Ban cloning

Ban human cloning now for the protection of all life

Originally printed in the Columbus Dispatch, May 13, 2002, p. A7

April was a significant month in the history of human cloning. The Italian physician Severino Antinori announced the first pregnancy involving a cloned human, claiming that three women were pregnant with clones.

Antinori’s colleague, Kentucky-based infertility expert Panos Zavos, promptly ended his collaboration with Antinori, but claimed progress in his own cloning program with a dozen women ready to be impregnated with cloned embryos. Officials of Clonaid, the scientific affiliate of the Raelian religious group, announced they have cloned human embryos and plan to implant them into women soon. If these claims prove true, and the experiments work, the debate over human cloning will no longer be theoretical.

That’s why human cloning must be banned now.

Meanwhile, the Senate debates the ethics of cloning. The focus has been on the distinction between what is called reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, also called research cloning. Reproductive cloning is the making of cloned babies. Therapeutic cloning uses exactly the same procedure (somatic cell nuclear transfer) to clone human embryos. Rather than implanting those embryos into women, they are destroyed while their stem cells are removed in the hope of developing therapies for several diseases.

This important ethical debate is being clouded by efforts to rename therapeutic cloning. The National Academy of Sciences endorsed therapeutic cloning, but called it nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells. An editorial about therapeutic cloning in the journal Science was titled, “Please don’t call it cloning!”

About two-thirds of Americans disapprove of human cloning. Proponents of therapeutic cloning react by removing the term cloning from discussions. Others describe the procedure without mentioning that human embryos are made and destroyed. Such language games try to minimize the very human and emotional aspects of this critical issue. Therapeutic cloning is not just about the manipulation of somatic nuclei and the extraction of stem cells from blastocysts. It’s about the deliberate production of cloned human embryos and their destruction in the name of medical progress.

Renaming the technique hides the fact that therapeutic cloning involves two highly questionable procedures. The first is cloning humans. The second is the destruction of human embryos.

One controversial and morally questionable action—embryo destruction—is used to justify another controversial and morally questionable action: human cloning. Society has deep moral misgivings about both. While the ethical issues are being debated, scientific terminology should not be used to circumvent ethical reflection.

Therapeutic cloning attracts supporters because it could eliminate tissue rejection problems with stem-cell therapies. The desire to alleviate human suffering is powerful motivation, but it cannot be an ethical trump card. Let’s say my child suffers from organ failure. Would a friend be ethically justified in getting pregnant, having a late-term abortion, and donating vital organs to my child? Even if the unborn are viewed as non-persons?

If the ends justify the means, even this “therapy” could be justified in the name of relieving suffering. Most people would object because we must evaluate the means to relieve suffering.

All forms of human life should be protected and nurtured so they can develop to the best of their potential. For human embryos, this means banning therapeutic cloning as well as reproductive cloning. That does not mean abandoning patients, as some would have us believe.

Embryonic stem cells may have certain advantages in developing therapies, but many of the benefits can be, and already have been, achieved using adult stem cells. When adult human stem cells were transplanted into rat brains, the deficits caused by experimental strokes were overcome. French research with adult stem cells has already cured children of immune diseases.

These approaches point to ways of treating patients with their own adult stem cells, thus avoiding tissue rejection problems and the ethical pitfalls involved with embryonic stem cells.

We can affirm the goals of relieving human illness and suffering. But the means to those ends must be ethical. We should aggressively pursue adult stem-cell research and ban all forms of human cloning. Banning only reproductive cloning while allowing therapeutic cloning endorses human cloning and widespread destruction of the human embryos. This would require a continuous supply of human eggs, treating women as egg producers for embryo farms.

Rejecting this vision for the future, President Bush stated, “no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another.” Banning all human cloning promotes that vision.