Conversation with Gretchen Sorenson (External Affairs and Development for Institute for Systems Biology)

After introducing ourselves, she told me that Dr. Hood gave her my letter and asked her to respond, that I might not be clear about the work they are doing at the Institute. She explained that they have 170 researchers and scientists, only one of whom is involved with embryonic stem cells (information content and study of proteins) using Bush approved stem cell lines. The embryonic stem cell research that they do is in conjunction with Fred Hutchinson and other centers.

I told her that I support scientific research to develop cures for various diseases and the use of adult stem cells in that type of research. However, I am concerned about the use of human embryos for that type of research. Also I mentioned that our concern was not just on the work going on at ISB, but the statements Dr. Hood had made promoting embryonic research and cloning, House Bill 1268.

She said she wanted me to understand that Dr. Hood was part of a group of scientists who supported HB 1268 and that they endorse cloning for research purposes, but not for reproduction. She then launched into the development pitch on the good work ISB is doing.

After listening for a minute or two, I asked, “That is great, but when does reproduction take place?”

She said, “I would rather not get into that question,” saying that it was a philosophical question that people disagree about.

I responded that she was the one who said that they would never do cloning for reproduction. What do they mean by reproduction? When does it take place?

As one might imagine, the conversation became a little more tense and she reiterated that she did not want to answer that question, but only wanted me to be clear about the work of ISB.

I replied that I was asking for clarity. I reminded her that she had used the word “reproduction” and that I just wanted to know what she meant by it. For example, does reproduction happen at birth or at some earlier point?

Growing more impatient, she stated that she did not want to answer that question, that they are only trying to find cures for diseases, that it is very exciting work, that I should read the Puget Sound Business Journal (last Friday) to get a better idea of the kind of research which is going on. From my letter it did not appear I understood all they were doing and that she wanted me to be clear about their work.

I again reiterated that I support scientific research, but am concerned about the ethical questions involving the use of other humans as part of the research. I said that it is not just the “religious right” that is concerned about these issues; but that the Catholic Church has tried to address them in a serious way and that many other people in our society have serious concerns about research using human embryos. Unless we ask those questions, especially the question of when human life begins, we are entering a dark tunnel. I mentioned again that my concern was not just with the Institute itself, but with the aggressive way Dr. Hood has promoted embryonic research and human cloning. I asked if she or Dr. Hood could clarify when cloning has reproduced a human.

She said she supposed when it was something like when you get Dolly the sheep and they would never do that.

At that point we became a bit like broken records, me trying to find out what they meant by “reproducing a human” and she saying she would rather not discuss that, but talk about the good things they are doing. I asked if Dr. Hood would be willing to discuss this issue with me. She said he was involved in other things and had asked her to respond.

I explained to her about the prayer service on Good Friday which this year it falls on March 25. I told her the story about the Annunciation and how Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. That our service would focus on the dignity of each human from the moment of conception, however the conception took place. That we would pray for all those working at the ISB and for Dr. Hood, that our purpose is not to judge anyone’s motivations, but our concern about very basic issues which affect where our society is going.

She thanked me and said she just wanted me to be clear about the work the Institute is doing.

--Fr. Phil Bloom
March 23, 2005, about 10:30 a.m.

from Mark Shea:

Way to go, you damned troublemaker! :)

The distinction between "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning is just smoke and mirrors. The same thing is involved in both forms of cloning. Only it's somehow thought to be more humane if you create a human being and then cannibalize it rather than let it come to term. So "therapeutic" = cannibalization clones. "Reproductive" means "bringing the clone to term.

See! Nothing to worry about. Read the Puget Sound Business Journal. You'll learn a lot more about Seattle cultural mores there than if you read the Bible or the catechism.

Mark