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Much ado about human cloning

By Jackson Murphy
web posted July 2, 2001

As the dog days of summer come upon us, Congressmen in Washington DC will be debating two bills on human cloning. Of all the divisive issues currently up for debate from Missile Defense to the Patients Bill of Rights, human cloning is conceivably the most volatile.

Currently there are two bills in the House of Representatives on the subject. The first, sponsored by Dave Weldon (R-Fla) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich), is designed to prohibit human cloning in all circumstances. The second, sponsored by James Greenwood (R-Pa) and Peter Deutsch (D-Fla), attempts to allow cloning so long as the clone is destroyed before birth.

"The Bush Administration has stated the President cannot support a bill on human cloning that allows for so-called 'therapeutic' cloning," said House Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts. "I agree, and am confident that the House will defeat any backdoor attempts to permit human cloning with mandated embryo destruction under the guise of medical research."

The point man for the conservative voice against any form of cloning is the Weekly Standard's William Kristol. Along with J. Bottum, Kristol wrote in a recent editorial that cloning would result in the, "degradation of human liberty and dignity,"

The Bush administration has announced that it backs legislation that criminalizes human cloning either for child production or as a process to find cures to disease. In testimony to the House last week by Claude Allen, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services said, "Any attempt to clone a human being not only would present a grave risk to the mother and the child but also would pose deeply troubling moral and ethical issues for humankind."

In an OPED at Reason.com the always-reliable Virginia Postrel lays out why this rejection of science is such a poor idea. "With barely a hint of serious public discussion, Congress and the White House are moving to erode parental rights, destroy freedom of inquiry, and condemn millions of Americans to suffer and die."

Likewise in support of Greenwood's solution Daniel Perry of the Alliance for Aging Research said in testimony that, "Scientist involved in this research say that human somatic cell nuclear transfer is an enabling technology that can be used to generate healthy cells and tissues for repair or replacement in a vast array of medical applications."

"To deny our aging population the opportunity to benefit from this research would be a tragic reversal of recent biomedical progress toward permanent cure of disease that compromise quality of life, and which account for so much of our nation's healthcare expenditures," said Perry.

The problem is that any bill that bans all cloning and cloning research includes the techniques of cell research. This research is used for tissue regeneration or for fighting disease. On one hand it is not human cloning per se, but on the other it is so close that it may put this valuable resource in jeopardy.

There is nothing wrong with the goal of preventing human cloning for fear that it will cheapen life and individual identity. In fact this is morally correct and intuitive, as the science will surely advance quickly. But the devil is in the details-isn't it always. If the legislation is too broad, confusing, or loose it could mean the end to any research.

The majority of Americans feel concerned and do not wish humans to be cloned. In a CNN/Time poll earlier this year results found that 90 percent of respondents were opposed to human cloning. It also found that 68 percent are against cloning to produce vital organs to save others. So you can see why politicians are rushing to judgment.

At first glance the issue is so simple-no one wants people to be cloned. The issue becomes more complex and muddies the water when science can employ various techniques that fall under the broad umbrella of cloning to produce great benefits without actually violating such ethical rules.

Senator Orrin Hatch

When a staunch supporter of the pro-life movement such as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is seen crossing over to areas such as embryonic research the issue must be muddy indeed.

Leon Kass, ethicist at the University of Chicago, in an interview in the Economist said those who are against cloning are bound to lose. They are fighting, "against an enormous amount of money, against the general liberal prejudice that it is wrong to stop people from doing something and, in many cases, against everybody's quite rational fear of death."

If medical research, done in a moral way, can solve medical dilemmas then is that also not the pro-life position to take? On the table now is the question of how much suffering we will allow to ensure the ban on human cloning.

The forces against such advancements must sound like those who thought the earth was flat or that the earth was the center of the universe. It just isn't that simple anymore.

Jackson Murphy is a young independent commentator from Vancouver, Canada writing on domestic and international political issues.

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