Big News! The French parliament just passed the Brownback-Landrieu Bill outlawing all human cloning. Well, not the exact bill: Sam Brownback (R., Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D., La.) are not French legislators. But France has accomplished an important feat that a filibuster in the U.S. Senate has frustrated in our own country: making both reproductive and therapeutic cloning against the law.
Most people favor banning reproductive cloning out of safety concerns. But many in the science and bioethics establishments fervently seek a legal license to clone human life for use in medical experiments or as a source of embryonic stem cells for medical treatments. These advocates often demonize therapeutic-cloning opponents as “anti-science” religionists. But that demagoguery is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain: France is the free world’s most secular nation, and it keeps religious concerns completely out of public policy. Moreover, other distinctly secular and “progressive” countries have also recently outlawed all human cloning, including Norway, Australia, and Canada.
Unfortunately, the fact that most of the world’s cloning opponents aren’t Taliban types hasn’t penetrated the iron-plated skulls of the mainstream American media, which continue to happily chant the mindless mantra that therapeutic-cloning opponents want to impose their religious views on the country. Such two-dimensional reportage does the country a disservice by obfuscating the substantial arguments being made against human cloning–arguments that are increasingly resonating overseas.
In a nutshell, the anti-cloning case can be divided into four general categories: morality, practicality, consequences, and priorities.
Morality: Most proposals to legalize therapeutic cloning require the cloned embryos to be destroyed, generally at about 14 days of development. Such laws are extremely radical in that they establish categories of human life that must be killed. Moreover, creating human life for the purpose of being harvested reduces cloned embryos to the moral status of soybeans.
Widespread use of therapeutic cloning would also lead to the exploitation of poor women. Each attempt at human cloning requires an egg, preferably a human egg. As we will see below, making therapeutic cloning a widespread medical therapy would require billions of human eggs! The only way to obtain even a fraction of that mind-boggling number is to scour poverty-stricken countries for destitute women willing to be paid for egg extraction, a potentially dangerous procedure that can result in infection, infertility, or death. (Some suggest animal eggs as an alternative. But using animal eggs in human cloning would result in human-animal hybrid embryos, which many also see as immoral and unnatural. Moreover, using stem cells extracted from such hybrids to treat patients might not be safe.)
Practicality: The human “egg dearth” also illustrates the utter impracticality of therapeutic cloning. Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published an article by a researcher who investigates therapeutic cloning techniques in mice. Despite several years of effort, Peter Mombaerts reported, the “the lack of efficiency [of therapeutic cloning in mice] is remarkably consistent,” taking about 100 tries merely to obtain one viable cloned-mouse embryonic-stem-cell line. Mombaerts further reported that human cloning is unlikely to be any easier. If it would take 100 eggs just to make one cloned embryonic stem-cell line per patient, ten billion eggs would be needed to treat the 100 million American patients the National Academy of Sciences has stated are likely to benefit from therapeutic cloning–meaning that therapeutic cloning would almost surely have to be strictly rationed or available only to the super-rich.
Consequences: Proponents of therapeutic cloning almost always assure a wary public that their research is not aimed at bringing cloned children into the world. But cloning is a dual-use technology. Much of the research needed to learn how to reliably create human cloned embryos for medical uses is the same information needed by would-be reproductive cloners–a point admitted by the South Korean researcher who created the first human cloned embryos.
Beyond this concern, as biotechnological knowledge advances, it seems likely that therapeutic cloners will want to conduct research on cloned human life far beyond the early embryonic stages of development being discussed today. For example, Proposition 71 will be on California’s November ballot, and, if it passes, it will create a state constitutional “right” to conduct human cloning research. The initiative states that the time limit for maintaining cloned human embryos would “initially be 12 days.” Like a Freudian slip, the modifier “initially” betrays the true agenda, hinting that the time will eventually be extended. More explicitly, New Jersey law already permits human cloning, implantation of cloned embryos, and their gestation through the ninth month, only making it illegal to allow a cloned baby to enter the “newborn” stage.
Priorities: Conducting the experiments that will be needed to transform cloned human embryos into commercially viable medical products will be arduous, time consuming–and very expensive. With venture capitalists generally avoiding the field, cloning proponents are on the hunt for taxpayer money. But before we commit billions of public dollars over many years to human-cloning research, shouldn’t we triage public spending? After all, there are other urgent health-related areas competing for public funding, such as AIDS, cancer, adult stem-cell research, etc. We also have to fund the war on terror, and reform Social Security. In a time of increasing financial strain, paying for cloning research should be put at the back of the line.
The outlawing of human cloning by progressive countries shatters the smug stereotype that cloning opponents are religious Luddites seeking to impose their theological beliefs on the rest of the world. There are substantial reasons for outlawing human cloning and they deserve a fair airing. The time has come for the biotechnology boosters in the United States to stop their religion baiting and enter into an honest debate.