I've just read Chris Mooney's piece in the American Prospect (see below).
Well.. I do understand why many American liberals fear the religious right's
campaign against biomedical sciences. But that the right-wing groups support
a comprehensive ban on cloning research does not automatically translate
into that any similar strong stances on cloining research (whether
reproductive or therapeutic) must also be conservative and absurd. The
CRG(Council for Responsible Genetics)'s statements on embryo research and
human germline manipulation, for instance, are perfectly reasonable to me,
and I cannot find a single reason why the positions such these should be
labeled as 'conservative' or 'tricked'. If there's a problem, I think it is
rather that many progressives and liberals have not paid much attention to
democratic politics of science & technology and have in many cases
uncritically sided with the developers/funders of new technologies. BTW, did
Rifkin's petition really have serious defects?
From American Prospect vol. 13 no. 8, May 6, 2002
Sins of Petition: How the left got tricked into opposing cloned embryo
- by Chris Mooney
In late January, The New York Times ran an influential story with the
headline "Some for Abortion Rights Lean Right in Cloning Fight." Certain
members of the "political left," Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg
revealed, had united with religious conservatives to support a ban on not
only human reproductive cloning - that is, on cloning used to create new
beings - but also on what is known as "therapeutic cloning," the cloning of
human embryos for research purposes.
Republicans and Democrats alike want to prevent the birth of cloned babies.
But research into embryo cloning may hold tremendous health benefits for
those suffering from degenerative diseases like Parkinson's or diabetes.
That's why the Democratic legislation pending in the Senate - a bill
co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Edward Kennedy
of Massachusetts - would ban only reproductive cloning. And that's why
Stolberg's story, claiming that left and right had joined forces to oppose
all cloning, was so surprising.
Stolberg's contention was based on her observation that a collection of
prominent left thinkers had signed a statement, circulated by media-savvy
technophobe Jeremy Rifkin, that called for outlawing all embryo cloning for
research purposes just like the Republican alternative to Feinstein-Kennedy
- a bill sponsored by anti-abortionist Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. In
truth, however, left-liberal support for the Rifkin statement is rather less
than it seemed. Of the five ostensibly left-leaning individuals besides
Rifkin that the Times centrally cited, one (Emory University women's
historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese) actually voted for Bush; two (Our Bodies,
Ourselves co-author Judy Norsigian and New York University sociologist Todd
Gitlin) have since endorsed a statement that deliberately avoids a
Brownback-style ban; one (University of Maryland political scientist
Benjamin Barber) can't even remember signing Rifkin's petition in the first
place; and one is the always iconoclastic Norman Mailer.
And that's just the beginning of confusion over this petition. Though
Rifkin's 68-name list does include some true-believing environmentalists and
feminists who continue to make common cause with Brownback, a number of its
more influential signatories have begun to back frantically away from the
statement. Many are stunned to discover they had put their name to a
petition arguing for the criminalization of medical research. City
University of New York sociologist Stanley Aronowitz can't remember signing
the petition but says that if he did, it was because "I get 100 e-mails a
day and I acted too hastily." Tikkun editor Michael Lerner, who has since
switched petitions along with Norsigian and Gitlin, admitted "I made an
error in endorsing beyond what I actually believed." Quentin Young, former
president of the American Public Health Association, has now signed a
petition to defend research cloning. (The Rifkin statement, he says, "was
kind of subtle and I misread it.") And then there's Howard Zinn. In a phone
interview, the famously left-wing author of A People's History of the United
States asked to have the difference between stem cells and cloned embryos
explained to him. Then he admitted, "I think you should be responsible for
what you sign, and that's why I regret signing [the Rifkin petition].
Because I didn't really know the issues."
