CLONING ADVOCATES are playing a shell game with the American people. At the federal level, they advocate the legalization of human cloning but assert that cloned embryos should be destroyed after 14 days of development and never implanted in wombs (the Hatch / Feinstein Bill). But this is a diversionary political tactic. Hatch / Feinstein's true purpose is to prevent passage of a total federal ban on cloning by human somatic nuclear cell transfer (SCNT), the Brownback / Landrieu bill. The Hatch forces hope to divert enough votes so the Brownback bill cannot muster the 60 votes necessary to break a Senate filibuster.
Meanwhile, at the state level, the biotechnology industry is pursuing an even more radical cloning agenda. Based on state legislation that has recently passed or is now pending, it is now clear that Big Biotech wants a legal license to conduct vivisecting research upon cloned human embryos and fetuses through the ninth month of gestation.
New Jersey, enthusiastically supported by biotech's lobbying arm, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), has just enacted such a law (S-1909/A2840). The Garden State now explicitly permits the creation of human cloned embryos, their implantation into wombs, and their gestation to the point of birth. The only thing that cannot be done with a cloned human life is cultivating the clone "through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages into a new human individual." [emphasis added] In other words, gestating a human clone through embryo and fetal, but not newborn, stages is perfectly legal.
One law might be an anomaly, a case of bad drafting. But a virtually identical bill was introduced last year in Texas. And now a bill is pending in Delaware that, while somewhat differently worded, would also permit gestation of a cloned fetus through the ninth month.
The Delaware Bill (Senate Bill-55), disingenuously entitled the "Cloning Prohibition and Research Protection Bill," purports to prohibit human cloning. But this is subterfuge. Like New Jersey's law, it actually would explicitly permit human cloning, implantation, and gestation--so long as the purpose of these actions is not to bring a cloned baby to actual birth.
As with the New Jersey law, SB-55's language is sneaky. But with a careful reading, the intent becomes clear:
First, cloning a "human being" is outlawed. "No person shall create or attempt to create a human being using somatic cell nuclear transfer or other cloning technologies."
Second--and here's the sneaky part--the legislation defines what this means: "'The creation of a human child' means implanting into the uterus of a human female, for gestation and subsequent birth, the product of a nuclear cell transfer of a human somatic cell into a enucleated human oocyte [egg]." [emphasis added] This means that implanting a cloned embryo and gestating it for any purpose other than a "subsequent birth" would be legally approved or "protected" research. This being so, if SB-55 passes it will be permissible in Delaware, as in New Jersey, to gestate a cloned fetus through the ninth month so long as it is aborted before being born. It might also be legal to implant a cloned embryo and gestate it to birth in an animal or artificial womb, since only births from "the uterus of a "human female" seem to be prohibited. Artificial wombs, biotechnologists tell us, may only be a few years away.
The legislation further provides, "Nothing in this Chapter shall restrict other areas of biomedical and agricultural research [meaning other than bringing a cloned baby into the world] including but not limited to, important and promising work that involves the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer or other cloning technologies." This could clearly include experimenting upon cloned human fetuses.
Finally, it would not even be a crime to bring a cloned baby into the world. It would merely subject the wrongdoers to a $250,000 civil penalty, enforceable only by the state solicitor. One witness critiquing the bill noted that for a wealthy biotech company, this might be seen as part of the cost of doing business.
RECENT EXPERIMENTS with cows point to one of the potential purposes of the New Jersey law and Delaware's pending legislation. Biotechnologists created a bovine cloned embryo using SCNT. It was implanted in a cow's uterus, gestated to the fetal stage, aborted, its kidneys procured, and transplanted into the cow whose DNA was used in its creation, without stimulating an immune reaction. This was touted in the media as a successful "therapeutic cloning" experiment. This same experiment could legally be conducted using human clones in New Jersey and if SB-55 passes, in Delaware.
It is important to note that the technology to create a cloned human embryo to the point where it could be implanted and gestated does not yet exist. But there is a reason the biotechnology industry is getting its legal ducks in a row. Advanced Cell Technology is reported in this month's Wired magazine to have successfully created human cloned embryos to the 16-cell stage. If this is true--no sure thing since the financially strapped ACT often trolls for venture capital using the popular media to tout its research instead of publishing peer reviewed journals--the ability to create cloned embryos capable of being implanted for gestation and experimentation may not be long in coming.
Alarmingly, SB-55 passed the Delaware Senate last year without a dissenting vote. It is now before the Assembly Health and Human Development Committee where it will be voted on next week.
In the longer run, to prevent Big Biotech from inducing other states to quietly license cloned embryo and fetal vivisection, the federal Brownback / Landrieu Bill should be passed without further delay.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.