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Before you head down the slopes, it’s a good idea to know your ultimate destination. As recent news reports attest – the obstacles you encounter can be deadly.

Despite a widespread public outcry against Chicago physicist Richard Seed and his boast that he would soon clone children for infertile adults, the U.S. Senate found itself unable to apply a moral brake to the human cloning process. A dozen Republicans joined with every Democrat to reject even the idea of voting on such a ban.

While President Clinton is on record supporting such a ban, only last year a high-level ethics commission set up by the President endorsed the process:

The National Bioethics Advisory Commission … has already decided to allow embryo replication, the Washington Post reported. Cloned babies would not be allowed, however, as there is no intention to let manufactured humans live full and normal lives (Electronic Telegraph, 5 June, 1997).

It’s not difficult to read between the lines of the commission’s report: it’s OK to experiment, as long as the cloned babies’ lives are ended before they are born.

Among the “uses” for cloned humans, the popular press has already identified:

  • Headless human clones, manufactured on demand as “organ banks”

  • Homosexuals cloning children from themselves, since nature has seen fit to prevent their procreation

  • Parents cloning dead children.

To their credit, some moralists have attempted to intervene in this debate. Thomas Murray, a commission member and director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western Reserve University, said of the decision: … the subject raised many concerns. They really go to the heart of what’s significant about having children, being a parent, interweaving of generations and questions about whether cloning is elevating narcissism to new heights (Electronic Telegraph, 5 June, 1997).

Dr. John Polkinghorne, another committee member, went so far as to say that human dignity forbade the use of human beings only as a “means”, holding that they were to be treated as an “end” in their own right. “Why should we clone people?” he asked. “To reproduce ourselves or a lost relative? That is an instrumental use of a person. People should be valued for themselves and not as replacements for others.”

Alas, Dr. Polkinghorne, we agree! But there arises that troublesome “should” word. Why should human beings be treated in one way or another? Upon what moral authority do you make such a judgment?

Other objections to cloning have focused on the practical difficulties involved: since the process is troublesome and prone to error, we ought not use it on humans. Or perhaps diseases would spread more rapidly among cloned animals and humans. Yet even if one accepts these very weak arguments, they amount to nothing more than technical delays. Experience tells us that before long the technical hurdles will be overcome.

Then what? For the answer, we need to back up a good number of years. Twenty-five, to be exact. A single paragraph in the news reports about the Senate debate gives a clue as to why the Senate was
unable to act: “Many sources, both Republican and Democratic, also predict that the debate over cloning could quickly spill over into arguments over abortion, the most vitriolic issue in Congress, as lawmakers try to determine when human cells, cloned or otherwise, become a human being” (Washington Post, 4 Feb., 1998).

Ah — now we come to the root of the problem! Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that children developing in their mother’s womb have no rights — not even the right to nine months of temporary residency. As Senate opponents were quick to spot, prohibiting human cloning based on the fact that “embryos” were somehow “human” before they were born would, well, er — undermine abortion.

How astute. A woman’s right to choose … an abortionist’s right to choose … and a biotechnology firm’s right to farm fish tanks of human embryos for their next quarter’s profits.

We’ve picked up a lot of speed headed down the slippery slopes of moral relativism since Roe vs. Wade. Do we really expect the world’s greatest deliberative body to protect us from mad scientists, when they can’t even protect a partially delivered infant’s skull from the abortionist’s forceps? As the old British
saying goes, “not bloody likely.”

Not everyone yet recognizes it, but humanity is in a very tenuous position. We are that helpless infant, dangling four-fifths of the way out of its mother’s womb. Do we yet feel the technologists’ forceps, as it grips our collective skull? Once you head down the slopes of moral relativism, be sure you can negotiate the obstacles before you arrive at your ultimate destination.

Good advice. Pity the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t take it twenty-five years ago.

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