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Pregnancy and Death Resulting from Human Nuclear Transfer

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

During the week of October 6-10, 2003, I found myself walking along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. It was there, in the heart of the city—just blocks away from the Alamo—that I found myself surrounded by literally hundreds of fertility specialists. The 59th annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine took place in the convention center in San Antonio. Doctors from a variety of fields descended on the city to discover the latest information on reproductive technologies.

One abstract presented during the conference—from a paper that generated a great deal of interest (and controversy!)—was from James Grifo and his colleagues at New York University School of Medicine. These individuals, working with colleagues at Sun Yat Sen University Medical Science in China, created the first human pregnancy using techniques related to cloning. The procedure was carried out in China, in an effort to avoid laws and regulations regarding human experimentation. As Helen Pearson noted: “The team fertilized eggs from two women in test tubes. They then sucked out the nucleus of one egg and injected it into the other, which they had stripped of its own nucleus. The idea is that the second egg will better direct the growth of an embryo” (2003).

After creating seven “reconstructed” zygotes, the team implanted five of those into a 30-year-old woman who already had undergone two failed attempts at in vitro fertilization. Researchers reported a successful triplet pregnancy, and even were able to detect fetal heartbeats. At 33 days, a “fetal reduction to a twin pregnancy was performed” (see Zhang, et al., 2003). One of the two remaining babies was lost after 24 weeks, due to “premature rupture of membranes,” and was pronounced dead as a result of “respiratory distress” (Zhang, et al.). The final remaining infant died at 29 weeks after suffering from a cord prolapse.

This reproductive technique—known as nuclear somatic transfer—is perilously close to human reproductive cloning. [Previously, we have discussed the dangers of human cloning in our two-part series of articles on “Human Cloning and Stem-Cell Research—Science’s ‘Slippery Slope.’ ”] As Pearson noted: “The effects of inheriting DNA from two mothers is unknown. Proteins made from the two sets of genes may be incompatible, perhaps even stopping the embryo’s cells working” (2003). In light of this evidence, and the unfortunate deaths of the children that resulted from the experiment, it is as unbelievable as it is terrifying that Grifo and his colleagues would dare to conclude: “Viable human pregnancies with normal karyotype [the chromosomal characteristics of an individual—BH] can be achieved through nuclear transfer.” How tragic that we already have lost three innocent lives because scientists are resolved to further “improve” this technique. How many more humans will have to die before we realize human cloning is morally and ethically reprehensible?

REFERENCES

Pearson, Helen (2003), “Human Fertility Experiment Prompts Wrath,” Nature, Science Update, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/nsu/031013/031013-4.html.

Zhang, John, Guanglun Zhuang, Yong Zeng, Carlo Acosta, Yimin Shu, and Jamie Grifo (2003), “Pregnancy Derived from Human Nuclear Transfer” (Abstract), Fertility and Sterility, 80:[supplement 3]:S56, September.




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