COMMENTARY:
Stop All Cloning of Humans For Four Years


by

Leon R. Kass, Chairman
President's Council on Bioethics

July 11, 2002 (WSJ) For the past five years, the prospect of human cloning has been the subject of much public attention and sharp moral debate. Several mammalian species have been cloned; the first cloned human embryos have been created; and fertility specialists at home and abroad have announced their intention to clone the first human child.

 

For the past six months, the President's Council on Bioethics has met to consider the moral, biomedical, and human significance of human cloning and to advise President Bush on what to do about it. We have sought to examine the subject in full by considering the human goods that cloning might serve or endanger -- not just whether the technique is feasible or safe -- and by considering cloning's place in our expanding biotechnical powers over human life. And we have considered various public policy options that might give effect to our ethical judgments and provide a prudent course of action, permitting science to flourish while preserving moral boundaries.

 

* * *

 

Our first goal was to clarify the terminology that confounds public discussion, beginning with "human cloning" itself. Whatever the purpose for which cloning is undertaken, the act that produces the genetic "replica" is the first step, the creation of an embryonic clone.

 

Accordingly, we mean by human cloning the production of cloned human embryos -- the earliest stages of developing human life -- with the intention of either transferring them to a uterus to initiate pregnancy or taking them apart in order to procure embryonic stem cells. The first use has come to be called "reproductive cloning," or just "cloning"; the second has come to be called "therapeutic cloning," "research cloning" or "nuclear transfer for stem cell research."

 

The council has chosen, instead, to call them "cloning-to-produce-children" and "cloning-for-biomedical-research." These terms are accurate and allow us to debate the moral arguments without Orwellian or euphemistic distortion. Whether we favor or oppose cloning to produce children, or for biomedical research, we must acknowledge that both uses of cloning begin with the same act: the production of cloned human embryos.

 

Regarding cloning-to-produce-children, the nation, Congress and our council are nearly unanimous: This practice should be opposed, morally and legally. Not only is the technique demonstrably unsafe, it could never be safely attempted. Moreover, the council opposes this practice not only because it is unsafe, but because it would imperil the freedom and dignity of the cloned child, the cloning parents, and the entire society.

 

By enabling parents for the first time to predetermine the entire genetic make-up of their children, it would move procreation toward a form of manufacture. It would confound family relations and personal identity; it would create new stresses between parents and offspring. And it might open the door to a new eugenics, where parents or society could replicate the genomes of individuals (including themselves) whom they deem to be superior.

 

Regarding cloning-for-biomedical-research, the council, like the nation, is divided. On the one hand, this research offers the prospect -- though speculative at the moment -- of gaining valuable knowledge and treatments for many diseases. On the other, it requires the exploitation and destruction of nascent human life, and risks coarsening our moral sensibilities. Although individual council members weigh these concerns differently, we all agree that each side in this debate is defending something vital to us all: the goodness of knowledge and healing, the goodness of human life at all its stages. And each side must face up to the moral burdens of approving or disapproving of this research: namely, that some who might be healed in the future might not be, or that we will become a society that creates and uses some lives in the service of others.

 

In our report released today -- "Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry" -- we offer two alternative policy recommendations, both distinct from the most prominent legislative proposals in Congress. Both recommendations call for a permanent ban on cloning-to-produce-children, thus giving public force to the nation's strong ethical verdict against this practice. Where we differ is on how to approach cloning-for-biomedical-research. A minority of the council recommends that we proceed now with such potentially crucial research, but only with significant regulations in place, including federal licensing, oversight and strict limits on how long cloned embryos may be allowed to develop.

 

A majority of the council, myself included, recommends that no human cloning of any kind be permitted at this time. We propose that Congress enact a four-year federal moratorium on all human cloning, including cloning-for-biomedical-research, beginning with the production of cloned human embryos.

 

* * *

 

The moratorium would provide time to debate whether we should cross a crucial moral boundary: creating cloned human life solely as a resource for research. This policy would allow time for other areas of stem cell research, both adult and embryonic, to proceed. It would allow those who believe that cloning-for-biomedical-research can never ethically be pursued to make their case, and those who believe it can to convince the nation that this is true by designing a responsible system of public oversight. A national moratorium would also allow us to debate the question of research on cloned embryos in the larger context of all embryo research, as well as future possibilities of genetically engineering human life. Pending such debate, no law should now be enacted that approves or authorizes any human cloning.

 

The intense attention and political zeal surrounding human cloning testify to the importance of our decision. Cloning touches many of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity and our competing ideas of the good life, and is a harbinger of even more daunting biotechnologies. We hope our report will serve to clarify and guide the nation's decisions on these questions, and to shed light on a debate of great consequence.