Senators Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) are two of the great legislative con artists of our time. Their bill — S. 303, the “Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act” — purports to outlaw human reproductive cloning, while explicitly authorizing “SCNT” (somatic-cell nuclear transfer) for the purpose of finding medical treatments using embryonic stem cells. Never mind that SCNT is simply the term for the most common method of cloning mammalian life. And never mind that the same technique is used, whether the cloned embryo is to be exploited and destroyed in medical research, or implanted, gestated, and brought to birth. The true purpose of the legislation is to cynically give weak-kneed legislators a “twofer” — that is, allowing them to tell their constituents that they voted against human cloning, while actually they are voting for it.
Far from preventing reproductive cloning, Hatch/Feinstein would actually make the birth of a cloned baby more likely.
First, the legislation would authorize the manufacture of cloned human blastocysts — a necessary step toward creating a cloned human baby. (A blastocyst is a one-week-old embryo from which embryonic stem cells can be harvested — the purported goal of Hatch/Feinstein. Not coincidentally, it is also the stage when an embryo becomes implantable in a womb, because it then has the capacity to begin forming a placenta.)
Second, the bill would actually permit the clone embryo to be developed past the blastocyst stage. As currently written, under Hatch/Feinstein, the human clone could be maintained up to the 14th day, when the foundation for the developing brain and spinal cord, known as the primitive streak, has appeared.
Third, Hatch/Feinstein would also open the door to various other cloning experiments designed to maximize the chances for human reproductive cloning to become a reality. Such experiments would include the creation of part-human/part-animal embryos (chimeras) for study.
Fourth, Hatch/Feinstein would give research into human cloning the invaluable imprimatur of the United States. The law doesn’t merely reflect our values — it tells many people right from wrong. Passing Hatch/Feinstein would send the message that creating human clone embryos is a proper act. As a consequence, the pace of cloning research would be likely to increase substantially, heightening the chances that a clone baby would eventually be born.
The government’s stamp of approval would also increase financing for research into human cloning. Today, venture capitalists are generally sitting on their wallets when it comes to funding cloning research. As a consequence, biotech companies closely associated with human cloning, such as Advanced Cell Technology, are experiencing significant financial difficulties. But if investors are freed from the worry of losing their investments to a threatened total legal ban on human SCNT (as in S. 245, the Brownback/Landrieu Human Cloning Prohibition Act) — and/or come to believe that the cloning enterprise is right and moral because it has been legally authorized — many might open their checkbooks to fund the growth of a human-cloning biotech industry.
As more and more opponents write and testify about these matters before congressional committees in opposition to Hatch/Feinstein, we often are left feeling like modern-day Cassandras: We know the future, but nobody believes us when we describe it. But empirical evidence supporting our stance continues to mount. The most recent case is an online journal article written by Panayiotis M. Zavos, who, with the possible exception of flying-saucer-cult leader Rael, is probably the world’s foremost proponent of human reproductive cloning.
Zavos has been very busy in the last year, conducting the very kind of research that Hatch/Feinstein seeks to encourage. First, he reports in the June 2003 Reproductive BioMedicine Online that he has successfully created human/cow chimera embryos. He did this by removing the nucleus from an unfertilized cow egg and replacing that material with the nucleus from a human body cell. (This is SCNT.) He then stimulated the genetically modified cow eggs and, in 45 percent of them, developed the approximately 97 percent human/three-percent cow-chimera embryo for three days. The purpose of this experiment is to help Zavos determine which of the various types of cell in our bodies would be best for use “as nuclear donor cells for reproductive and therapeutic cloning.”
Nothing in the Hatch/Feinstein bill would outlaw such cross-species experiments. And if the experiments succeed, they will hasten the day of reproductive cloning. Indeed, by explicitly authorizing research into human cloning, Hatch/Feinstein would make things more convenient for bio-anarchists such as Zavos, who would now feel perfectly free to work within the U.S., learning how to create cloned human blastocysts — with both human and animal eggs — without fear of any future legal prohibition. (To date, the mere threat that a law might be passed outlawing human SCNT has induced Zavos to perform most of his controversial research overseas.)
Zavos’s article also announces that his “team of scientific and medical experts has created the first cloned embryo for reproductive purposes.” He claims that this embryo, which was manufactured with a human egg, was able to be developed for four days “post SCNT,” reached “the 8-10 cell stage,” and “showed a rate of development equivalent to that of normal IVF embryos.” The embryo has been frozen for future molecular analysis, toward the end of eventually implanting a cloned embryo in a woman’s body.
Again, this is precisely the kind of research — efforts to make it possible to create a cloned human baby — which Hatch/Feinstein would sanction. Thus, despite its stated intent of preventing reproductive cloning, S. 303 would actually make it more likely. Indeed, the Hatch/Feinstein bill might just as well be called the Dr. Zavos Enablement Act. If passed, its result would be a thousand Dr. Zavoses, willing and eager to move human cloning to the point where implantation of a cloned embryo could occur.
If we really want to prevent human reproductive cloning, there is only one way: We must pass S. 245 and outlaw all human SCNT. The House of Representatives, in a broad, bipartisan vote, has already passed such a bill. President Bush has promised to sign it if it reaches his desk. The only holdup is Hatch/Feinstein. The time has come for the U.S. Senate to reject twofer expediency and pass Brownback/Landrieu, a true ban on human cloning.
— Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. He is currently working on a book about the morality, science, and business of human cloning.