Americans to Ban Cloning

The Hatch Hypothesis: A Strange, Unscientific Belief That May Confuse the Senate’s Cloning Vote

Date: 05/15/2002

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D.
Dean, The Wilberforce Forum
Director, Council for Biotechnology Policy
Founding Editor, Ethics & Medicine

 

We need candor and honesty in the biotech debate. Our decisions now will affect every generation to come. When even the New Scientist must appeal for scientists to call a clone a clone, we are disturbed that the three Senate bills that would permit and regulate millions of human cloning experiments all claim to “ban cloning.”

And that’s why Senator Orrin Hatch is wrong to support the industrial cloning of human embryos. His reasoning is not just wrong—it is plain dangerous. He claims to be “pro-life” and pro-science, yet his “pro-life” defense of cloning forces him to rewrite the science. His argument depends on one strange belief. If his colleagues in the Senate accept the Hatch Hypothesis, we shall begin the biotech century with one central huge flaw in our thinking that goes far beyond cloning.

Back in the 1980s the biotech advocates of the day prepared the way for this kind of confused thinking by starting to play with language. They coined the first of many deceptive terms intended to legitimate their use of the embryo for laboratory experiments. Confronting massive public sentiment against embryo research in the United Kingdom, their focus groups came up with a simple solution that invoked the age-old principle: If you can’t beat them, join them. So, just as they now claim to oppose cloning, they decided they could oppose embryo research—if they had first redefined the early embryo as a pre-embryo. To describe it in those terms makes their conduct look disreputable and hardly “scientific.” But it is exactly what they did. Thus was born a stratagem that served the cause well in the UK and overcame what was initially a huge pro-life/pro-choice parliamentary majority in favor of protecting the embryo. Big Bio has learned from those debates, as we have seen.

Senator Hatch takes this language game one stage further. When is an embryo not an embryo? It all depends, he claims, on the manner in which it originated. The clonal embryo is not the same as a regular embryo; its origins in the fusing of skin DNA and an unfertilized enucleated egg make it somehow fundamentally different.

Big Bio has been working hard to convey that impression. Since their focus groups told them that “cloning” was a turn-off for the American people, they followed the pre-embryo strategy and came up with “therapeutic cloning” as a way of packaging the unacceptable. That was the fad as recently as Thanksgiving of last year, when Mike West’s Advanced Cell Technology rolled out their hubristic claim that they were the first to clone a human embryo. Big Bio’s “CuresNow” website, stuck between the old language and the new, proclaims curiously that they are opposed to “human cloning” but in favor of “therapeutic cloning.”

But the focus groups have been at work again, and even “therapeutic cloning” is now a no-no. In its place we have a gumbo of “DNA transplantation” and “somatic-cell nuclear therapy” and a dozen more euphemisms. The Harry and Louise ads show BIO’s focus-group investments being put to work. “Is it cloning? NOOOOO,” they declare, with an attention to truth of which Hitler propaganda chief Josef Goebels (“the big lie is the one people believe”) would have been proud.

So Senator Hatch is not the first person to make the suggestion that a clonal embryo is not really a clonal embryo, but he is certainly the most influential. As the biotech century unfolds, its implications for human dignity are staggering, since for the first time we have a leading U.S. senator claiming that if you make humans in some other way than fertilization, they are not really human at all. Perhaps this is the only logical option for a “pro-lifer” who wishes, for whatever reasons, to approve the making and experimental use of huge numbers of embryonic members of our species. If that is true, it shows afresh how the abortion debate has conditioned our capacity to develop policy and ethics for biotechnology, and how disastrous its implications are when a “pro-lifer” goes bad.

So is Dolly a Sheep? The Hatch Hypothesis, of course, is that maybe she isn’t. That sounds no more “pro-science” than industrial-scale, Dolly-style cloning for people sounds “pro-life.”