Close the Door on Human Cloning
By Wesley J. Smith

[Pro-Life Infonet Note: Wesley J. Smith is a frequent contributor to National Review and author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America.]

There's an old saw about a man whose wife comes home unexpectedly and finds him in bed with his naked mistress. "Who is that woman?" the outraged wife demands. The man, a surprised and innocent look on his face, says: "Woman? What woman?"

Cloning apologists remind me of that philandering husband. Their opponents point out that a cloned human embryo is a human life, and the cloners reply with: "Human life? What human life?"

Unfortunately, it seems to be working, as the media and nervous politicians continue parroting the line that a human-clone embryo is not really human.

The biotech industry has nothing to lose and everything to gain from this. Hoping to make vast fortunes from patented "products" derived from the destruction of embryonic life, Big Biotech is counting on being able to create an unlimited supply of human clones. Their problem: The American people believe there is something inherently valuable about human life. Cloning sheep and other animals is one thing but cloning humans, that's different.

The House of Representatives has already passed a strong ban. President Bush strongly supports outlawing human cloning and is guaranteed to sign legislation as soon as it reaches his desk. The only task remaining before cloning humans becomes illegal is passage of the ban by the United States Senate.

Pushed into a corner, pro-cloners responded by mounting an intense public-relations and lobbying campaign aimed at thwarting passage of S-790, the Senate counterpart to the House anti-cloning bill. The cloners' approach: Agree to outlaw "reproductive" cloning (that is, implanting a clone into a womb for purposes of gestation and birth) but allow so-called "therapeutic" cloning (cloning used for research, that culminates in the death of the clone) to proceed unhindered.

But such a policy would open the door to the unlimited cloning of human life because the act of cloning does not occur at birth. A clone is created when the nucleus is removed from a human egg and implanted with genetic material taken from the person being cloned. The egg is then stimulated and reacts as if it had been fertilized. Once this occurs, the act of cloning is complete. After that, it's only a matter of what's done to the human life that has been created: research which destroys it (therapeutic cloning) or implantation in a womb (reproductive cloning).

And here's where the cloning advocates get disingenuous. In order to allay Americans' disgust toward human cloning, Big Biotech argues that a human embryo created by cloning isn't really a human life. Embryology textbooks, however, will beg to differ. The science of the matter is that once embryonic development commences, a separate and distinct human life exits. For the first eight weeks of its life, it is known as an embryo. Thereafter, until birth, it is called a fetus. In either category, the developing life is an individual, self-contained form of human life with its own genetic makeup and gender. Given sufficient time, healthy genes, and the right environment in which to gestate, it will result in the birth of a human baby. But whether or not the embryo is ever born scientifically, it is a human life from the beginning of its existence as a distinct organism. But that truth hinders the cloning agenda. So, advocates have mounted a campaign to redefine words. The following are just a few of their rhetorical gambits.

The myth of the "pre-embryo". One of the most pervasive arguments made by promoters of human cloning as well as those defending embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is that embryos younger than two weeks' development are really "pre-embryos." There's just one problem with that assertion: There is no such thing as a pre-embryo.

Don't take my word for it. Princeton biologist and cloning enthusiast Lee M. Silver admitted in Remaking Eden that the term pre-embryo has "been embraced wholeheartedly for reasons that are political, not scientific." He further states that the term "is useful in the political arena where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now pre-embryo) experimentation" Or we can turn to basic embryology. The authors of the textbook Human Embryology & Teratology have refused to recognize the existence of a "pre-embryo" because:
(1) it is ill-defined;
(2) it is inaccurate;
(3) it is unjustified, because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks;
(4) it is equivocal, because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and
(5) it was introduced in 1986 "largely for public policy reasons."

The clone embryo is merely a collection of dividing cells. A more recent attempt to strip the clone of its humanity claims that the embryo clone is nothing more than dividing somatic cells that are no different, in kind or nature, than the cells you lose every day in your shower.

Pro-cloner Alan Russell, executive director of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, wrote in a recent opinion column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: All cells contain DNA, which gives them the ability to reproduce. But cloners have discovered that if one removes the DNA from mom's egg cell (producing an empty cell) and replaces it with her daughter's DNA, the newly produced cell can survive We then have in our hands a fresh cell which from now on will look like her daughter's cell In a dish, technology will exist to take that cell and simply convince it to multiply clone itself The process is called cloning because the new cell created in the laboratory has the ability to copy itself again and again before turning itself into the liver cell that your loved one so desperately needs.

