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Cloning in New Jersey

New Jersey Assembly Bill 2840 looks to be the most radical human cloning measure ever put into law. It should be stopped.

11:50 AM, Dec 11, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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USING "embryonic stem cell research" (ESCR) as a Trojan Horse, the authors of New Jersey Assembly Bill 2840 are trying to sneak one of the most radical human cloning legalization schemes ever proposed into law. How radical is A-2840? If the bill passes, it will be legal in New Jersey to implant cloned human embryos into wombs, gestate them for up to nine months, and then destroy them for use in research.

Assembly Bill-2840 is a sneaky piece of legislation. Its advocates publicly state that the proposed law would allow embryonic stem cell research from embryos left over from IVF procedures to be conducted. But promoting ESCR--which is already legal under federal law--is merely the front purpose of A-2840. Its true raison d'être is to explicitly authorize researchers to conduct experiments on cloned human embryos and fetuses, a radical purpose clearly discernable within the bill's text:

* First, the legislation would explicitly authorize the manufacture of human cloned embryos via the somatic nuclear cell transfer (SCNT) cloning procedure. (SCNT was the method used to create Dolly the sheep.)

* Second, unlike the Hatch/Feinstein approach to authorizing and regulating human cloning for biomedical research at the federal level, A-2840 does not prohibit the implantation of cloned embryos into wombs. This is important because if an action is not illegal, by definition, it is legal.

* Finally, the legislation would criminalize the "cloning of a human being," as a "crime of the first degree."

The key to understanding the radical depth and scope of A-2840 is in the bill's definition of the term "human being":

As used in this section, "cloning a human being," means the replication of a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material [the SCNT cloning process] through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages into a new human individual. (my emphasis)

Read this sentence carefully. Its 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 law would expressly permit implantation and gestation for any amount of time before the cloned fetus becomes a "new human individual"!

Amazingly, in December 2002, an identical bill passed the New Jersey Senate (S-1909) without a single dissenting vote. From there, it went to the New Jersey Assembly where, despite warnings about its radical scope, the Health and Human Services Committee passed A-2840 onto the Assembly floor. By that point, the alarm bells were ringing nationally, generating vigorous opposition.

The crucial moment came when four renowned public intellectuals and members of the President's Council on Bioethics (William Hurlbut of Stanford University, Robert P. George of Princeton University, Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown University, and Gilbert C. Meilaender of Valparaiso University) wrote to Governor James E. McGreevy urging that the bill be withdrawn. "New Jersey would authorize human cloning and the harvesting and use of body parts of cloned humans in the embryonic and fetal stages of development," they warned, threatening "to make New Jersey a haven for unethical medical practices, including the macabre practice of human fetal farming." Hurlbut et al further worried:

The pending legislation expressly authorizes the creation of new human beings by cloning and, perhaps unintentionally, their cultivation from the zygote stage through the newborn stage for the purpose of harvesting what the bills themselves refer to as "cadaveric" fetal tissue. Please pause to consider whose cadaver the tissue is to be derived from. It is the cadaver of a distinct member of the species homo sapiens--a human being--who would be brought into being by cloning and, presumably, implanted and permitted to develop to the desired stage of physical maturation for the purpose of being killed for the harvesting of his or her tissues.

With the cat out of the bag, the sponsors of A-2840 pulled the bill from the Assembly floor. But this was only a tactical retreat. Demonstrating that their purpose goes beyond authorizing the already legal ESCR, the bill's sponsors did not amend their proposal to do away with the cloning license or limit the maintenance of human clones to the early embryonic stage, say, by prohibiting implantation. Instead, they waited for a propitious moment to push A-2840 through the New Jersey Assembly when there would not be opportunity for extended debate.

That time has now arrived. As the Assembly session is coming to a close, A-2840 is back on the legislative front burner and being pushed toward a snap vote on December 15. Having already passed the state Senate with vigorous support from Governor McGreevey, New Jersey will become the first sovereignty in the world to legalize cloned human fetal vivisection unless the Assembly rejects this bill. In the words of Leon Kass, "Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder."

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. His next book will explore the science, morality, and business aspects of human cloning.