May 21, 2001
Dear Member of Congress:
Announcements that some researchers may attempt human cloning has prompted renewed interest in this issue by Congress. Hearings have been held in both House and Senate, and important legislation has been introduced to address this urgent problem. I am writing to urge your support and sponsorship for this legislation.
The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001 (S. 790, H.R. 1644), introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), is the most carefully crafted and widely supported bill to be introduced on this issue. It is endorsed by concerned religious groups with divergent views on abortion, such as the Catholic bishops' conference and the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, and enjoys broad bipartisan sponsorship in the House.
This legislation would prohibit use of the cloning technique used to make "Dolly" the sheep to initiate the development of a living organism of the human species. Any use of cloning techniques to produce DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, plants, or animals other than humans is explicitly excluded from the scope of the ban. The bill also encourages further study by a government advisory commission, to assess any impact of the ban on medical research and any future need to revise its definition of cloning in light of new developments.
Some propose that a very different kind of bill be passed instead – one that would not ban human cloning, but prohibit implanting cloned human embryos in a womb for purposes of live birth. However, May 2 testimony before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space showed that such a ban would be gravely defective in three ways:
Moral: A mere ban on implantation and live birth would not affect the bizarre reproductive technique of cloning itself, but prohibit the natural process of nurturing and delivering a child if the child was produced by cloning. In effect, by banning live birth, government would allow unlimited use of cloning to make new human embryos and then require that they be killed. For the first time, our government would define a class of members of the human species that it is a crime not to destroy. In moral terms, then, this approach does not offer a "half a loaf" or a partial ban on cloning – it offers the worst of the present laissez-faire situation on cloning itself, combined with the moral wrong of a law coercing abortion. Morally it is worse than doing nothing at all.
Legal: Attempts to enforce a ban on implantation and live birth would have to target women's bodies, not irresponsible researchers, and involve the government in reproductive decisions that raise serious constitutional issues. By contrast, a number of states now prohibit harmful research involving human embryos outside the womb without raising a constitutional problem, because no one's body is implicated in such activity except that of the embryo.
Practical: If the law allows unlimited human cloning for research, it will set the stage for further uses of the technique in humans and make a ban on cloning for live birth all but unenforceable here and now. If a fertility clinic does transfer a cloned embryo to a woman's womb, no one will know until after the fact. At that point the sole remaining enforcement options -- demanding an abortion, or punishing the woman for giving birth – cannot be sustained in a civilized society. If human cloning is to be banned effectively, the ban must apply at the very beginning of the process.
The only serious argument raised against the Brownback/Weldon approach is that some biotechnology companies want to pursue cloning as a way to produce huge numbers of identical embryos for experimental purposes. They imagine that cloning could produce embryos that are genetically matched to individual patients in need of cell therapies, so the stem cells obtained by destroying these embryos would not be rejected by the patients' immune systems. Some even call this approach "therapeutic cloning," though it lies at the extreme fringe of morally reprehensible nontherapeutic experimentation on members of the human species.
We need to recall in this context that policymakers and legislators on all sides of the embryonic stem cell debate have rejected the idea of specially creating human embryos solely for research that will destroy them. Members of Congress who otherwise oppose the Dickey amendment to the Labor/HHS appropriations bill, which bars federal support for harmful human embryo research, have always been careful to explain that they endorse the amendment's policy against creating embryos for research purposes. Moreover, researchers themselves are already turning away from "therapeutic cloning" as a wasteful, impractical and unnecessary road to medical progress.
The chief argument against the effective and legally sound ban on cloning offered by Senator Brownback and Congressman Weldon, then, is that this ban fails to protect unethical experiments that have been condemned even by members of Congress who strongly support federal funding of abortion and human embryo research. Such a morally bankrupt argument should not prevent or delay swift federal action to enact a genuine ban on human cloning.
For these reasons I urge you to co-sponsor the Brownback/Weldon Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001 and to help bring this important legislation to a vote as soon as possible.
Cardinal William H. Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
National Conference of Catholic Bishops