Council for Biotechnology Policy

Human Dignity Must Frame the Development of Biotech: Not the Other Way Around

Date: 11/26/2001

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

November 26, 2001

Michael West of Advanced Cell Technologies has thrown down the gauntlet at the feet of civilization. Nearly five years after the cloning of Dolly the sheep was announced to the world, we still have no federal law to prevent the creation of human beings through this repellent copying technique. When with the President’s support the House of Representatives voted 267-162 for the Weldon-Stupak bill, it seemed that 2001 would be the year in which we finally said No to human cloning. But September 11 supervened, and in the face of war debate on cloning along with other important matters was suspended.

But Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the international consortium headed by Dr. Panos Zavos and SeverinoAntinori, and the Raelian initiative, have all been pressing ahead. And ACT has now taken gross advantage of this de facto moratorium in policy development to try to force a change in the status quo. No longer are we speaking of preventing the cloning of human beings. All of a sudden, humans have been cloned. ACT, under cover of its secret ethics committee, has forged ahead. While we have been focusing on the prosecution of war, they have sought to shift the conversation by a fait accompli. And while we were celebrating Thanksgiving with our families, through a slick PR maneuver Michael West has made their announcement to the world. They must be stopped.

The revulsion of the American people for human cloning is unambiguous, and conservatives and progressives, pro-lifers and pro-choice advocates have come together in seeking a comprehensive ban on the replication of the species by this bizarre industrial technique. The breadth of that revulsion needs to be stressed, since those who favor experimental cloning have sought to characterize this as a re-run of the argument over abortion. As leading pro-choicer and biotech legal expert Lori Andrews and I argued in a recent op-ed (Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2001), this is false. A wide coalition has come together that favors an outright ban on all cloning. It includes such famous pro-choicers as Judy Norsigian, longtime editor of Our Bodies, Ourselves; and vigorous supporters of embryo stem-cell experimentation, such as columnist Charles Krauthammer.

And why? If the human embryo is a human person, as many of us believe, then plainly experimental use of the embryo is always abuse and must be stopped. If we take an intermediate view, and say we do not know; or if we take the view that there is a high degree of genetically unique potential in the embryo that stops short of personhood – still we will not create embryos for experimentation and death. It is very striking that even some of those who favor that kind of use of so-called spare clinical embryos draw a deep line in the sand here. This mechanical production of members of our own species is inherently de-humanizing.

And of course however much those who favor experimental cloning (which they dishonestly call “therapeutic”) seek to distinguish it from live-birth cloning (which they call “reproductive”), they are the same thing. Every step in refining the human cloning technique brings nearer the birth of a cloned born baby.

But the basic issue is this. Biotechnology offers the world extraordinary opportunities for good and also for ill. As its treasure-house of opportunity is explored, we must fervently seek a responsible policy framework that will protect and enhance human dignity and not hazard it to the interests of venture capitalists and mad scientists. The tragedy – forcibly underlined in the way ACT have made their case – is that in the interests of human dignity human dignity will be destroyed.

Wilberforce Forum’s affiliated Council for Biotechnology Policy is joining with other groups and individuals in establishing ABC – Americans to Ban Cloning – to call on our legislators to heed the voice of conscience and the American people and end this practice before it goes any further.

After nearly five years of delay, we need Congress to draw a line in the ethical sand and begin to build a global coalition for human dignity. ACT has thrown down the gauntlet. We must pick it up and act with speed and resolve.