If there were an Academy Award for disingenuousness in advocacy, Russell would be a shoe-in. First, the entity is not called a clone because its cells divide. If that were true, all cells would be clones since all cells replace themselves through cellular division.

Second, a clone is so named because the cloned entity is virtually identical, genetically, to the provider of the genetic material used to replace the nucleus of the egg. (I say "virtually" because a minute amount of genetic material from the egg becomes part of the genetic makeup of the new cloned entity.)

Third, while it's true that replacing the egg nucleus with the DNA of the cloned person is the primary technique used to clone in the laboratory, this genetic transfer is not all that happens. As stated earlier, the cloner must next stimulate the genetically modified egg to grow in the same fashion as it would had it been fertilized. Thus, just as Dolly the cloned sheep is not its mother, so a cloned human embryo is not merely a somatic cell line derived from the person who was cloned; it is a separate and distinct living entity.

Finally, the "new cell" does not "copy itself again and again" until, as if by magic, it suddenly becomes various body tissues. Rather, if the cloned embryo survived long enough he or she would go through exactly the same stages of development as any other baby from an embryo, to a fetus, to birth. Indeed, as the clone embryo nears two weeks' development, its makeup has changed dramatically from what existed at the single-cell stage. Like its naturally created counterpart, he or she would now be made up primarily of undifferentiated stem cells, which would, given the time to develop, become all of the tissues of the body such as, for instance, the liver tissue referenced by Russell. It is these stem cells that are the current targets of the biotech industry. "If it has the ability to twin, it isn't human." Some cloning supporters claim that an embryo isn't really human life until it can no longer become an identical twin. The idea seems to be that until the time in embryonic development when identical twinning cannot occur, the embryo isn't really a human individual. Since human research clones would be destroyed prior to that time, destroying the clone would not actually take a human life. The argument is ridiculous. Naturally occurring identical twins originate from the same fertilized egg. (Fraternal twins develop from different fertilized eggs.) Twinning occurs early in gestation when the single embryo splits into two identical embryos a natural form of cloning. These identical embryos are now siblings.

Before twinning, an embryo whether naturally conceived or cloned is an individual, self-contained embryonic human life with a gender and an individual genetic makeup. After identical twinning, there are now two individual, self-contained human lives, each having an identical gender and genetic makeup. In other words, there are now two human lives instead of one. However, even though they appear to be identical genetically, each life is unique. (For example, should the twins ever be born, each would have different fingerprints.)

Advocates of the Brave New World Order know that, in the cloning debate, we confront the most fundamental issue possible: Does individual human life have inherent value simply and merely because it is human? They also know that if the answer is yes, we will ban human cloning as an immoral and unethical objectification of human life. (This would not mean abandoning medical research into the potential of human cellular therapies. To the contrary, by dropping our pursuit of cloning and ESCR, all our resources and energies could be aggressively applied to pursuing adult/alternative stem-cell therapies that offer the potential benefits of ESCR without degrading the value of some human life to that of cattle herds or timber forests.)

But if Big Biotech and its apologists are able to convince the public that the answer is no if they succeed in excluding embryos from our common humanity in order to justify harvesting their parts the value of human life itself will be transformed from an objective good into a matter of mere opinion. That, in turn, would lead us to create subjective criteria by which to judge which humans have lives that are sacrosanct, and which do not. And, it turns out, this is exactly what the modern bioethics movement is already doing. According to "personhood theory," being a part of the human community is not what matters. What counts is being part of the "moral community." Those who belong are "persons," a status gained whether by a human or an animal by possessing certain cognitive abilities, such as being self-aware over time. Those who do not belong are "non persons," humans (and other life forms) that have insufficient ability to reason, and that therefore have lives of significantly less moral concern.

The humans generally cast into the outer darkness of non-personhood include all unborn life (whether created by cloning or by fertilization); newborn infants; people with advanced dementia; and those in persistent coma, or who have other significant cognitive disabilities. Not only do these humans not possess the right to life, they may not have the right to bodily integrity. Indeed, it has been argued in the world's most respected medical and bioethics journals that the body parts of non persons whether organs, corneas, or embryonic stem cells should be available to harvest for the benefit of persons. In this sense, the debate over cloning and ESCR is merely one battlefield of a much larger war.