Anyone who knows how the bioethics game is played will not be surprised at the latest news on the stem cell front. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and bioethicists write "consensus statements."

Of course, the most congenial place to do it is Brave New Britain, where a few refugees from the United States and other oppressive regimes have found freedom to pursue their destructive research on human embryos unhindered—and generously funded.

But despite some startling assertions in the press that the brains are fast draining out of America, the trend seems to continue to be for the world's best scientists to want to come and work here. And we know that money is certainly not draining elsewhere. Since embryonic stem cell research is costly, there is yet to emerge any convincing evidence (convincing, that is, to a bunch of venture capitalists) that it will make any money.

The latest "consensus statement" naturally isn't a consensus statement at all. The phrase implies a statement of common ground between parties who disagree. But those who disagreed were not invited! You had to be in the consensus to get into the meeting. So its stunning achievement is to forge consensus where the parties were already agreed.

In fact, it is a manifesto—by and for embryonic stem cell enthusiasts. It breathes the heady air of California's Proposition 71. The "consensus" that binds the group together seems to be on one main point: They disagree with the policy of the United States government, a policy that few commentators seem to be aware is not some whim of President Bush but the law of the land.

One of the oddities of the statement is that the meeting's sponsors include the British Embassy in Washington. What is the British Embassy doing back in England, with a group that is mainly American and whose statement has ended up on an American website? This does seem a remarkably unfriendly act, like meeting with dissidents who have fled persecution and are convening a government in exile. One wonders how the Brits would see it if the U.S. Embassy in London sponsored a meeting in the United States that pulled together U.K. opponents of their own government's terrible biopolicy to rail against the pro-cloning stem-cell policies of the British government.

Mind you, anyone who watched events unfold at the United Nations General Assembly in the spring of last year will know that on the bio front, the U.S. and U.K. are at opposite poles. The success of the UN Declaration on Human Cloning, which had been pressed in person by President Bush, led the British representative to sputter in anger that his government would ignore it. Perhaps the slick tones of the stem cell "consensus" should be seen as the U.K.'s response.

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It's worth noting two facts about the statement. First, it actually has the effrontery to call for international guidelines on emerging technology issues, despite the fact that one prime purpose running through the statement is to undermine existing national policies if they are in any way restrictive, and to ignore the United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning that, in fact, offers a baseline for international policy. Of course, they ignore it and seek to undermine research regimes in many nations because they do not like them. (Not just the U.S., but Germany, much of continental Europe, as well as Canada prohibit or severely restrict cloning research.)

Second, the statement is riddled with dishonest language. Cloning isn't cloning any more: It is "nuclear reprogramming" (at least, I think that's what it means; maybe it is a stray reference to revamping nuclear power plants). And embryos aren't embryos. In fact, in the whole statement—the entire theme of which is the destruction of human embryos for research purposes—the word "embryo" is never used even once. What potent evidence of the ethical cover-up at work.

Back to Hwang-Gate

According to Scientific American, the Hwang fraud is not just an isolated incident, and the cloning fervor that swept him into superstardom was not a good thing. The magazine writes:

We should also think hard about whether Hwang's deceit went undetected for months because so many scientists and science journalists wanted to believe that ESC research was progressing rapidly, because that would hasten the arrival of miraculous therapies and other biomedical wonders. Extraordinary results need to be held suspect until confirmed independently. Hwang is guilty of raising false expectations, but too many of us held the ladder for him.
Euthanasia Makes Strides in the United Kingdom

The pro-euthanasia movement is more hopeful of success in the U.K. than it has been in many years. An "assisted suicide" approach modeled on the Oregon system is being advocated and finding much public support, though experts in the care of the elderly are more skeptical.

Related Elsewhere:

Previous Life Matters columns include:

The Truth, the Partial Truth, and Nothing but Evasions | How to sell unethical science. (March 2, 2006)
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The Pursuit of Enhancement | The latest from Brave New Britain. (Feb. 22. 2006)
Poaching Eggs | The latest sad story from the Korean soap opera—and a lack of Talent in Missouri (Feb. 17, 2006)
The State of the Human | President Bush sets out a vital agenda for ethics. (Feb. 2, 2006)
Are You My Sperm Donor? | Plus: Another Hwang turn, more small surprises, and other life ethics stories. (Jan. 26, 2006)
Breeding Humans Like Rabbits? | From the frying pan into the fire. (Jan. 20, 2006)
The Prospects for 2006 | Deeper into the (Christian?) biotech century. (Jan. 9, 2006)
Peter Singer Meets Dr. Hwang | The ethics of the Brave New World. (Jan. 5, 2006)

More CT articles on bioethics are available on our Life Ethics page.

Life Matters
Nigel M. de S. Cameron is now president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies. His "Life Matters" column, a commentary on bioethics issues, ran from 2005 to 2006.
Previous Life Matters Columns: