Politics & Policy

Trenton Plays God

A whole new world.

In New Jersey this morning, human cloning is one signature away from a statewide legal green light.

Democratic assemblyman Neil Cohen told his colleagues that Assembly Bill 2840 “is not the most significant law we’ll write this session–but this century.” He’s right.

On Monday, during a lame-duck session, the New Jersey state assembly passed an unprecedented bill authorizing human cloning in the Garden State. Veiled as an innocuous “stem-cell” bill in most of the media and by its sponsors and supporters, not one state senator opposed it when it was first up for a vote a year ago this month.

When the assembly voted on Monday, all but one Republican (Rafael Fraguela) either voted “no” or abstained. Only Democratic Assemblyman (Alfred Steele) voted against the bill, and one Democratic assemblywoman (Mary Previte) abstained. That the vote was as close as it was is a credit to the work of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee, fighting against a muddle of disinformation fed by the biotech industry in and out of state. The roll call, too, suggests there is a learning curve on even the most heated issues involving human life: Republicans, for the most part, managed to reach a consensus to reject the bill, despite emotional ad campaigns–and the endorsement of Christopher Reeve.

As Wesley Smith, author of The Culture of Death, pointed out last week, the bill’s “terms would make it legal in New Jersey to create a human cloned embryo, implant it in a willing woman’s womb, gestate it through the ninth month, and only require that the cloned fetus be killed before it becomes a ‘new human individual,’ e.g., at the very point of birth. This means that [the] law would expressly permit implantation and gestation for any amount of time before the cloned fetus becomes a ‘new human individual’!”

That’s why the opponents of the bill, now passed by both houses of the New Jersey legislature, have accurately dubbed it a “clone-and-kill” bill.

Three members of the President’s Council on Bioethics wrote to Democratic Governor James McGreevey last January imploring him not to sign the cloning bill into law. They warned that it “threatens to make New Jersey a haven for unethical medical practices, including the macabre practice of human fetal farming.”

They wrote:

[The] legislation expressly authorizes the creation of new human beings by cloning and, perhaps unintentionally, their cultivation from the zygote stage through the newborn stage for the purpose of harvesting what the bills themselves refer to as “cadaveric” fetal tissue. Please pause to consider whose cadaver the tissue is to be derived from. It is the cadaver of a distinct member of the species homo sapiens–a human being–who would be brought into being by cloning and, presumably, implanted and permitted to develop to the desired stage of physical maturation for the purpose of being killed for the harvesting of his or her tissues.

Although the legislation purports to ban trafficking in fetal body parts for “valuable consideration,” it expressly permits “reasonable payment” for “removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transplantation, or implantation of embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue.” This is a virtual invitation to cloning entrepreneurs to conduct in the State of New Jersey what would amount to fetal farming for research, presumably including experimental treatments. There seems to be nothing in the legislation to prevent cloning entrepreneurs from paying women a “reasonable” fee to gestate embryos and submit to abortions for the production of human bodily tissues and organs. The entrepreneurs could then charge a “reasonable” fee to their customers for “processing,” “preserving,” “storing,” “transplanting,” or “implanting” fetal cadavers and tissues.

And what if a gestating woman has second thoughts and decides not to abort the developing fetus? Would a court be asked to enforce a contract for abortion? We hope and trust that no court would do that. But then we would have what the sponsors of the legislation say they oppose: the birth of human clones.

The governor of New Jersey is about to take a giant leap into the brave new world. He and his staff would be wise to read the bill that has just been passed, read the bioethics council members’ letter, and reconsider.

And another legislature, the U.S. Congress, should study this bill carefully and realize what’s happening while they fiddle.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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