With last week’s announcement by South Korean scientists that the first known successful cloning of human embryos has taken place, debate on legislation to ban human cloning is no longer a question of banning science fiction. There is fresh impetus to the global cloning debate now that this aspect of a brave new world has arrived.
Interestingly, as human-cloning experiments begin, the duplicitous ways of American cloning advocates may be at an end. If a bill currently poised to pass the Illinois general assembly does so in its current form, it may prove that Big Biotech does not have to hide its intentions while pursing its radical agenda.
To date, they’ve been a devious bunch. In early January, New Jersey became the first state in the union–in fact, the first place in the world–to explicitly legalize human cloning while pretending to ban it. Trying to “ban” cloning in one part of a bill’s text while actually encouraging it in another part has been considered by proponents as a necessary public-relations ploy to help pass the legislation.
The New Jersey law pretends to ban cloning by stating that clones cannot be cultivated “through the newborn stages.” This means that a clone would have to be killed at some point before or at birth. Of course, such a “ban” is completely toothless–no state could force a woman to undergo an abortion or kill her just-born child, clone or not. Not only would it be a public-relations disaster for the state, but Roe vs. Wade presumably protects the woman’s right to carry children to term and keep them based upon the same legal foundation that protects her right to terminate a pregnancy before birth–the right to privacy.
No, the New Jersey “ban” on cloning was merely a fig leaf for public consumption to help pass the bill. Legislators could say they “banned” human cloning while “protecting needed medical research.”
After a successful run in New Jersey with the “ban it but really encourage it” tactic, cloning advocates turned to Delaware. Here the bill has stalled after its deceitful nature caught the eye of some legislators who have refused to move it out of the Delaware House Health and Human Development Committee.
The question of stem-cell research and cloning is now on the table in Illinois–and without the trademark hubris we have come to expect.
In essence, Illinois HB 3589 would do the same thing that the New Jersey law does and the Delaware bill would do in its current form–explicitly allow research on human embryonic stem cells obtained from both cloned and regular embryos; allow adult-stem-cell research on tissues obtained by harvesting body parts from older developing fetuses (presumably up until birth); and allow a market in embryonic tissue and fetal body parts to develop.
What HB 3589 does not do is pretend to ban human cloning. The bill, simply called the “Stem Cell Research Act,” doesn’t even mention human cloning except to list it as an explicitly approved source for human embryonic and adult-stem-cell research. It would, in effect, allow the creation of cloned embryos and fetuses for any reason–including both research and reproduction.
Evidently, the fig leaf is not necessary anymore (or maybe just not useful given the problems in Delaware). Whereas the bills introduced in New Jersey and Delaware would legalize all forms of human cloning-”research” cloning explicitly and “reproductive” cloning by default–the Illinois bill legalizes human cloning without any duplicitous language at all. If you want to experiment on clones, move to this Midwestern farm state.
HB 3589 has already passed the Illinois house and is expected to be considered by the Illinois senate by mid-March. The fact that this bill is near passage is extremely troubling. Having successfully stalled consideration of a cloning ban in the U.S. Senate, the coalition of Big Biotech and patient-advocacy groups have begun a state-by-state attack intending to create as many safe havens as possible for cloning research across the country. If the onward march is successful in bringing enough states onboard the biotech juggernaut, a federal solution could move beyond reach–much to the joy of biotech lobbyists and their cronies.
In some ways the fact that the Illinois bill may be near enactment is not as shocking as the fact that cloning proponents seem to be coming clean. Gone are the pretenses of “limiting” cloning endeavors in any way and all the verbal maneuvering to go with it. Now the biotech coalition promoting this legislation is offering a comparatively clean fight.
If this bill passes, it will amount to an end of innocence. Instead of resorting to trickery, those promoting a dehumanizing biotech agenda will no longer feel it necessary to hide their true intentions. Either by the public’s acquiescence or mere disinterest, the biotech agenda will roll forward more openly and with less difficulty than ever before.
With the passage of the New Jersey bill, we comforted ourselves with the notion that the public was being duped. But if the Illinois general assembly passes HB 3589, Big Biotech will have proof that it doesn’t need to lie to a public who is asleep to the moral questions. While spokesmen for a biotech future may not yet shout their vision of the future from the rooftops, it will be obvious that one more hurdle has been removed.
There still is hope. Opponents of HB 3589 have just introduced a measure that would ban all human cloning and encourage adult-stem-cell research. This bill, HB 6693/SB 2934, would impose a fine of up to $250,000 for an individual or $1,000,000 for a corporation for each act of cloning unless the individual or company has received money for cloning. If they’ve have been paid for their work, their fine would be double whatever gross amount they’ve received (or the standard fine, whichever is greater). In addition, individuals or companies who participate in cloning would have any “license, permit, certification, or any other form of permission required to practice or engage in any trade occupation, or profession regulated by the state” permanently revoked.
Even if this new bill doesn’t pass, it might garner enough support to kill HB 3589 for now. If successful, Big Biotech may have to go back to its duplicitous ways. But if the Stem Cell Research Act passes in the form currently waiting for the Illinois senate, it will prove that Big Biotech dominates the public debate on questions of life and human dignity. As the recent South Korean announcement demonstrates, that brave new future is not as far off as we may think.
–Daniel McConchie is director of public relations and public policy for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in Bannockburn, Illinois.