The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 44.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

COLUMN

Laws Cloned from Hollywood

Kris Schnee

In the recent movie The Sixth Day, Arnold Schwarzenegger tackles the complex ethical issues of human cloning. Clones in The Sixth Day are slave beings grown in the glass tanks of mad scientists and used to bring back the dead with full memory of how Arnold killed them last time. When he discovers that he too is a clone, Arnold turns to the camera and pines, “Do I have a soul?”

Bad movies are easier to forget when your government doesn’t start using them as inspiration for law.

On June 20, the Bush administration endorsed HR 1644, the harshest of several bills pending in Congress to ban human cloning. The bill, endorsed by Reps. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and Bart Stupak (R-Mich.), prohibits any creation of cloned human embryos, in contrast to the milder HR 2172 sponsored by Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.).

Greenwood’s bill allows the creation of cloned embryos so long as there is no intent to bring them to term -- it allows cloning for research, but not reproduction.

The Weldon-Stupak bill is a government power grab made in the name of legislating morality. The prime reason given in the bill for the cloning ban is that cloning poses “massive risks” to children. Does it? The first mammalian cloning attempt, Dolly, produced only one birth, a healthy lamb. Not stillborn, deformed, or otherwise “mutated,” just an ordinary animal. The other embryos never came to term, just as a large percentage of human pregnancies end in natural termination. Years of research since Dolly have refined the technique, and it will only become safer and more successful in the future.

It is not Congress’ business at all to decide what medical procedures are safe. We have the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies for that; it is the job of experienced physicians and scientists to evaluate the safety of new treatments, just as they do for less controversial medicine. Safety is no justification for a federal cloning ban.

Nor is the other line of argument Weldon-Stupak advances: a complex of fear of the unknown and desire to control people for their own good. “Efforts to create human beings by cloning,” the bill states, “mark a new and decisive step toward turning human reproduction into a manufacturing process in which children are made in laboratories to preordained specifications and, potentially, in multiple copies.” Elsewhere it expresses worry that cloning “threatens to weaken existing notions regarding who bears which parental duties and responsibilities for children.” The implication of the bill’s language is clear: in the mindset of the anti-cloning (and also the anti-genetics) crowd, biology is destiny. If two children are genetically equal, they are “copies,” not distinct people (ignore identical twins). If children are given natural advantages of health and intelligence through some future genetic process, these children are only “manufactured” goods, and can never rise above their biological destiny.

The opponents of cloning show a lack of respect for human life, for people’s ability to be more than the products of their genes. Advances in biological technology will be used benevolently to improve people’s lives, yet some want to ban them (thus denying them to all but the super-rich) because they fear that a cloned human would be enslaved or treated as less than human. But if this happens, will the culprits be the parents who love their child, or the lobbyists who despise his existence? Preserving our cultural notions of parental duty is not the government’s job; nor do we need protection at the expense of our freedom as parents and children.

If you oppose cloning as a means of reproduction so strongly that you would deny it by force to everyone, reject the Weldon-Stupak bill in favor of the milder Greenwood one. Greenwood realizes that the use of embryonic cloning for medicine is a research pathway well worth pursuing. Technology Review estimates that 48,000 people in America alone are waiting for replacement kidneys. Hundreds of thousands die of heart failure each year in America; an estimated 2,100 were on waiting lists for hearts last year and didn’t get them. Human embryo research and cloning are a promising line of research which could save countless lives, and we need to protect the freedom of scientific research to maximize the chance that, when someone we care about is in danger from organ failure, we can save them. A vote to preserve human cloning as a legal option is a vote to promote human life.

The proposed cloning ban is in its early stages in Congress; there is still time to let our representatives know that cloning technology, far from threatening our “culture,” is an expansion of human freedom and will save human lives. Keep cloning legal, and prevent a bad action movie from coming true.