Americans to Ban Cloning

Calculated Deception Cloning Advocates Aren’t Telling the Truth

Date: 05/06/2002

William L. Saunders, J.D.
Senior Director of Life Studies
Family Research Council

(This article was released by Knight Ridder on March 14, 2002, and may have been slightly modified.)

In his famous 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell had this to say about the problem of politically driven linguistic distortion:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. … [P]olitical language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven from the land, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”

The same use of “euphemism” and “sheer cloudy vagueness,” far from being absent from the current cloning debate, seems to be right at the heart of the public opinion campaign being waged by cloning advocates. Opponents of the Brownback/Landrieu ban on all human cloning (S. 1899) are guilty of mishandling basic scientific terms with the clear intent of promoting the cloning of human beings.

First in the line of abused terms is the frequently quoted pair, “therapeutic” and “reproductive” cloning – the arch-euphemisms in the pro-cloning repertoire. On the one hand, the term “therapeutic cloning” is seriously misleading and serves only to cloud the fact that “therapeutic” cloning, regardless of the purpose to which the research would be put, is not therapeutic for the subject, but is, in fact, lethal to that subject. It is actually non-therapeutic cloning. The root of the error, however, lies in the equally inaccurate term “reproductive cloning,” dangerous for giving the impression that not every but only some kinds of cloning are reproductive. This of course belies the scientific fact of what cloning actually accomplishes, not to mention that it contradicts the accepted definition of biological reproduction. If in fact and by definition biological reproduction is the production of a new and distinct member of a common species, then human cloning is factually and by definition reproductive. Granted, cloning is not the same as sexual reproduction – it is asexual – yet it remains biological reproduction nonetheless. From a linguistic standpoint, moreover, the term “reproductive cloning” is redundant and therefore meaningless, an error that amounts to this: “reproductive cloning” = “reproductive reproduction.”

An astounding case of linguistic abuse was the suggestion made by Ronald Green (chair of the ethics advisory board for ACT, the American biotechnology company which claims to have cloned the first human embryos) in Scientific American. Green said that the product of cloning is nothing but an “activated egg” and not an embryo, which, to his mind, can only result from sexual reproduction. His reasoning? An embryo is the product of sexual reproduction; the “product” of cloning does not come about in the usual sexual fashion. Consequently, it cannot be an embryo but must be something else – why not call it an “activated egg”? His position, however, is not defensible. It does not matter how a human being is created. What matters is that a new, genetically complete, self-integrating human organism – i.e., a new member of the human species – has been created. Cloning achieves this. Thus, the product of cloning, just like the result of sexual intercourse, is a living human embryo.

Most recent in the long trail of linguistic distortions, however, has been the move on the part of cloning advocates to replace their original coinage “therapeutic cloning” with the technical scientific term for the cloning procedure, “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” or, as they prefer to call it, SCNT. Since somatic cell nuclear transfer is simply the technique by which cloning is accomplished, this distortion would be amusing if it were not intentionally misleading.

Even more inaccurate, however, is the euphemistic creation “nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells.” This is deception of the highest order. Beyond obscuring the simple facts of cloning in heavy scientific terminology, it clearly means to portray the production of human embryos as if it were a special technique for the production of stem cells. Yet cloning does not produce stem cells. Cloning produces human embryos, and human embryos in turn produce stem cells. The intention of “nuclear transplantation” may well be the production of stem cells; yet the procedure of “nuclear transplantation,” if successful, always produces human embryos – embryos that must be killed in order to extract their stem cells.

The logic of these progressions is not hard to trace. The language of “therapeutic” cloning was initially used in an attempt to soften the distasteful reality of cloning with something legislators and the public would find easier to swallow. Yet as people began to see through the distortions to the reality of human cloning, cloning advocates shifted the language of cloning to lessen public unease. They found this first in the neutrality and apparent harmlessness of scientific jargon, which they successfully reduced to an abbreviation, and in the end finished the process by using a cover-up phrase for the actual cloning procedure.

Genuine difficulties in the language of cloning are to be expected, and their clarification was one reason why President Bush created his Council on Bioethics. Yet with cloning advocates deliberately tampering with basic terms, it is hardly surprising that confusion and ambiguity have crippled the debate.

If George Orwell were with us today, would anyone be surprised if he were to take as examples of “euphemism” and “sheer cloudy vagueness” the linguistics tricks created by cloning advocates?

Commentary Date: May 6, 2002