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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.
But that's not something it is likely to achieve. It licenses companies to manufacture embryo clones, as long as they say they won't use them to initiate a pregnancy or ship them knowing that they will be so used. It therefore guarantees that there will be clonal embryo-farming and trafficking in clones, with many opportunities for reproductive efforts unintended by their original makers. And the bill's proposed ban on initiating pregnancy is, as already argued, virtually impossible to enforce.
There are further difficulties. The acts the Greenwood-Deutsch bill bans turn largely on intent and knowledge--hard matters to discern and verify. The confidentiality of the called-for Food and Drug Administration registration of embryo-cloning means that the public will remain in the dark about who is producing the embryo clones, where they are being bought and sold, and who is doing what with them. A provision preempting state law would make it impossible for any state to enact any other--and more restrictive--legislation. A sunset clause dissolving the prohibition after ten years would leave us with no ban at all, not even on reproductive cloning. Most radically, the bill would create two highly disturbing innovations in federal law: It would license for the first time the creation of living human embryos solely for research purposes, and it would make it a felony not to ultimately exploit and destroy them. The Greenwood-Deutsch legislation reads less like the Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001 and more like the "Human Embryo Cloning Registration and Industry Protection Act of 2001."
It is possible that embryo-cloning will someday yield tissues derivable for each person from his own embryonic twin clone, tissues useful for the treatment of degenerative disease. But the misleading term "therapeutic cloning" obscures the fact that the research clone will be "treated" only to exploitation and destruction and that any future "therapies" are, at this point, purely hypothetical. Besides, we have promising alternatives--not only in adult stem cells but also in non-cloned embryonic stem-cell lines--that do not open the door to human clonal reproduction. Happily, these alternatives will not require commodifying women's ovaries in order to provide the vast number of eggs that would be needed to give each of us our own twin embryo when we need regenerative tissue. Should these alternatives fail, or should animal-cloning experiments someday demonstrate the unique therapeutic potential of stem cells derived from embryo clones, Congress could later revisit and lift the ban.
The Weldon-Stupak bill has drawn wide support across the political spectrum; feminist health writer Judy Norsigian and liberal embryologist Stuart Newman joined Catholic spokesman Richard Doerflinger and political theorist Francis Fukuyama in testifying in its favor. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, a proponent of research with embryonic stem cells, has endorsed it. Thoughtful people understand that human cloning is not about pro-life versus pro-choice. Neither is it a matter of right versus left. It is only and emphatically about baby design and manufacture, the opening skirmish of a long battle against eugenics and the post-human future. Once embryonic clones are produced in laboratories, the eugenic revolution will have begun. Our best chance to stop it may be on the House floor next week.