward
right now, as we speak. But the way science advances so swiftly,
one will hope, will lead to understanding and possible treatments
in a relatively short period of time.
by: Chris Moore, spring 2004 intern