Bioethics Project

William Kristol Comments on Cloning Report by President’s Council on Bioethics

Date: 07/11/2002

July 11, 2002

WASHINGTON – Here’s why I think we should welcome the Kass Council Report:

1. The Report insists on using truthful and non-Orwellian language with respect to cloning. It insists that all cloning, for whatever purpose, always begins with and involves human embryos. No amount of clever manipulation of scientific terms should be allowed to hide that fundamental truth, and the Council has made this clear by its judicious choice of simple and accurate language.

2. It draws a clear line before the advance of biotechnology, and argues for a public policy that would slow or stop some developments having to do with the creation and use of human embryos, even if these might promise some medical benefits. The majority recommendation, while not a permanent ban, would ban all human cloning for four years, including a ban on the production of cloned human embryos. If enacted, it would lay down a marker by which society exercises some democratic control over the direction of biotechnology. It would be a major step forward.

3. This would set the stage for four years of a battle of public persuasion, during which time a total ban on all cloning is in place, and during which time opponents of cloning can make our full and forceful case for keeping that policy in place and extending it to other embryo research, not only that on cloned embryos. This will force a debate on the use and abuse of embryos that has otherwise been difficult to engage.

4. Having set the stage for the public debate, the report then arms us well. It presents, in stronger terms than I think has ever been done in a U.S. government document, the argument for the full moral status of the embryo in the chapter on the ethics of research cloning, in its policy recommendation, and in some of the member statements at the end. No previous government document that I know of has ever laid out so fully this moral and scientific case for treating the embryo as a potential or nascent human being deserving of dignity. The report systematically demolishes the familiar sophistic arguments that claim to show that the embryo is a mere clump of cells. It demonstrates with remarkable lucidity, not only on moral grounds but also on biological grounds, why treating the embryo as less-than-human until some arbitrary point is senseless. It states with eloquence and force the fundamental problem: that research on human embryos would “treat what are in fact seeds of the next generation as mere raw material for satisfying the needs of our own.” And it tells us why we as a society would be morally diminished were we to think of future generations in such terms.

5. The report–clear, intelligent, and morally well-grounded and sophisticated–is a must-read, and the majority recommendation, while not perfect, is a step forward.