THE ANNOUNCEMENT by Advanced Cell Technology of an apparent breakthrough in human cloning should restore a sense of urgency to Congress's attempt to ban human cloning. After the House passed the Human Cloning Prohibition Act at the end of July, attention swung to the issue of embryonic stem cells. But then came September 11, and the whole question of dealing with the brave new world was put on hold while the nation turned its attention to dealing with the brutal old world. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas did manage to get an agreement from Senate majority leader Tom Daschle later in September that the Senate would deal with the issue early in 2002, but otherwise everyone was, understandably, preoccupied with the more immediate war.
But now cloning is back. What's to be done? Round-robin phone calls Sunday among anti-brave new world activists, legislators, and White House aides have produced a tentative consensus (and one that may well be revised). There's general agreement that doing nothing except condemning the experiment by Advanced Cell Technology and waiting for a Senate debate next February or March is inadequate. At least some effort should be made to achieve a ban more quickly, if only to put the lie to the fatalistic notion that the progress of science is unstoppable and legislative efforts are merely symbolic or even foolish.
There's also general agreement that, given Sen. Daschle's apparent endorsement of so-called therapeutic cloning voiced on Fox News Sunday, it would be difficult to force the House bill, currently being held at the desk of the Senate, to a successful floor vote before the Senate's planned mid-December adjournment.
So there may be an effort to attach a six-month moratorium on all human cloning to an appropriations bill in the Senate, with the House (with a proven anti-cloning majority) deferring to the Senate in conference. The Senate would then have time to debate cloning in the spring and, it is hoped, pass the Weldon-Stupak-Brownback bill as a permanent ban. The six-month moratorium would be difficult for the waverers on the issue to oppose, and it would establish the principle that this important issue of the human future should be resolved by the people's representatives, not by a business corporation plunging all of us into a post-human future.
Who to watch today: Sen. Brownback, leader of the anti-cloning forces in the Senate, and, above all, the president. Will he step up to the plate on this issue? If he calls for a moratorium, he'll get one--and then can lead the nation in the spring to the full legislative ban on human cloning.
William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.