The Magazine

For a Total Ban on Human Cloning

Jul 2, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 40 • By J. BOTTUM and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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ABOUT THE HORROR OF CREATING HUMAN BEINGS by cloning, there is wide agreement among the American people—and in Congress as well.

But about the extent of the necessary ban on cloning—whether it must outlaw all human cloning or only cloning that aims explicitly at bringing a cloned child to birth—controversy has arisen. It was on this issue that Congress’s attempt to prohibit cloning foundered in 1998. And now, in 2001, Congress faces the issue once again with a pair of competing bills. The first is a complete ban on the cloning of human beings, sponsored in the House by Florida Republican Dave Weldon and Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, and in the Senate by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback. The second is a partial ban, prohibiting for ten years only so-called "reproductive" cloning, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican James Greenwood and backed by the biotech lobby.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has editorialized before about the practical impossibility and moral fecklessness of trying to ban cloning only for certain purposes. Greenwood’s bill permits and even encourages scientists to create cloned embryos, and then attempts to prevent them from inserting those embryos into a womb. This is unenforceable, since only a judicially ordered abortion could eliminate the result of violating such a law. It is unprosecutable, since it would require an unattainable knowledge of a scientist’s intention in creating a clone. And it is unethical, since it would establish, for the first time in federal statutes, a class of embryos that it is a crime not to destroy, a felony not to treat as anything except disposable tissue. A ban solely on "reproductive" cloning will prove nothing more—and nothing less—than a license to clone. There is, in truth, only one anti-cloning proposal before Congress: the Weldon-Stupak bill.

On June 19 and June 20, a pair of hearings were held in the House of Representatives—one by a Judiciary subcommittee, chaired by Lamar Smith, and the other by an Energy and Commerce subcommittee, chaired by Michael Bilirakis—on the Weldon-Stupak and Greenwood bills. From a political perspective, the most important testimony at these hearings came from Claude Allen, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, who presented, for the first time in an official setting, the Bush administration’s position: strong support for a ban on "any and all attempts to clone a human being" and complete rejection of pseudo-compromises like the Greenwood bill.

"The administration favors the passage of specific legislation to prohibit the cloning of a human being," Allen told the Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The Weldon-Stupak bill, he added, "is consistent with [Health and Human Services] secretary [Tommy] Thompson’s and the president’s views."

The administration deserves credit for taking an unequivocal position against all human cloning, in the face of pressure from some in the biotech industry. This issue, however, will require personal leadership from President Bush—and sooner rather than later. He will have to help educate the American public about cloning and work to move the ban through the House and Senate. (The House leadership intends to seek a vote on Weldon-Stupak as early as next month.)

The president will be aided in his task by the extraordinary testimony of many distinguished witnesses at last week’s hearings. They ranged across the political spectrum, and the moral seriousness and eloquence they brought to the halls of Congress was striking. (We encourage our readers to take a look at their complete statements at www.house.gov/judiciary and www.house.gov/commerce.)

Consider the testimony of social philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago:

The path down which we are headed unless we intervene now to stop human cloning is one that will deliver harm in abundance—and harm that can be stated clearly and decisively now—whereas any potential benefits are highly speculative and likely to be achievable through less drastic and damaging methods, in any case. The harms, in other words, are known—not a matter of speculation—whereas the hypothesized benefits are a matter of conjecture, in some cases rather far-fetched conjecture....

The hope of genetic fundamentalists is that we can increasingly control for that which is deemed desirable and eliminate that which is not. The aim in all this is not to prevent devastating illnesses but precisely to reflect and to reinforce certain societal prejudices in and through genetic selection. There is a word for this so-called "genetic enhancement." That word is eugenics. Human cloning belongs to this eugenics project.

The always-thoughtful Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins added: