by Richard M. Doerflinger
February 1, 2002
Anything that's worth doing is worth doing well. That saying takes on new importance as we consider the bills pending in Congress to ban human cloning.
The ban that's done well is S. 1899 (formerly S. 790), sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. This is the bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives last summer. It bans any use of cloning to manufacture human embryos in the laboratory.
Two competing bills have come forward, Senator Feinstein's S. 1758 and Senator Harkin's S. 1893. Sponsors say they ban "reproductive cloning" without blocking supposedly important medical research. But these bills are not done well -- in fact, they are done so badly that they are worse than doing nothing.
Despite minor differences, the two bad bills have one important thing in common: They really don't ban cloning at all, for any purpose. They are designed to let irresponsible researchers create as many embryos as they like, and manipulate and destroy them however they wish. These bills forbid only one thing: The act of placing such an embryo in a womb, to allow him or her to survive.
This isn't a ban on cloning. It allows cloning, then creates a government mandate to kill all the clones. For the first time in history, Congress would define a class of developing humans it is a crime not to destroy.
To call these bills pro-abortion is to say too little. Current abortion laws allow the destruction of human embryos, as if they had a tenuous claim on human dignity. These proposals would require their destruction, as if they were rabid dogs.
Morally insensitive as these proposals are, they are also ineffectual in preventing even "reproductive" cloning. The bizarre and difficult aspect of cloning, the part that will take months or years of further research, is the act of producing viable embryos by this procedure in the first place. Once this is achieved, transferring an embryo to a woman's womb will take mere seconds. And once that happens, how would the birth of cloned children be prevented? By imprisoning pregnant women and forcing them to have abortions?
No, the prospect of an enforced ban of this kind is too terrible to contemplate. If it's any consolation, the sponsors of these bills may have no intention of enacting them into law. They are offering them as spoilers, to draw support away from the genuine cloning ban. When the Senate last debated human cloning, in 1998, a similar proposal was used to undermine support for a real ban -- and then abandoned by its sponsors once the real ban was dead.
So to address a fundamental policy issue, the Senate may now consider proposals that are morally horrendous, legally ineffectual and politically disingenuous all at the same time. And pollsters wonder why Americans sometimes feel out of touch with their government.
Let's hope Congress bans human cloning, and does it in the sensible way offered by Senator Brownback. The other proposed cures are worse than the disease.
(Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)