With a Chicago physicist's threat to clone a human still fresh in their minds, Republicans and Democrats in Washington are scrambling to introduce legislation restricting or banning human cloning. According to pro-life sources though, only one of the two proposals pending in Congress would really stop human cloning.
Ever since a Scottish scientist introduced “Dolly” to the world, the debate about cloning has raged. Last year's appearance of Dolly, a cloned sheep, precipitated a plethora of ethical questions about the legitimacy and acceptability of cloning in general, but specifically the cloning of human beings.
Now the controversy about human cloning has reached Congress where Republicans and Democrats have introduced two major pieces of legislation aimed at stopping human cloning, at least for the next few years.
Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas) and other Republican leaders want human cloning banned permanently and without exception. Armey—flanked by leaders from the Christian Coalition and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops—introduced a bill Jan. 29 that would definitively ban all forms of human cloning.
“Creating multiple copies of God's unique handiwork devalues human dignity and turns children into mere ‘products’ of adult whims,” Armey said at a press conference unveiling his proposal. “That path leads to designed children, organ farms, and a growing disregard for the sanctity of human life.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) doesn't want to go as far as Armey. She and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced their own legislation Feb. 2 that would prohibit human cloning for 10 years. Their bill would allow scientists to engender a new human being, but ban placement of the clone into a woman's womb.
The pro-life response was swift and severe. In a Feb. 5 letter addressed to all members of the Senate, Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, decried the Democratic senators’ overture.
“Under the Kennedy-Feinstein proposal, it would be perfectly legal to create cloned human beings and use them as subjects for harmful experimentation.… f it is learned that a ‘researcher’ plans to actually implant living human embryos into women's wombs, federal authorities must step in to ensure that every embryo dies.”
As the human cloning debate goes forward, pro-life groups and Catholic observers remain concerned. While many elected officials may talk of “banning” human cloning, they say, only the Republican version would accomplish that goal.
“It's very likely a bill will pass and be signed into law,” said John Haas, president of the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care, a 25-year-old medical science research center based in Boston. “I hope and pray it will be the Republican version and not the Kennedy-Feinstein version.”
Haas, who testified last year in front of a Senate committee studying human cloning, was quick to point out that the language in the Democratic bill doesn't permanently ban human cloning and would allow scientists to mass-produce live cloned human embryos—as long as the embryos are not implanted.
“The Kennedy-Feinstein bill simply doesn't prohibit human cloning,” Haas said.
Gary Bauer, president of the pro-life Family Research Council, a Washington-based advocacy organization, agrees. He joined Armey at the press conference supporting the permanent ban on human cloning.
“Cloning threatens the very idea of human individuality,” Bauer said. “Human life begins at conception, and the cloning of human embryos is entirely unacceptable.”
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have jumped on the issue, some are questioning if a strongly worded bill is necessary or warranted. Fertility doctors with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have publicly expressed concern about any legislation prohibiting human cloning. At a press conference in January, officials with the group called for a temporary ban while the ethical and moral issues of human cloning are “sorted out.”
That reasoning doesn't sit well with Paul Byrne, an Ohio physician who serves as president of the Catholic Medical Association and a member of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission (ABAC). He favors passage of the strongest human cloning prohibition possible.
“A strong message must be sent across our country because human cloning would be an aberration from natural moral law,” Byrne said. “If it occurs, we would no longer be a nation under God.”
After the sheep cloning, President Clinton established the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). The NBAC, according to pro-life observers, is “stacked” with members who do not respect the sanctity of human life.
To combat any potentially undesirable recommendations from the NBAC, ethicists and physicians such as Byrne, abortionist-turned-pro-life activist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Dr. Rhonda Chervin, University of Arizona College of Medicine embryology professor Dr. C. Ward Kischer, and others were gathered to form the American Bioethics Advisory Commission (ABAC)—offering an opposing ethical and medical view grounded in the sanctity of human life. The ABAC wrote the president last year urging him to “ban human cloning immediately, completely, and permanently.”
Interest groups are quickly lining up behind both proposals. The Kennedy-Feinstein proposal recently received the backing of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Christian and pro-life groups are lobbying hard for the Armey proposal, which is being introduced in the Senate by Sens. Chris Bond (R-Mo.), Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). Action in the Senate was expected as early as mid-February, but pro-abortion Democrats moved quickly to block consideration of the total ban on human cloning.
“We have the opportunity to do some good, but we also have an opportunity to do enormous harm,” Feinstein said Feb. 5 as she joined other Democrats to stop consideration of the GOP bill.
Feinstein and others claimed the outright ban on human cloning could slow the search for a cure to cancer, Alzheimer's , and other diseases. Republicans and pro-life leaders labeled the claim “ludicrous” and said animal cloning and other research would not be affected under the GOP bill.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) promised a February vote on the human cloning ban, which makes it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine to create a live, cloned human embryo.
Observers agree that some sort of bill prohibiting or restricting human cloning will emerge this session. What that bill will look like, and the real-world ramifications of such a law, will be determined in Congress in the coming weeks. Whether the bill is weak or strong, Clinton is expected to sign the measure.
“If the GOP bill passes, it seems unlikely that the president would not sign it,” said Haas. “The American people are overwhelmingly against human cloning and he does not want to appear to support it.”
Until then, pro-life leaders are calling Americans to rally around the legislative effort to ban human cloning completely.
“Public opinion polls in this country show nine out of 10 Americans oppose human cloning,” Bauer said. “It is our responsibility as a nation to pass a meaningful ban on human cloning.”
Greg Chesmore writes from Bloomington, Ind.