Can a majority of voters in a state declare that there is a "right" to clone and kill human beings and then force all state taxpayers to fund such activities? When Californians go to the polls this November to choose between George W. Bush and John Kerry, they are almost certain to face a ballot initiative posing this question, too.
Winning California's electoral votes may be a long shot for Bush. But he ought to vigorously oppose this California initiative both as a matter of principle and as a means for sparking a much-needed national debate on what liberty means in an age when some American scientists -- and some business interests -- are insisting that taxpayers fund research on human subjects that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. Unimaginable, that is, outside Nazi Germany.
The division between Bush and Kerry on this issue is deep and unbridgeable.
Kerry supports what proponents euphemistically call "therapeutic cloning." This is research in which scientists clone human beings, and then kill the clones as embryos to steal their "stem" cells. Bush opposes human cloning, period.
In 2002, Bush spoke powerfully in favor of federal legislation to ban all human cloning. "Research cloning would contradict the most fundamental principle of medical ethics, that no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another," he said. "Yet a law permitting research cloning, while forbidding the birth of a cloned child, would require the destruction of nascent human life."
In February 2003, for the second time in three years, the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly (241 to 155) to ban all human cloning. But the bill has stalled in the Senate, where Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, opposes it because he, like John Kerry, favors "therapeutic" cloning.
Testifying in a Senate subcommittee against a complete cloning ban, Hatch presented an argument that exemplified the shoddy logic of cloning advocates. "After many conversations with scientists, ethicists, patient advocates and religious leaders and many hours of thought, reflection and prayer," said Hatch, "I reached the conclusion that human life does not begin in the petri dish. I believe that human life requires and begins in a mother's nurturing womb."
By this reasoning, if scientists develop mechanical wombs, the babies they hatch will not be humans. They may look like humans; they may share human genetics; they may interbreed with humans. But, by Hatch's logic, they would not be "human life" because "human life requires and begins in a mother's womb."
Reasoning like this in Washington shut the door on a federal cloning ban and opened the door to California's initiative drive.
In April, organizers submitted 1 million signatures to the California secretary of state seeking to qualify a proposed state constitutional amendment for the November ballot. The signatures are still being verified, but the initiative needs only 598,000 to be certified.
The proposal is entitled the "California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative," but it ought to be called "Loan-to-Clone-to-Kill." If passed, it would enshrine clone-to-kill research as a "right" in California and direct the state government to sell $3 billion in bonds over the next 10 years to provide grants to universities, think tanks and "commercial entities" to finance "stem cell" research.
The dark heart of the initiative is buried in obscure language that would be added to California's constitution: "There is hereby established a right to conduct stem cell research which includes research involving adult stem cells, cord blood stem cells, pluripotent stem cells and/or progenitor cells.... Pluripotent stem cells may be derived from somatic cell nuclear transfer..."
"Somatic cell nuclear transfer" is the pseudo-scientific term for cloning a human embryo from an adult human being.
Loan-to-Clone-to-Kill has a chance of winning because there is big money behind it. "In all," the Associated Press reported last month, "Silicon Valley venture capitalists and their families have contributed more than $1.8 million to a campaign that has raised about $5.3 million since late last year and is attempting to raise $20 million by the November election."
But if President Bush puts his own moral and political muscle into the campaign against this initiative, it can be defeated while clarifying the real principles at stake in a great and unavoidable national debate.
Backers of Loan-to-Clone-to-Kill will spend millions painting it as a charitable effort to find cures for horrible illnesses. But it is really all about coercion. It is about using the power of the state to deprive people of their lives and their property. Under this initiative, every human being created by cloning will be treated as a piece of property and then exterminated. Every taxpayer will be made to pay for that extermination, even those who recognize it for the abomination that it is.
As President Bush eloquently argued two years ago, human cloning research is really about exploiting and extinguishing human lives. California's Loan-to-Clone-to-Kill initiative gives him an opportunity to drive that argument home during his re-election campaign while winning the mandate he needs to completely ban cloning in the United States of America.