Confession and Reconciliation

Altered Nuclear Transfer: A Philosophical Critique

Adrian J. Walker

"ANT is technically and morally indistinguishable from human cloning."

Introduction


The proposal of Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT) emerges against the background of the controversy surrounding President George W. Bush’s 2002 decision to withhold federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells (ESC) requiring the creation of new cell lines. The enjeu of the controversy will surely be familiar to most readers: on the one hand are those who oppose any embryonic stem cell research because the procurement of embryonic stem cells requires feticide; on the other hand are those who insist that the potential biomedical benefits of embryonic stem cell research outweigh any moral scruples based on the supposed humanity of the pre-implantation embryos from which embryonic stem cells are extracted. Since neither side in the debate seems willing to budge to accommodate the other, proponents of ANT suggest that the only way to move beyond the resulting deadlock is to develop “a ‘third option,’ a technological solution to our moral impasse”1: to develop, that is, efficient techniques for procuring human embryonic stem cells that bypass the creation and destruction of human embryos altogether, and so are acceptable both to the scientific community for their efficiency and to the pro-life community for their providing an alternative to feticide. Hence the proposal of ANT, whose fundamental idea is to modify existing techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), so as to produce, with the aid of genetic engineering, limited biological entities that yield human embryonic stem cells, but are never themselves human embryos. ANT would thus

use the techniques of Nuclear Transfer, but with the intentional alteration of the nucleus before transfer, to construct a biological entity that, by design and from its very beginning, lacks the attributes and capacities of the human embryo. Studies with mice already provide evidence that this Altered Nuclear Transfer may be able to generate functional ES cells from a system that is not an embryo, but possesses the limited organic potential of a tissue or cell culture.2

 

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