Politics & Policy

Life Can Win

The nation's most permissive cloning bill gets pulled.

Maybe invoking the name “Christopher Reeve,” or some other sick or injured celebrity, doesn’t always end a debate, after all.

The New Jersey state assembly was all set to pass an unprecedented cloning bill on Monday (more details here). Masked as a cloning prohibition bill, the legislation would in fact have made it legal to clone a human embryo, implant an embryo in a womb, and let a baby be born (though they would not use those words) — so long as the clone would be killed sometime during the newborn stage, its parts used in the pursuit of medical “progress.”

In December, some Republicans in the state senate chose to abstain rather than vote against the bill, for fear of having to go on record as being against something Christopher Reeve is for. (In November, the paralyzed actor and activist had testified before a statehouse committee in favor of the legislation.)

The bill — which appeared, up until Monday, to be on a fast-track to passage — was expected to pass the assembly and would have been signed by Democratic governor James E. McGreevey, who had indicated his support for it.

But thanks to the work of pro-life groups in New Jersey — most prominently New Jersey Right to Life and the state’s Catholic conference, with the analytical aid of a few university professors (four of them members of the president’s bioethics commission) — the bill was removed from the voting roster on Monday, rather than voted on. It was a remarkable victory for the bill’s opponents. Most residents of New Jersey were unlikely to even have known that legislation had anything to do with cloning, if they even knew of the bill’s existence.

When the state assembly’s health committee voted last week to send the legislation on to the full body for a vote, the Bergen Record’s humdrum headline read: “Panel clears stem cell bill for vote by full Assembly.” The article that followed, an Associated Press dispatch, told the usual tale of abortion foes vs. sick people: “A bill that would authorize stem-cell research continued to raise objections from religious and anti-abortion groups Monday as it moved a step closer to becoming law… After four hours of testimony, an Assembly committee approved the bill, praising it as a cutting edge tool that will allow research on cells to find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.”

Of course, when the news was announced in the New Jersey Star-Ledger Tuesday morning, the tone didn’t change. “A bill that would have greatly expanded state scientific efforts into research on stem cells — microscopic clusters that offer the promise of a treatment for some of the world’s most baffling diseases — was yanked from an Assembly vote yesterday.”

Sponsors promise that the bill will be reworded to actually prohibit cloning. (Reintroduced in a new package, however, it is probably more likely to resemble the Hatch-Feinstein bill in the Senate, which would permit so-called research cloning.) The bill now seems unlikely to be resurrected anytime soon in the Garden State. Also, on Monday, an embryo-disposition bill — requiring “owners” of unused eggs and embryos to indicate what they want to happen to said frozen “assets” if they die, divorce, or separate — passed by only a one vote margin, suggesting New Jersey lawmakers may be less than enthusiastic about the state’s rapid slide down a slippery slope on human-life issues.

That said, both houses of Congress have real cloning-prohibition bills before them (Weldon-Stupak in the House, Brownback-Landrieu in the Senate) that they should take up at once. Consider the New Jersey near-miss an eleventh-hour warning.


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