I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts, and that human life is never bought and sold as a commodity. (Applause)
-- State of the Union address, Feb. 2, 2005
WASHINGTON -- That declaration drew more than applause. It received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle -- demonstrating that even amid the confusion and dishonesty in this country's bioethics debates, some truths remain self-evident. And one of those truths is that human embryos are to be created for the purpose of producing human babies, not for commerce and not to be dismembered for study or spare parts.
Yet what was remarkable about this moment -- at the time, and for over a month now, almost entirely overlooked by the media -- was that the Democrats who rose to join the applause were endorsing a principle that is at war with a key part of their own biotech agenda: research cloning.
Let me explain. When you clone a (somatic, i.e. adult) human cell, you turn it first into an embryonic cell with which you can do two things: (a) let it grow (in theory, with implantation in a uterus) to become a cloned baby, or (b) take it apart very early to derive stem cells (research cloning).
Everyone opposes (a) because everyone agrees that cloning children is a monstrous idea that deserves to be banned. But congressional Democrats (with the support of some equally confused Republicans) support (b), research cloning. But that means you've just created a human embryo for the exclusive purpose of experimentation and dissection -- the banning of which most everyone in the House chamber stood up to cheer.
The Democrats were oblivious to this self-contradiction. It jumped out at me because three years ago, in working out my own contribution to the cloning report of the President's Council on Bioethics (on which I serve), I had proposed creation as the bright line to separate what is permissible from what is impermissible in embryonic research.
The principle I suggested was this: No creating human embryos for experimentation. That means ``no" to all cloning. And that means ``yes'' to using existing, already created embryos such as the thousands of frozen and/or discarded embryos left over from IVF clinics -- embryos created for the purpose of becoming children but which, for one reason or other, were not used.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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