The Magazine

Clones and Rael-Politik

The Jack Kevorkians of the cloning debate weigh in.

Jan 13, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 17 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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This sort of flouting of the law, societal norms, and/or moral sensibilities is bubbling up throughout the fields of bioethics and biotechnology. Thus, Stanford University announced in December that it is creating a research center that will clone human embryos for medical research. Actually, unlike the Raelians and Kevorkian, Stanford lacked the courage of its convictions and pretended that what is being planned isn't human cloning at all. It even went so far as to inaccurately state that its definition of cloning was in accord with that adopted by the President's Council on Bioethics. This led Leon Kass, the head of the council, to chastise Stanford for misstating the council's position. Stanford apologized to the council but continued to insist that somatic cell nuclear transfer isn't cloning when it's done for biomedical research. Head researcher Irving Weismann hopes other institutions will follow Stanford's lead until cloning for biomedical research is utterly unremarkable.

To show how far all of this may go, the New Jersey senate just passed S-1909, a bill that would permit the cloning of human embryos for biomedical research--and apparently would also permit their implantation and gestation up until the very moment of birth before requiring their destruction. The only cloned humans outlawed by the language of the bill are newborns.

As recently as two years ago, biotech advocates were promising that all they wanted was to be able to use for research embryos left over from in vitro fertilization and destined to be tossed out anyway. Now, not only are cloned embryos to be manufactured, but perhaps even late-term fetuses. Thanks to in-your-face Kevorkianism and our refusal to resist it by drawing firm ethical lines for the proper regulation of biotechnology, cloned children may well be on the way even if the Raelians are lying about Eve.

The analogy with Kevorkianism suggests it may still be possible to apply the brakes: The bio-anarchists could commit some outrage sufficient to rouse Washington into passing a ban, or at least a moratorium, on all human cloning. Already some of the most "progressive" nations in the world--Canada, Australia, Norway, France, Taiwan--have banned all human cloning or soon will.

But it took eight years to stop Kevorkian--and his assisted-suicide movement continues to thrive. With the pace at which biotechnology is advancing, we don't have that kind of time. While cranks like the Raelians may be discredited, the movement they represent is plunging ahead.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author of "A Consumer's Guide to Brave New World" (forthcoming).