William Saunders

Briefing for Senate Staff on Cloning – William Saunders

Date: 11/30/2001

Statement by William Saunders, Jr., JD
Human Rights Counsel and
Senior Fellow for Human Life Studies
Family Research Council


Good afternoon –

It is a pleasure to discuss this issue with you.  I must say I envy you.  As a member of Congress or as staff advisers to members, you have an opportunity to decide one of the most important issues of the day, whether we should permit the cloning of living human beings.

Please do not assume that no matter what you do, cloning will occur in some other country.  In my interviews with the foreign science press, I have been informed that the resolution of this issue by United States will likely be decisive for the rest of the world.  Therefore, I urge you to think deeply about this matter.

Cloning is often discussed as if there were two different kinds of cloning, sometimes described as “therapeutic cloning” and “reproductive cloning.”  Both terms are, however, seriously misleading.  And if we do not use accurate language, it is unlikely we will be able to think clearly about the issue.

All successful cloning is reproductive. That is, once cloning results in a living single-cell human being,reproduction, by definition, has occurred. It does not matter for what purpose this cloning was accomplished. Another member of the human species exists.

If a living human being has been created, then we must face this crucial question – how are we ethically obligated to treat that human being?  One purpose for which cloning is pursued is to produce a subject for research experiments.  Proponents call this “therapeutic cloning.”  This is a serious misuse of language.  For even if the aim of the experiment is to produce a therapy for a disease or injury that was suffered by someone else, the research is lethal for the subject of the research (i.e., the human embryo) and is, therefore, not therapeutic at all.  It is, in its essence, non-therapeutic.  Such experiments have been rejected throughout Western history, and condemned by an ethical consensus expressed after World War II in the Nuremberg Code, which stated: “No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will result.”  However noble the ultimate purpose for which it is done, we have always agreed it is wrong to kill one human being to benefit another.  Yet experimental cloning does just that.

As counter-intuitive as it may at first appear, the reason these ethical prohibitions apply to the case of experimental cloning is because all human beings begin life as a single cell organism.  Each one of us did.

Certainly, every cell in the human body is not a human being.  And left to themselves, none of those cells would become a human being.  But once a single-cell embryo or zygote has been created, whether by sexual reproduction (the exclusive means until now) or by asexual reproduction (as with cloning), that embryo is a living, distinct, genetically complete human organism which, unless interrupted, will direct its own integral growth and development through all the stages of human life  – from embryo to infant to teenager to senior.  And make no mistake about it, the creation of a living human embryo has been the aim of ACT from the beginning and is the accomplishment it claimed in its article in Scientific American – for it is from embryos alone that embryonic stem cells, the prize ACT seeks, are taken.

Thus, as I have discussed, all cloning, for whatever purpose undertaken, is reproductive.  All cloning is unethical because it reduces a human being to an object manufactured by another.  If cloning results in a live birth, excruciating problems of kinship and inheritance are posed.  However, cloning, as ACT did, for the purpose of lethal experiments is, in fact, the most unethical of all.

Whether such experiments are permitted is an issue of great importance for us.  The resolution of the issue will go far in determining what kind of society we will live in.  Would it not destroy any hope for achieving a real human community if we permit some humans to be cloned and those cloned human beings to be destroyed in order to benefit others?  Likewise, would any of us wish to live in a society where one class of human beings is manufactured to suit the preferences of others?  How will we then look upon one another?  What, indeed, will it mean to be human in such a society?  These questions stir deep waters.  Perhaps you have seen the film, Gattaca, starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.  I commend it to you.  It considers a world in which cloning and the designing and engineering of human beings has become the norm.

Such a world is not one we, or the Senate of the United States, should unthinkingly allow to happen.   It is not something, I suggest, which we can leave private industry free to pursue.  Failure of the Senate to act will not preserve the status quo.  The status quo was changed irrevocably by ACT over Thanksgiving weekend.  If the Senate does not act, it will permit cloning to continue to go forward.  What ACT is doing is precisely what all parties in the stem cell debate opposed – the special creation of living human embryos in order to destroy them in experiments.  When I mentioned to some politically uninvolved friends what had been reported over Thanksgiving weekend, each of them separately asked, “Isn’t that illegal?”  It is up to the Senate to decide whether it will be or not.