President Obama has shown himself to be a master of what I have called carefully crafted self-contradictions -- statements intended to convey one impression to casual listeners but that on close examination turn out to mean quite the opposite.
Obama's Monday announcement that he was reversing President Bush's policy of denying federal funding to stem-cell research that requires killing human embryos included what may be the most cynical of all Obama's carefully crafted self-contradictions.
This one was designed to build political cover for promoting research that clones human beings for the specific purpose of killing them.
The headline and lead paragraph on an Associated Press story conveyed exactly the impression Obama desired to create. The headline said: "Obama calls cloning 'dangerous, profoundly wrong.'" The lead paragraph said: "President Barack Obama says human cloning is 'dangerous, profoundly wrong' and has no place in society."
But this headline and lead are false. Obama said no such thing.
What Obama did say -- according to the official transcript of his remarks on the White House Website -- is this: "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong and has no place in our society, or any society."
Note that he did not close the door to human cloning, period. He simply closed the door to "the use" of human cloning for one purpose. He left the door open to "the use" of human cloning for other purposes.
The one "use" of human cloning Obama claims he is closing the door to is "human reproduction."
But this is self-evidently absurd: If you allow human cloning for any purpose, you are allowing it for human reproduction. That is what human cloning does -- even in a more literal sense than sexual reproduction. When a man and woman create an embryo the old-fashioned way, that embryo shares genes from both mother and father. The child is not a reproduction of either. It is an individual. But if a scientist clones a human embryo, he is making a genetically exact "reproduction" of the person cloned. Even Merriam-Webster defines "clone" as "to make a copy of."
When you "make a copy of" a human being, you are inescapably engaging in human reproduction.
So, why would a Harvard-educated lawyer like Obama say something that is so intellectually indefensible on its face? Because the policy he is advancing is itself indefensible.
Obama's carefully crafted cloning self-contradiction fits perfectly within the duplicitous argument underlying a longstanding bill, pushed in Congress by promoters of "embryonic stem cell research," that would specifically legalize cloning human embryos so they can be killed for their stem cells.
In the last Congress, this bill (S.812) was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. It is titled the "Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act."
This bill does not "close the door" to human cloning any more than Obama does.
What it would do is legally redefine "human cloning" so that whether "human cloning" takes place is not determined by whether you create a human being who is an exact genetic copy of someone else, but where you put that human being after you have created him or her.
"The term 'human cloning,'" the bill says, "means implanting or attempting to implant the product of a nuclear transplantation into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus."
But why should lawmakers care if somebody, somewhere, sometime implants "the product of a nuclear transplantation" into a machine designed to be "the functional equivalent of a uterus?" Only because "the product of a nuclear transplantation" is in fact a cloned human embryo -- and if that cloned human embryo is implanted in a uterus or "functional equivalent of a uterus" it might not die -- the fate the bill mandates for it at 14 days -- but might instead progress through further stages of human development and grow as old as, say, Orrin Hatch or Dianne Feinstein or Barack Obama, all of whom once enjoyed the formerly universal human experience of implantation in a uterus.
In a March 8, 2007, Senate floor speech introducing the bill, Feinstein accidentally revealed the political rationale behind the duplicitous language of clone-to-kill advocates.
"Despite disagreements over various types of biomedical research, there is near unanimous agreement that scientists should not create human clones," she said. "That's why this legislation will make it a crime to clone a human being, or attempt to clone a human being by implanting cells that result from nuclear transplantation in the uterus."
But, then, why make it a crime for the scientist? By Feinstein's logic, only a uterus can make a clone.
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