Some scientists and groups have announced that they will try to produce live-born children by cloning, while others want to create human embryos by cloning solely to destroy them for their cells and tissues. Such developments have renewed Congress's interest in the issue.
An irresponsible experiment
Trials in animal cloning indicate that 95% to 99% of the embryos produced by cloning will die; of those which survive until late in pregnancy, most will be stillborn or die shortly after birth; and the rest may survive with unpredictable but devastating health problems. These problems cannot be detected prenatally, because they are not genetic defects in the usual sense – they arise not from missing or defective genes, but from the uncoordinated or disorderly expression of genes. Almost all scientists and ethicists therefore agree at this time that attempts at human cloning would be grossly unethical.
To clone and kill
Other scientists want to use cloning to make embryos solely for destructive research – to make large "control groups" to test the effects of various toxins, for example, or to attempt mass production of genetically matched stem cells for eventual treatment of disease. They would allow a ban on what they call "reproductive cloning" (allowing a cloned child to be born). Such a ban would permit the use of cloning to make countless human embryos, but would forbid transferring such embryos to a womb for purposes of live birth. Oddly, to address the problem of a 99% death rate from cloning, this approach would simply ensure that the death rate is 100% instead. Such a selective ban would define a class of new human beings that it is a crime not to destroy. It would also set the stage for "reproductive" cloning in the future, by giving a green light to the wasteful and destructive embryo experiments needed to refine the cloning process.
Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) have introduced the "Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003" (H.R. 534, S. 245) to address this problem (for text see http://thomas.loc.gov). Common features of these bills:
- Performing or attempting to perform human cloning will be a federal criminal offense, punishable by up to ten years' imprisonment and (in cases where a violation involves pecuniary gain) a civil penalty of not less than $1,000,000.
- Human cloning is defined as human asexual reproduction, performed by transferring nuclear material from one or more human somatic cells into an oocyte whose nucleus has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a living organism (at any stage of development) that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism.
- Other scientific research, using cloning techniques to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants, or animals other than humans, is explicitly excluded from the scope of the bill.
What's wrong with human cloning?
Cloning is the ultimate dehumanizing of human reproduction. New human lives are made in the laboratory, tailored to preset specifications to be mere carriers of genetic traits that others find useful. Since new life would issue from manipulation of a body cell rather than from union of sperm and egg, even the usual meanings of "father" and "mother" would not apply. This procedure fails to respect the dignity of the resulting child, who has a right to arise from mother and father as a new and valued person with his or her own open future.
Why not ban only "reproductive" cloning?
Such a ban does not actually ban cloning. It waits until the cloning procedure is finished, then forbids live birth of the resulting clones. It would be highly ineffective even at achieving its own goal – once cloned embryos are readily available in the laboratory, transfer to wombs is easily done; any effort to enforce the law once this occurs would require forced abortions, violating sound moral principles as well as the Constitution. The only effective way to ban human cloning is to ban use of cloning to initiate the development of new humans.
Would a complete ban on human cloning interfere with promising medical research?
No. As an avenue to human treatments, embryonic stem cell research in general is being superceded by research using stem cells from adult tissue, placentas, umbilical cord blood, etc. (see www.stemcellresearch.org). Even within the field of embryo research, the use of cloning to make human embryos for research (so-called "therapeutic cloning") is falling out of favor, as alternative means are found for making genetically matched cells and the wastefulness of the cloning procedure is better understood. PPL Therapeutics, involved in the creation of "Dolly" the sheep, has announced discovery of a way to redirect a patient's own body cells to make different kinds of stem cells without producing a cloned embryo. Even many who support research using "spare" embryos from fertility clinics have said it is unconscionable to create human embryos solely for research that will destroy them. Why choose a more ineffective and legally questionable way to ban cloning, solely to protect research that is morally abhorrent and of no likely benefit? The Weldon/Brownback approach is morally and medically reasonable, as well as more effective in practical and legal terms.