I am not arguing that we should permit reproductive cloning. There is a global consensus among scientists and bioethicists that reproductive cloning should not be allowed at this time. The likely physiological risks for born children are just too great. This consensus explains a widely supported French and German initiative in the UN in 2001 to ban reproductive cloning.

However, this limited and justifiable prohibition was sabotaged last year when a small group of nations, led by the United States and Costa Rica, sought to impose a ban that would also include therapeutic cloning. Although the Bush administration was unable to get a similar total cloning ban through the U.S. Senate, this did not stop it from trying to impose this sweeping ban on the whole world.

Why such impudence? The aim of such proposals is not to protect children. Support for the Franco-German initiative would have done that. It was primarily to reinforce George W. Bush's standing with America's "parochial" religious right; especially those four million traditionalist Catholic and Protestant evangelical voters whom Karl Rove failed to muster in the last election.

Not all those who oppose therapeutic cloning research base their views on conservative Christian beliefs. Some fear that therapeutic cloning will hasten the day when reproductive cloning becomes possible. Others abhor what they see as the potential for the "instrumentalization" and "commodification" of human life if we permit the creation and destruction of human embryos to serve people's health care needs. Finally, some feminists and social justice advocates fear the creation of a vast market in human eggs, especially the eggs of poor women, if therapeutic cloning becomes a reality.

In the context of ethical discussion, I would address each of these concerns at length. For example, I believe that those who say therapeutic cloning will hasten the advent of reproductive cloning fail to see that in a world of "cowboy cloners" like Dr. Pavos Zavos or the Raelians, irresponsible reproductive cloning will only be stopped by forceful legal action against it, not by a ban on medically useful therapeutic cloning. The opposition of some (by no means all) feminists ignores other possibilities for egg production, such as the possible use of just a few stem cells lines to produce a limitless supply of mature oocytes for cloning procedures. It also misses the fact that therapeutic cloning research is our best route to direct cell reprogramming. If we can better understand how the oocyte reprograms nuclear genetic material during the cloning process, we could dispense with the use of eggs entirely.

But these issues and debates are really peripheral. They are no more the source of the momentum in the anti-therapeutic cloning movement than an occasional downhill slope is what propels your car. The real source of the momentum, the equivalent of your automobile's gasoline engine, is the religiously-inspired view that embryos, even cloned embryos, are human persons morally equal to you and me. It is the old "right to life position" dressed up for a new occasion.

Making this clear was the point of the "world tour" I offered in my previous reply to Nigel Cameron's remarks. Great Britain, which has relatively small Protestant evangelical and Catholic communities, allows and supports therapeutic cloning research. So do India, Israel, Singapore, Korea and China-all nations where the "right to life" perspective plays little or no role in political life. In contrast, we can see the imprint of the religious forces I identify in virtually every national context where there is strong opposition to therapeutic cloning research.

It is true, as Nigel observes, that in Canada, the Roman Catholic bishops opposed the recently passed cloning law, but they did so because they regarded it as too permissive and their opposition to embryo research was a major factor in sustaining the most restrictive provisions of the law. Nigel may think that France is "the most secular major state in western Europe," but he entirely misses the powerful role still played there by a determined and well-placed minority of devout churchgoing Catholics. (This is the same minority, by the way, that made passage of PACS, the civil rights/civil union law for gay people so difficult.)

Nigel also misses the influence throughout Europe of Vatican representatives to bioethics commissions. (Indeed, partly at the Vatican's urging, Article 51 of the recently passed European Constitution requires governmental bodies to maintain "regular dialogue" with churches and religious organizations.) And he misses the role of the "religious factor" in Germany. Germany is the one nation where anti-eugenics sentiment (fostered by the Nazi past), "green" environmentalism opposed to most biotechnology, and religious anti-abortion sentiments have fused into an informal but powerful coalition that has stymied embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, even here, it is a conservative Christian religious impulse that is the mainstay of the prohibitory status quo.