I disagree with Leon Wofsy about the cloning issue. I was one of the
pro-choice progressives who urged the House to support HR 1644, banning both
experimental ("therapeutic") and full-term ("reproductive") cloning. The
other was Judy Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, one
of the authors of "Our Bodies Ourselves." There was not one word in the
House billabout the embryo being considered a human being.
Since there are already scientists, physicians, and others advocating
full-term cloning (including Lee Silver at Princeton and Gregory Stock at
UCLA) the only way Congress could prevent full-term clones once embryo
clones were permitted would be to pass laws restricting women's reproductive
autonomy (i.e., these things exist legally but you are prohibited from
carrying them to term; or, you have implanted something illegal to
implant--you are required to terminate the pregnancy; or, you have carried
it to term so you must go to jail). In the absence of such laws we will
have full-term clones among us before long, as well as quasi-human
Some of our reasoning can be found in our Congressional testimonies:
a Boston Globe op-ed (see below), and at the website of the Council for
Being pro-choice doesn't require endorsing a market in human eggs and
laboratory-grown human embryos.
Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D.
Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy
Basic Science Building
New York Medical College
Valhalla, NY 10595
Tel: (914) 594-4048
Fax: (914) 594-4653
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
From: Leon Wofsy [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2001 2:36 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: cloning ethics
This week's announcement of the Massachusetts cloning experiments has set
off a clamor for the Senate to pass the same banning legislation that the
House passed last July, 265-162. This seems to be the main consequence of
the report, although the publicity may also bring large sums of investment
capital to the company despite its essentially negative results.
I'm against the banning legislation. A group of progressives supported the
ban as passed by the House and they sharply criticized the 162 who voted
"No". This group is properly concerned with the misuse of "new human
genetic technologies" to pursue eugenics through germ line genetic
engineering. However, a ban will not resolve such issues. What the House and
proposed Senate action does is curb stem cell research and grant something
that anti-choice fundamentalists have wanted desperately: to establish by
legislative fiat that a fertilized egg is a living human being.
The day after the Massachusetts story, George W. Bush weighed in again with
the demand that the Senate join the House to protect life. He also
forcefully reaffirmed his plan for military tribunals and repeated that
Afghanistan is only the beginning in the "global war".
What follows is a comment written at the time of the House action:
"A STRONG ETHICAL STATEMENT" BY THE HOUSE?
Leon Wofsy http://homepage.mac.com/leonwofsy
George W. Bush, July 30, 2001: "Today's overwhelming and bipartisan House
action to prohibit human cloning is a strong ethical statement, which I
commend. We must advance the promise and cause of science, but must do so in
a way that honors and respects life."
Progressives who organized to sound the alarm about the dangers of
"techno-eugenics" have made the campaign for a ban on human cloning the
centerpiece of their effort. Bulletin #3 of the Exploratory Initiative on
the New Human Genetic Technologies (available from [log in to unmask]) sees the
House vote to ban human cloning and clonal embryo research as "a clouded
victory." The Bulletin offers no objection to the House's action. The
"cloud" is simply that most liberals in Congress showed "little
understanding of the issues" and voted the "wrong" way against the GOP bill.
In my view, a "cloud" hangs over deeper problems and dilemmas that deserve
serious thought and debate.
First, an obvious fact should be acknowledged. Those who voted in the
minority are as opposed to cloning human beings as the pious Republican
majority. Very few people could be found anywhere who would regard that
prospect as anything but an abomination. So why are we not all joining
George W. in celebration of the House vote?
There are several questions to ask about the proposed Congressional ban on
cloning. If the ban becomes law, what is accomplished? Why does the issue of
human cloning loom so large? How does it relate to the critical ethical
problems affecting public health and medical research? How should society
deal with the new genetic technologies?
It's an illusion to think that the House's action, and Bush's support for
it, will do anything to mitigate problems associated with "techno-eugenics".
Huge profits drive the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Anointing test tube embryos and stem cells with a symbolic "right-to-life"
does not disturb that reality. The gospel of George W. Bush and most of
Congress remains unchanged: "What's good for big business is good for the
country." The race to patent genes and cell lines will be unabated, the
fleecing of the public through exorbitant prices for drugs and medical care
will continue, the health needs of the poor at home and abroad will be
rejected in favor of market considerations.
For politicians of the Christian Right, the public's revulsion at the idea
of cloning humans is an opportunity to advance the idea that the overriding
moral issue of modern times is the sanctity of the fertilized egg. For
progressives who have focused on human cloning, it symbolizes the danger of
a new eugenics spawned by the unrestrained merger of molecular genetics and
There are sound reasons for condemning attempts to clone humans and
experiments that involve germ line genetic engineering (i.e. altering genes
that are passed on by reproduction to succeeding generations). Such
experiments on humans are unconscionable, not least of all because they are
terribly unsafe and unpredictable. This is not simply a matter of technique,
but of the enormous uncertainty about how inserted genes will interact with
other genes, how they will alter a highly complex biological environment,
and what the consequences may be for subsequent generations. A few
charlatans will ignore any restraints and pursue their demonic gamble
somewhere in the world. That sorry prospect does not justify exaggerated
alarms that "techno-eugenics" has the potential to change the course of
human evolution. In fact when progressives speak in such terms, they give
credence to the extreme hype by advocates of eugenics, including a few
famous scientists, who tout a mythical future run by genetically engineered
The House majority --and the Pope-- deliberately link human cloning and
embryonic stem cell research in furtherance of a religious monopoly over all
matters related to human reproduction. There is no good reason to prohibit
research on stem cells, the cells that have the potential for
differentiating into a variety of cell and organ types. From the study of
stem cells, science may learn more about developmental processes, how they
are influenced by environmental factors, and whether ultimately they can be
directed to serve medically useful purposes.
It is important not to be taken in by the false promise of a cascade of
miraculous cures stemming from detailed knowledge of gene sequences. It is
just as important not to be in denial about the real progress and powerful
potential of biological science and medical research. The need is to make
public interest the main dynamic in health science and technology instead of
the greed of the biomedical complex. That is a tall order. Among other
things, the tone and substance of the debate on medical ethics and morality
needs to be changed. Concerns about experiments on humans, and differing
views on embryo research should and will continue. But the greatest ethical
issue concerns whether health care is a universal human right, or whether
medical science is governed primarily by the giants of biotechnology,
insurance, and the "health" industry.
Left to its own and the lobbyists' devices, most of Congress would prefer to
pontificate about the ethics of stem cell research while it guts Medicare,
subverts demands for patients' rights, and defends global patent "rights"
that deprive the poor of essential medicines. Nor are bioethicists or most
of the scientific community likely to rise above their own interlocking
associations with the biotech market. That leaves everything up to political
action and education. After all, there was a time when Medicare was won,
when scientists with no conflicting commercial interests guided the
government's investment in biological science. Even in present conditions of
globalization, it has been possible to force pharmaceutical conglomerates to
retreat somewhat from blocking generic anti-AIDS drugs.
Meanwhile, George W.'s praise of the House Bill's "strong ethical statement"
is as credible as his "compassionate conservatism"SSS(PostScript 11/27/01:
or his concern for human life lost in bombing assaults abroad or in
execution chambers at home.)