Lies, clones, and stem cells: the language of respectable evil

A breathtaking specimen of obfuscation (or was it just plain ignorance?) was published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this week. The article, entitled, “Experiment Brings Human Cloning One Step Closer,” begins, “Scientists have used cloning technology to transform human skin cells into embryonic stem cells, an experiment that may revive the controversy over human cloning. The researchers stopped well short of creating a human clone.”

A little confusing, but it sounds innocuous, no? Transforming human skin cells into embryonic stem cells: that’s the ethical alternative to cloning a human for the purpose of destroying it and removing stem cells, right? At least they didn’t create a human clone, right?

Not so fast. If one refers to the original article published in the journal Cell this Wednesday, the title alone speaks volumes: “Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.” Somatic cell nuclear transfer. That’s scientist-speak for cloning.

“The achievement is a long way from creating a cloned human embryo,” the WSJ article says.

Wrong again. The article in Cell describes, and the accompanying diagram shows, a process of creating a cloned human embryo, which at the blastocyst stage is “disaggregated” (destroyed) to remove embryonic stem cells. (If the WSJ didn’t think they created a cloned human embryo, how did they think they got embryonic stem cells from it?)

Not all the press coverage was as slanted/wrong as the WSJ coverage. The BBC, for example, reported it far more clearly.

I don’t know if the inaccurate reporting by the WSJ was motivated by ignorance; or by an ideology that says that “Embryos aren’t human and if you don’t implant it and grow a baby from it it’s not a clone”; or by a desire to confuse people by semantic sleight-of-hand so that they won’t understand what’s happening until it’s too late; or a combination of all of these, or something else altogether.

But just for clarity’s sake, let me paraphrase: We have clearly demonstrated, in a respectable, peer-reviewed journal (no National Enquirer here), that we as a society are willing to facilitate the development of human beings in a Petri dish, and then, when they are at their weakest, smallest, most vulnerable and voiceless, kill them and take their body parts in the hope that they might be useful for others of their species. We deliberately kill our young: not in a gas chamber or oven, as the Nazis did; not tied to an altar, as the Aztecs or Incas did; but in air-conditioned laboratories with bright fluorescent lighting and mild-mannered lab technicians and nice watercolor paintings on the walls in our most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

God help us.