Dartmouth's Ronald Green, author of The Human Embryo Research Debates, and
R. Alta Charo, a five-year member of President Clinton's National Bioethics
Advisory Commission, are liberal bioethicists who strongly support embattled
clonal embryo research. They are furious at Lerner, Young, Zinn, and
company. "When you enter into a major national debate and you don't think
about what you're doing, I think that's ethically irresponsible," Green
fumed. Added Charo, "I think it was a very poor showing for the leading
academics of the left."
Green, Charo, and others who are now signing a "progressive" counter
petition to defend research cloning have been particularly appalled by the
right's effective exploitation of its supposed new left-leaning allies. On a
recent edition of Meet the Press, Brownback proudly cited his allegiances
with "environmental groups" and echoed their concerns about "the
commodification of the human species." Meanwhile, a just-launched ad
campaign by the National Right to Life Committee - aimed at pressuring
Democratic Senators Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad into supporting the
Republican Brownback bill - says the legislation "is also supported by a
broad coalition of environmental organizations, women's health
organizations, and other groups not associated with the pro-life movement."
But in fact, it seems clear that the notion of a politically serious
environmentalist or women's movement against embryo cloning is overblown.
Sure, Norsigian's Boston Women's Health Collective has jumped on the cloning
issue, as have more radical environmental organizations such as Friends of
the Earth and Greenpeace. But much larger and more influential groups such
as the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council, the League of
Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for
Women are staying out of the cloning issue, at least for now.
And yet, the growing embarrassment of the Rifkin petition nothwithstanding,
Norsigian - who now regrets "having let my name be signed" to it - may have
made the same mistake again. So may have Gitlin and Lerner. They've signed
onto yet another - and purportedly more moderate - petition against
therapeutic cloning, this time sponsored by the Center for Genetics and
Society, which calls for a "moratorium" on embryo cloning research. But the
group doesn't say when that moratorium should end or why, making it hard to
distinguish from a Brownback-style ban.
The center's petition, like Rifkin's, has a liberal flavor: "We are
long-time advocates for human rights, the environment, and social justice,"
it says. Indeed, writing for The New York Times op-ed page, environmentalist
signatory Bill McKibben described the group as a "broad coalition of
environmentalists, feminists, and other progressives." He also admitted that
its position was "arguably closer to the stance of most conservative
Republicans, who want a permanent ban on all forms of cloning."
What McKibben didn't mention, though, is that the petition seems to be
partly misinformed. Though it decries the "lack of societal controls" on
cloning, Charo notes that in 1997 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
asserted its authority to regulate reproductive cloning and announced it was
forbidden. And the FDA already had command over therapeutic cloning in any
case involving tissue transplantation. (The FDA does lack jurisdiction over
basic science research involving cloned embryos, but the Feinstein-Kennedy
bill would close this gap in the federal regulatory structure.)
Of course, this leaves McKibben's coalition lacking many of its reasons -
beyond a desire to use the cloning issue to achieve more sweeping
anti-biotech aims - to oppose the Feinstein-Kennedy bill. And now that
they're becoming aware of this, some liberals are once again jumping ship,
just as they did with the Rifkin petition. University of Wisconsin-Madison
law professor Joel Rogers, a prominent left liberal, retracted his signature
in an unpublished letter to the Times observing that McKibben et. al's
"statement of relevant science and political debate are mistaken." Herbert
J. Gans, a noted Columbia University sociologist, has also retracted his
signature, explaining by e-mail that "when the right to lifers misused the
petition for their own purposes, they also altered its political meaning."
And Dissent editor Michael Walzer, who had also signed the Center for
Genetics and Society letter, now says it "seemed to bring us too close to
Senator Brownback's position."
"I did think that I knew what I was signing," admits Walzer. "And I also do
think that academics are citizens who have a right to enter the political
process - and even to make mistakes."
Copyright ?2002 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Chris
Mooney, "Sins of Petition:," The American Prospect vol. 13 no. 8, May 6,
2002. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for
compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.
Direct questions about permissions to [log in to unmask]
Send and receive Hotmail on your mobile device: http://mobile.msn.com