San Diego Union
Few issues that come before Congress are as complicated as human cloning. On one hand, there is the tremendous promise for potential cures of deadly diseases affecting millions of Americans, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease and cancers. But that promise clashes head-on with a very fundamental question: "When does life begin?"
The specific issue before the Senate is whether Congress should pass a measure banning cloning. Scientists rightly differentiate between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning is for the purpose of re-creating an identical human life, which is so fraught with potential abuse that almost no responsible experts support it. Therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, allows for the creation of a blastocyst -- about 200 cells, cumulatively the size of a pinhead -- to be used for research into potential treatments of degenerative diseases.
Scientists clone human embryos by combining a cell from a person with a human egg whose genetic material has been removed. These cells are ideal sources for human stem cells, which show great promise in research because they are from the same genetic material as the person who donated the cell. ...
In advance of the Senate debate, President Bush weighed in supporting a total ban on cloning research. About the same time, 40 Nobel laureates issued a joint statement in support of therapeutic cloning because it "holds tremendous promise to cure disease and reverse disability." They argued that banning therapeutic cloning would have a "chilling effect on all scientific research."
The president says research involving reproductive cloning would "create a massive national market for women's eggs." But such a market already exists with in vitro fertilization, a reproductive procedure that requires dozens of eggs, many of which are subsequently destroyed. There has been virtually no public outcry over in vitro fertilization.
We fully agree with the president that "life is a creation, not a commodity." We also appreciate the scientific and ethical complexity of this issue. But with possible cures for an estimated 125 million people in the United States alone, the door should not be closed on therapeutic cloning, a very promising avenue of research.
President Bush made the case for banning human cloning on Wednesday. Because cloning has become a reality with important implications for society, it demands political attention. The president's tendency to see issues in clear moral terms is superbly suited to a topic such as human cloning. "The most fundamental principle of medical ethics (is) that no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another," Mr. Bush said. No person credibly can deny that at issue are human lives in their nascent stage, which, if allowed to grow, will become babies and then adults. Playing word games -- for example, labeling stage-one embryos "primitive clusters of cells" without human value, as The New York Times is wont to do -- serves to cloud the truth, which makes denying it easier.
The address aimed to pressure the Senate into adopting an anti-cloning bill proposed by Sens. Sam Brownback and Mary Landrieu. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has been delaying a vote on the measure. Perhaps he is worried the bill will pass (as did a similar one in the House with broad bipartisan support) and anger the potential presidential nominee's liberal allies. ...
But, basically the issue boils down to life and death. Is it justifiable to destroy life, however early, for a good cause? Mr. Bush suggests the answer is no, because "life is a creation, not a commodity" to be junked for spare parts that may not even work. And, even if those parts were to work wonders, an evil means will have been used to justify a good end. Just ask Andrew Sullivan, a prominent journalist who has HIV but rejects the crass utilitarian ethos for cloning. "If my life were extended one day at the expense of one other human's life itself, it would be an evil beyond measure," he has written. "Some things cannot be simply bargained or rationalized away. And one of those things is surely life itself."
Close on the heels of a Pew poll showing that 77 percent of Americans oppose "scientific experimentation on the cloning of human beings," President Bush has called on the U.S. Senate to approve a ban on all human cloning. It was a decisive moral and political move, but it goes too far.
The federal government should make a legal distinction between cloning for reproductive purposes and cloning for therapeutic purposes, because they are two very different things.
Despite the ghastly image -- raised by the poll and painted by the president himself in remarks Wednesday -- of diabolical laboratories where babies are mass-produced and killed for their body parts, the real cloning debate is over whether tiny clumps of human cells should be coaxed into providing tissue that can be used in treatments for debilitating diseases.
Virtually everyone -- including scientists pursuing cloning research -- agrees that cloning humans for reproductive purposes is repugnant and should be banned.
But the Senate bill championed by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and the already-approved House version would criminalize research into therapeutic applications for people suffering from juvenile diabetes, kidney failure and a host of other deadly afflictions. Stem-cell scientists caught cloning for the purpose of saving lives would face imprisonment and hefty fines. Yet such measures would not stop science in its tracks, merely drive some researchers underground or overseas. ...
Rather than a full ban, the Senate should ban only reproductive cloning. If it wants to continue the debate on whether restrictions on therapeutic cloning are in order, the Senate could pass a moratorium on such research.
A moratorium would give Americans, and the deeply divided Senate, time to shape public policy based not just on outrage and fear, but on solid understanding and reasoned debate. -- For the board, L. Kelly
Des Moines Register
Now even the president of the United States has resorted to hyperbole to argue against human cloning. In an address intended to pressure the U.S. Senate to vote for a complete ban, he said, "Human cloning has moved from science fiction into science."
Science fiction? Is he referring to the creation of a master race? Frankenstein? Drones? Aliens metamorphosing to look just like the humans whose bodies they take over? What movies has the president been watching?
"Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts," he said.
Really? Will there be row after row of comatose humans suspended by threads? They'll probably be kept in a dark, secret back room somewhere. Doctors will just run in and snatch a kidney or lung whenever the need arises.
Bush doesn't want to risk "embryo farms" popping up across the heartland. "We must prevent human cloning by stopping it before it starts," he said. A complete ban and nothing less. Otherwise, Americans will move forward "without an ethical compass into a world we could live to regret."
Oh, the drama.
Forget that the National Academy of Sciences has endorsed therapeutic cloning. Forget that research could lead to cures and treatments for debilitating diseases that affect millions of people. ...
Forget the facts. Throw out reason and rationality.
Instead, the president would like America to stay focused on the images of science fiction. It is here soulless humans emerge from pods. The dead walk among us. Cyborgs file from spacecraft to invade the Earth. Aliens make friends with children. Aliens eat children. And before Will Smith can prevent it, a huge spacecraft descends upon the White House and blows it to smithereens.
Sounds scary. It is also fantasy. It has no connection with the real-world science of working with groups of stem cells that are smaller than the tiniest freckle and hold the potential of relieving real-life human suffering.
President Bush last week gave his blessings to a bill in Congress that would ban all forms of cloning, including for therapeutic purposes. That's too bad. The president's support of the measure is unfortunate and misguided.
If Mr. Bush's view prevails with Congress, millions of Americans would be denied medical treatments that could ease their suffering.
The president announced his opposition to cloning of any type in a speech to lawmakers, religious leaders, bioethicists and scientists gathered at the White House. ''We must prevent human cloning by stopping it before it starts,'' Mr. Bush said. His position is at odds with 40 Nobel laureates who also issued a statement last week -- in support of therapeutic cloning.
The scientists said that cloning human beings cannot be done safely and shouldn't be attempted. Indeed, there is almost universal agreement that human cloning, in which embryos would be implanted into a woman's womb, should be banned.
However, a bill passed by the U.S. House last July goes much further than is prudent. It would ban all forms of cloning, including cloning for therapeutic purposes (in which embryonic clusters are extracted for research). The measure even bans the medical use of imported drugs derived from cloned material.
The Senate has yet to vote on cloning, but a comprehensive anti-cloning bill almost identical to the House measure soon will be put to a vote there. ...
If the legislation passes, it would impose criminal and civil sanctions on anyone involved in therapeutic cloning. That would be a needless setback. Banning therapeutic cloning would deny U.S. scientists a powerful new approach to understanding and treating many cancers and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. In the interest of medical progress, Congress should steer clear of a comprehensive cloning ban.
(Compiled by United Press International.)