Cloning and stem-cell research

Posted: Jul 30, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON--Hadn't we all agreed--we supporters of stem cell research--that it was morally OK to destroy a tiny human embryo for its possibly curative stem cells because these embryos from fertility clinics were going to be discarded anyway? Hadn't we also agreed that human embryos should not be created solely for the purpose of being dismembered and then destroyed for the benefit of others? Indeed, when Sen. Bill Frist made that brilliant presentation on the floor of the Senate supporting stem cell research, he included among his conditions a total ban on creating human embryos just to be stem cell farms. Why then are so many stem cell supporters in Congress lining up behind a supposedly ``anti-cloning bill'' that would, in fact, legalize the creation of cloned human embryos (BEG ITAL)solely for purposes of research and destruction? Sound surreal? It is. There are two bills in Congress regarding cloning. The Weldon bill bans the creation of cloned human embryos for any purpose, whether for growing them into cloned human children or for using them for research or for their parts, and then destroying them. The competing Greenwood ``Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001'' prohibits only the creation of a cloned child. It protects and indeed codifies the creation of cloned human (BEG ITAL)embryos for industrial and research purposes. Under Greenwood, points out the distinguished bioethicist, Leon Kass, ``embryo production is explicitly licensed and treated like drug manufacture.'' It becomes an industry, complete with industrial secrecy protections. Greenwood, he says correctly, should really be called the ``Human Embryo Cloning Registration and Industry Facilitation and Protection Act of 2001.'' Greenwood is a nightmare and an abomination. First of all, once the industry of cloning human embryos has begun, and thousands are being created, grown, bought and sold, who is going to prevent them from being implanted in a woman and developed into a cloned child? Even more perversely, when that inevitably occurs, what is the federal government going to do: Force that woman to abort the clone? Greenwood sanctions, licenses and protects the launching of the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in modern scientific history: the creation of nascent cloned human life for the sole purpose of its exploitation and destruction. What does one say to stem cell opponents? They warned about the slippery slope. They said: Once you start using discarded embryos, the next step is creating embryos for their parts. Frist and I and others have argued: No, we can draw the line. Why should anyone believe us? Even before the president has decided on federal support for stem cell research, we find stem cell supporters and their biotech industry allies trying to pass a bill that would cross that line--not in some slippery-slope future, but right now. Apologists for Greenwood will say: Science will march on anyway. Human cloning will be performed. Might as well give in and just regulate it because a full ban will fail anyway. Wrong. Very wrong. Why? Simple: You're a brilliant young scientist graduating from medical school. You have a glowing future in biotechnology, where peer recognition, publications, honors, financial rewards, maybe even a Nobel Prize await you. Where are you going to spend your life? Working on an outlawed procedure? If cloning is outlawed, will you devote yourself to research that cannot see the light of day, that will leave you ostracized and working in shadow, that will render you liable to arrest, prosecution and disgrace? True, some will make that choice. Every generation has its Kevorkian. But they will be very small in number. And like Kevorkian, they will not be very bright. The movies have it wrong. The mad scientist is no genius. Dr. Frankensteins invariably produce lousy science. What is Kevorkian's great contribution to science? A suicide machine that your average Hitler Youth could have turned out as a summer camp project. Of course you cannot stop cloning completely. But make it illegal and you will have robbed it of its most important resource: great young minds. If we act now by passing Weldon, we can retard this monstrosity by decades. Enough time to regain our moral equilibrium--and the recognition that the human embryo, cloned or not, is not to be created for the sole purpose of being poked and prodded, strip-mined for parts, and then destroyed. If Weldon is stopped, the game is up. If Congress cannot pass the Weldon ban on cloning, then stem cell research itself must not be supported either--because then all the vaunted promises about not permitting the creation of human embryos solely for their exploitation and destruction will have been (BEG ITAL)shown in advance to be a fraud.