Jewish World Review May 14, 2002 / 3 Sivan, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Cloning words: a senator shows how it's done | Patriotism may be the last refuge of a scoundrel, to quote the good Dr. Johnson, but euphemism is the first for a politician who's getting ready to back a morally dubious proposition. Like human cloning.

That's why those who advocate it tend to call it anything but human cloning - therapeutic cloning, research cloning or, even better, somatic cell nuclear transfer.

The more obscure the term, the better it will do to obscure what is being done: We're treating human life as a commodity, as a means to our ends. We just may not want to admit it.

That's why the closer society comes to accepting cloning, the less likely it will be called what it is. The same way abortion is now referred to as Choice. We don't want to face certain words because we don't want to face certain realities. One of those realities is the increasing commodification of human life.

For now, and perhaps only for now, the very idea of human cloning stirs a creepy feeling in most of us, or at least it should. Because there is something repugnant about fabricating little copies of ourselves - for whatever purpose.

Maybe we'd like to create a storehouse of spare parts for ourselves as we grow old, or because we're so eaten up with ego we want our children to be only ours genetically, or - and this is the most popular defense of cloning for now - we want to clone human embryos for research purposes only.

Sure enough, that's the reason the junior senator from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln, gives for wanting to consider cloning. She says her decision will depend on whether the research is done under the right set of moral and ethical guidelines.

But how do you devise moral and ethical guidelines for a process that may be neither moral nor ethical? I'd like to see the guidelines that could justify the creation of human life in order to (a) use it for medical experiments before (b) destroying it. But there's little doubt that, soon enough, we will see a set of proposed federal regulations that purports to do just that.

Then we will see distinguished scientists and senators nod solemnly and assure the rest of us that these rules and regs make moral and ethical sense. And a lot of nice people will buy that argument because of the medical benefits cloning is supposed to bring, unproven as they are.

The result: For the first time, the government of the United States of America would not only permit the destruction of nascent human life but require it. And this would be called moral and ethical.

For now our politicians talk about permitting research only on clones, but why stop there? What moral and ethical distinction would there be between a cloned embryo and the other kind? If we can use one kind of embryo for research, why not the other?

Answer: We hesitate to experiment on natural embryos because we're not used to the idea yet. The deterioration of moral and ethical standards must be a gradual process. Each stage requires some getting used to before we slide down the slope to the next.

Why would a senator be willing to consider fabricating embryos for research, but finicky about using the same process for reproduction?

To quote the discerning JWR's Charles Krauthammer, a columnist and physician whose thoughtfulness I've long admired, "Banning the production of cloned babies while permitting the production of cloned embryos makes no sense. If you have factories all around the country producing embryos for research and commerce, it is inevitable that someone will implant one in a woman (or perhaps in some artificial medium in the farther future) and produce a human clone. What then? A law banning reproductive cloning but permitting research cloning would then make it a crime not to destroy that fetus - an obvious moral absurdity."

I don't know how to break the news to the good Dr. Krauthammer, but this debate has never been impeded by moral absurdities. When a U.S. senator calls for moral guidelines to govern what is inherently an amoral undertaking, we're already deep into moral absurdity. We're back with those German scientists who, even before the advent of Hitler, used to talk about Life Unworthy of Life.

As the debate over cloning illustrates, soon we will deny that it's cloning at all. Senator Lincoln is almost there. "I'm like most Americans: I am strongly opposed to human cloning. I do think we need to look at therapeutic stem-cell cloning."

But a clone is a clone is a clone.

Because we propose to destroy it/him/her at an early stage, does that make it less a human clone? Anyway, what's this business about therapeutic cloning? The process is certainly not therapeutic for the clone.

No matter what euphemisms she uses, the senator cannot escape the reality that she is willing to consider creating human life in order to experiment on it. Then, as a proof of her moral and ethical concerns, she would insist that such life be destroyed.

Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore; we're deep into Moral Absurdity territory.

I certainly wouldn't accuse Blanche Lincoln of trying to fool the rest of us, but I do think she's fooling herself.

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