New Jersey Closning Bill:Worst in The World?

TRENTON, N.J. — Right before Christmas, by a vote of 41-31, the New Jersey Senate passed the nation's most liberal human-cloning bill.

Masked as a cloning “prohibition” bill, the legislation would in fact make it legal to clone a human embryo and implant an embryo in a womb — so long as the clone would be killed and his or her parts used in the pursuit of medical “progress.”

“This bill is not about curing people, this bill is about big special-interest groups giving big financial contributions to legislators to do their bidding,” New Jersey Right to Life Committee's public and legislative affairs director, Marie Tasy, said of the legislation.

Gov. James McGreevey has promised to sign the bill into law.

The legislation caught the attention of the U.S. bishops. Spokesman Richard Doerflinger called the legislation “deeply disturbing” and more extreme than any other cloning law in the nation, including the human embryonic cloning-for-research legislation passed in California in 2002.

As Wesley Smith, author of The Culture of Death, has spelled out, the bill's “terms would make it legal in New Jersey to create a human cloned embryo, implant it in a willing woman's womb, gestate it through the ninth month and only require that the cloned fetus be killed before it becomes a ‘new human individual,’ e.g., at the very point of birth. This means that [the] law would expressly permit implantation and gestation for any amount of time before the cloned fetus becomes a ‘new human individual’!”

That's why the opponents of the bill, now passed by both houses of the New Jersey Legislature, have dubbed it a “clone-and-kill” bill.

In a December letter to McGreevey, three Republican members of the New Jersey U.S. congressional delegation — Reps. Chris Smith, Mike Ferguson and Scott Garrett — called the bill the “most extreme and ethically flawed pro-cloning legislation in the country.”

The congressmen wrote: “This legislation will launch New Jersey blindly into the vanguard of terrible human-rights violations and grisly human experimentation. We are literally facing the prospect of creating a human clone and implanting this cloned baby into a woman's womb. Once this happens, nothing can stop the world's first human clone from being born and starting a horrible new era of human history.”

‘Science Prevails’

The fight over the bill was a yearlong process — the state Senate passed the legislation about a year before the assembly passed it Dec. 15.

Despite the unprecedented nature of the bill, the fight put pro-lifers and other anti-cloning politicians on the losing side of an emotional debate. The bill's sponsors and supporters brought in paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve to testify in support of the bill and used the names of Republicans Orrin Hatch and Nancy Reagan, who both support therapeutic cloning — though neither weighed in on this specific bill — to get Republicans to support the bill. Though no Republicans voted against the bill in the state Senate last year, only one voted for it in the Senate earlier this month.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for New Jersey to show the rest of the world that we intend to promote medical progress rather than stifle it,” Richard Codey, one of the state Senate's Democratic leaders, told the New York Times after the vote. “In the end, truth and science have prevailed.”

Democratic assemblyman Neil Cohen told his colleagues the cloning bill “is not the most significant law we'll write this session — but this century.”

Gerard Bradley, a constitutional-law professor at the University of Notre Dame, agrees that the legislation is monumental.

He's warned its effects promise to be “breathtaking, unprecedented and widely regarded as morally disastrous. These effects include, most notably, a commercial market in the body parts of fetuses and the birth of an unlimited number of ‘cloned’ babies.”

New Jersey's Catholic bishops strongly opposed the legislation, saying the only way to obtain embryonic stem cells for research “is to kill the living human embryo.”

“We believe it is more important than ever to stand for the principle that government must not treat any living human being as research material, as a mere means for benefit to others,” the bishops said in a joint statement last February, when the bill had passed in the Senate but was still pending in the Assembly.

“We support research on adult stem cells,” they said. “Adult stem cells come from adult tissue, placentas or umbilical-cord blood and can be retrieved without harming the donor.”

“Not only do the creation and destruction of human embryonic stem cells violate the sanctity of human life, but they also violate a central tenet of all civilized codes on human experimentation beginning with the Nuremberg Code,” they added. “In effect, these acts approve doing deadly harm to a member of the human species solely for the sake of potential benefit to others.”

Doerflinger, deputy director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities objected to the legislation's regulation of payments for the use or transfer of “embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue for research purposes pursuant to this act.” He sad this clearly extended its sweep beyond cloning of human embryos solely to harvest their stem cells while they are still in an embryonic stage.

“This confirms that the bill is intended to allow creating and aborting fetal humans to obtain their tissue, specifically their stem cells,” he said.

Doerflinger criticized the legislation's treatment of “valuable consideration” paid for embryonic or fetal tissues. The language mirrors federal law in allowing service fees while banning the outright buying and selling of such tissues, he said.

Paying for Parts

He added, however, that experience with the existing federal law on fetal tissues has shown that fetal-tissue traffickers “have been able to advertise the availability of various fetal organs and tissues for pay, publish price lists for different body parts or even intact fetuses, and in brief do everything involved in selling such organs and tissues as long as they call it a ‘fee’ for services instead of a sale price.”

Meanwhile, a Massachusetts company said Dec. 16 it has succeeded in cloning an embryonic unborn child but was able to repeat the process. Advanced Cell Technology said it was able to grow unborn children to the 100-cell blastocyst stage using a process called parthenogenesis, which uses only a human egg but no sperm. The company would use the unborn child, which they don't think will grow to term, as a source of stem cells for treating disease.

And the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., is launching a major grass-roots effort to enlist Delaware residents to defeat a state bill that would permit the cloning of human embryos for use in bio-medical and agricultural research.

In January 2002, President George W. Bush asked Congress to pass a federal ban on all human cloning. Different versions of a ban are currently under consideration, leaving Congress in a stalemate on the issue.

Cloning opponents hope the 2004 elections will make passage of a complete ban more possible come 2005.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.