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Ed. note: In his nationally televised address on stem-cell research, President Bush announced he would create a President's Council on Bioethics, to be headed by Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago. Kass is an eloquent and outspoken opponent of human cloning, an argument he made at length in "Preventing a Brave New World." The following article, co-written with Daniel Callahan, originally appeared in the August 6, 2001, issue of The New Republic and is reprinted here in full.
Everyone has been arguing for weeks about whether President Bush should authorize funding for research on human embryonic stem cells. But few have noticed the much more momentous decision now before us: whether to permit the cloning of human beings. At issue in the first debate is the morality of using and destroying human embryos. At issue in the second is the morality of designing human children.
The day of human cloning is near. Reputable physicians have announced plans to produce a cloned child within the year. One biotech company (Advanced Cell Technology) just announced its intention to start producing embryonic human clones for research purposes. Recognizing the urgent need for action, Congress is considering legislation that would ban human cloning. Last Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee approved a tough anti-cloning bill, H.R. 2505, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001.
Introduced by Republican Dave Weldon of Florida and Democrat Bart Stupak of Michigan, and co-sponsored by more than 120 members from both parties, the bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor as early as this week. But the House is also considering a much weaker "compromise" bill that would ban reproductive cloning but permit cloning for research. It is terribly important that the former, and not the latter, passes. First, because cloning is unethical, both in itself and in what it surely leads to. Second, because the Weldon-Stupak bill offers our best--indeed, our only--hope of preventing it from happening.
So how do we stop it? The biotech industry proposes banning only so-called reproductive cloning by prohibiting the transfer of a cloned embryo to a woman to initiate a pregnancy. But this approach will fail. The only way to effectively ban reproductive cloning is to stop the process from the beginning, at the stage where the human somatic cell nucleus is introduced into the egg to produce the embryo clone. That is, to effectively ban any cloning, we need to ban all human cloning.
Here is why: Once cloned embryos exist, it will be virtually impossible to control what is done with them. Created in commercial laboratories, hidden from public view, stockpiles of cloned human embryos could be produced, bought, and sold without anyone knowing it. As we have seen with in vitro embryos created to treat infertility, embryos produced for one reason can be used for another: Today, "spare embryos" created to begin a pregnancy are used--by someone else-- in research; and tomorrow, clones created for research will be used--by someone else--to begin a pregnancy. Efforts at clonal baby-making (like all assisted reproduction) would take place within the privacy of a doctor-patient relationship, making outside scrutiny extremely difficult.
Worst of all, a ban only on reproductive cloning will be unenforceable. Should the illegal practice be detected, governmental attempts to enforce the ban would run into a swarm of practical and legal challenges. Should an "illicit clonal pregnancy" be discovered, no government agency is going to compel a woman to abort the clone, and there would be understandable outrage were she fined or jailed before or after she gave birth. For all these reasons, the only practically effective and legally sound approach is to block human cloning at the start--at producing the embryonic clone.
The Weldon-Stupak bill does exactly that. It precisely and narrowly describes the specific deed that it outlaws (human somatic cell nuclear transfer to an egg). It requires no difficult determinations of the perpetrator's intent or knowledge. It introduces substantial criminal and monetary penalties, which will deter renegade doctors or scientists as well as clients who would bear cloned children. Carefully drafted and limited in scope, the bill makes very clear that there is to be no interference with the scientifically and medically useful practices of animal cloning or the equally valuable cloning of human DNA fragments, the duplication of somatic cells, or stem cells in tissue culture. And the bill steers clear of the current stem-cell debate, limiting neither research with embryonic stem cells derived from non-cloned embryos nor even the creation of research embryos by ordinary in vitro fertilization. If enacted, the law would bring the United States into line with many other nations.