Cloning Pioneer James Robl to Keynote Mount Holyoke College Spring Series, The Political Embryo: Reconceiving Human Reproduction

For Immediate Release
February 6, 2003

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass.—Bacteria do it. Yeasts do it. Even some snails, shrimp, and aphids do it. But wait, while all of these creatures reproduce asexually through cloning, creating an exact replica of themselves, the cloning of more complex species, such as humans, still seems unnatural to many of us. Is it simply a case of getting used to a new technology, the way most of us got used to the idea of “test tube babies” over the past two decades? Or will reproductive cloning of humans ultimately be deemed unethical?

Questions such as these about cloning and stem-cell research—both for disease treatment and prevention and for reproduction—will be the focus of a series of events this spring on the theme, The Political Embryo: Reconceiving Human Reproduction, presented by Mount Holyoke College’s Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership. In addition to a wide-ranging discussion of cloning, the series will look at the ethical and legal issues surrounding new and developing human reproductive technologies, and how visual representations and the media influence our views of human reproduction as it intersects with technology.

The series will bring together leading scientists, ethicists, legal experts, science writers, and artists for discussions about existing and emerging human reproductive technologies from a variety of perspectives. What impact does laboratory research have on everyday life? How is that work perceived and represented in both scientific and lay terms? What is the impact of visual representation in communicating the science (and fantasy) of human reproduction? How do we weigh the potential benefits of stem-cell research against its perceived ethical and cultural costs? Who is making policy and how?

Karen Remmler, codirector of the Weissman Center, says that the purpose of the series is to “take these technologies out of the sci-fi realm, make them less sensational, and address the anxiety that surrounds what this science is capable of producing. We want people to be able to make informed decisions about the regulation and application of this technology, to be able to participate intelligently in public policy decisions. One way to do that is to exchange ideas with scientists, scholars, and artists who are directly involved in these issues.”

All events in the series, which is co-sponsored by the class of 1958 and the Katherine B. Fitzgerald Lecture Fund, take place in Gamble Auditorium and are open to the public and wheelchair accessible.

The schedule is as follows:

On Thursday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m., James M. Robl (president and chief scientific officer, Hematech) will give the keynote lecture, “Cloning and Embryonic Stem Cells: Controversy and Reality.” Robl is a pioneer in the cloning of mammalian embryos and produced the first cloned transgenic cow in 1998. He is the author of more than 100 research papers, review articles, book chapters, and scientific abstracts.

On Thursday March 6, at 7:30 p.m., a panel discussion, “In Utero: Imaging and Imagining” will address artistic, scientific, and political considerations in visual depictions of human embryos and fetuses. Mount Holyoke College anthropology professor Lynn M. Morgan will moderate. Panelists are: Bradley Richard Smith (associate professor and director, biomedical visualization, School of Art and Design, and senior associate research scientist, Department of Radiology, University of Michigan) is a leading authority on multiple applications of MRI technology in medicine and science. Scott F. Gilbert (Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology, Swarthmore College) teaches developmental genetics, embryology, and the history of biology. He is the author of the best-selling textbook Developmental Biology. Rosamond Wolff Purcell is a photographer and writer whose recent work includes Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters, a Village Voice Book of the year, the award-winning Swift as a Shadow and with Stephen Jay Gould, Crossing Over: Where Art and Science Meet. Recent work by Purcell will be on display at the Mount Holyoke Art Museum in February and March.

On Thursday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m., a panel of experts will discuss, “Who Decides?: Reproductive Technologies, Ethics, and the Law.” Mount Holyoke Associate Professor of Chemistry Sean Decatur will moderate as panelists debate the ethics of reproductive technologies from historical, political, and legal standpoints. Panelists are Daniel J. Kevles (Stanley Woodward Professor of History, Yale University), a leading historian of science, whose writing on the history of genetics has won numerous book awards and praise from both scientific and lay communities. His books include The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project and Inventing America: A History of the United States. Adrienne Asch (Henry R. Luce Professor in Biology, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Reproduction, Wellesley College) teaches courses on current issues in bioethics, reproduction, and genetics, and has written about the social implications of genetics in a diverse society, prenatal testing, surrogacy, and health care. Rebecca Susan Dresser (Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law, Washington University) is a member of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. A leading authority on animal rights issues, patient advocacy and research ethics, and the law and bioethics.

On Thursday, April 17, at 7:30 p.m., Gina Kolata, science reporter for the New York Times, will present “Reporting on the Embryo.” Before joining the Times in 1987, Kolata was a senior writer for Science magazine. Her books include The Quest for Truth about Exercise and Health, Flu: The Story of the Great Political Embryo Influenza Pandemic in 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It, and Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead. Kolata was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting in 2000. In a recent article in the New York Times, series Kolata writes, “What many scientists want to do is therapeutic cloning, which would create replacement cells for sick people, cells that their bodies would not reject because they would be genetically identical to their own. They want to cure diseases, not create cloned humans.”

In conjunction with the Weissman Center series, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum will present “Suspended Animation: Photographs by Rosamond Wolff Purcell,” from February 4­March 14. A gallery talk will take place March 6 at 4 pm.

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