Therpeutic cloning

This is huge. Forget for a moment that it'll take a lot of work to figure out how exactly to coax stem cells to produce the cell type we want where we want, when we want and have those cells actually fit in with their neighbors once we do. Here's what today's excitement is all about:

"Until now, scientists had been studying human embryonic stem cells extracted from embryos created for that purpose and did not involve cloning cells from specific patients. They had also obtained stem cells from embryos created at fertility clinics and donated by couples who no longer needed them. In addition, scientists are studying mouse stem cells, working on the difficult task of directing the cells to develop into specific tissue types.
But researchers wanted embryos that were genetic matches of patients. The only way to do that was to use embryos that were clones of patients, and human cloning had seemed all but impossible.
To produce a clone, scientists slip the genetic material from a patient's cell into an unfertilized egg from another person whose genetic material has been removed. The genes from the patient's cell take over, directing the egg to divide and develop into an embryo that is genetically identical to the patient. About five days later, when the cloned embryo contains about 100 cells and is about 0.08 inch in diameter, it changes its form, looking like a ball of cells encased in a sphere. That ball of cells, when removed and grown in the laboratory, becomes the embryonic stem cells."

From what I can tell, this is not that ethically terrible: the "clone" gets grown up to only a very early stage of development--to a stage where if this were a normal pregnancy, most women would not even know they are pregnant--for the purpose of restorative function surgery. So now that this genie is out of its bottle, demand will certainly rise, and ethical guidelines ought to be found for the use of this technology without damage to innocent embryos. How far should we allow the cells to develop, what rights do the people involved in this procedure have, and how can we enforce any restrictions we might all agree on in the future?

As the article points out, however, it should also make for an interesting debate in Congress next week. One side will propose that it's all a slippery slope: excess IVF embryos today, playing God tomorrow. The other should counter that once it's here, US consumers will want it and Bible-thumpin' conservatives or not, they will travel out of the country to get it, so either we'll be a part of it or we'll be left in the dust. I think it'd be wise for Democrats and moderate Republicans to understand that we need to work on ways to actually use this technology so that the US can remain at the forefront and not lose yet another promising new technology.

Oppenheimer anyone?