Let’s call it “stealth human-cloning legalization.” It’s easy to do: First, write a proposed law that you claim outlaws human cloning. But then, engage in a little slight of hand here, some redefining of a few crucial terms there, and voila!–your supposed cloning ban actually authorizes human cloning, implantation, and gestation through the ninth month.
That is what New Jersey legislators did when they passed and then Governor James McGreevey signed S-1909 last year, a law that was sold to the public as outlawing human cloning but which actually permits the creation of cloned human life, and its implantation and gestation up to and including the very moment prior to the emergence of the cloned baby from the birth canal.
Other state legislators have tried the same shell game without success, specifically in Texas, Delaware, Maryland, and Illinois. And now Washington joins the infamous list with Senate Bill 5594, a thoroughly disingenuous piece of legislation that purports to outlaw the cloning of human beings, but by manipulating language and redefining terms, actually permits human cloning and gestation of the resulting cloned embryos through the ninth month.
Before we begin to blow away the smoke and shatter the mirrors of S-5594, let’s recap exactly what cloning is. There are now two ways to create new mammalian life, including humans. The first is that great old standard, “sexual” reproduction, in which sperm meets egg. The second way to reproduce is a strictly human invention–known as “asexual” reproduction–or more commonly, cloning.
The primary cloning technique is called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT). This is the technology used to create Dolly the sheep.
SCNT is easy to describe, albeit hard to accomplish. In the case of asexually creating a human, the biotechnologist removes the nucleus from a mature human egg (an oocyte). The nucleus of a body cell from the DNA donor is removed, and put into the place formerly occupied by the egg’s nucleus. The genetically modified egg now has 46 chromosomes, the full human compliment. Meanwhile, the ability of the mature egg to transform and begin embryonic development remains fully potent.
A little shot of electricity comes next, and if all goes well, a new human cloned embryo comes into being and begins to develop in the same way as a sexually created embryo. At that point–and this is important to understand–there is no more cloning to be done since a new human organism now exists.
The only question remaining is what to do with it. If the cloned human organism is to be experimented upon and destroyed, the process is often called “therapeutic cloning.” If it is to be brought to birth, the process is usually called “reproductive cloning.” But it is important to understand these are not different types of cloning. They are different uses for the cloned human lives created via cloning.
Keeping these biotechnological facts firmly in mind, let’s return to Washington’s disingenuous S-5594. The bill purports to promote stem-cell research, while outlawing the cloning of a human being. Thus, the legislation provides:
While stem-cell research holds enormous potential for treating or even curing some diseases, the cloning of a human being is morally and ethically unacceptable…Any attempt to clone a human being is in direct conflict with the public policies of this state.
If the authors of this bill really meant what they appear to have written, their legislation would ban all human cloning, since as we have seen, biologically, a new human organism, that is, a new human being, comes into existence with the completion of SCNT. But the legislation is sneaky. It defines the term “cloning of a human being” inaccurately. Instead of referring to the act of asexual reproduction, the bill instead redefines cloning of a human being to mean:
“Cloning of a human being” means asexual reproduction by implanting or attempting to implant the product of nuclear transplantation [e.g., an embryo] into a uterus or substitute for a uterus with the purpose of producing a human being.
This is junk biology since implanting isn’t the act of asexual reproduction: SCNT cloning is. Or to put it the other way around, cloning, not implantation, is what produces a new and distinct human organism.
Moreover, while the term “human being” is not defined in the legislation, in this context, it can only mean the birth of a cloned baby. Otherwise, human SCNT itself would be outlawed by the bill when it is explicitly authorized, to wit:
It is the policy of Washington state that research involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells, and human adult stem cells from any source, including somatic cell nuclear transplantation, is permitted upon full consideration of the ethical and medical implications of this research.
So, if human cloning would be permitted explicitly by S-5594, and only the act of implanting a cloned embryo for the purpose of it being brought to birth would be outlawed, what then, would be permitted if the legislation ever becomes law?
A good deal would be allowed. It would be legal to create a human embryo asexually and implant it in a womb for experimental purposes–such as for use in drug studies or to obtaining cloned fetal organs for transplantation–since gestation in those examples would not be undertaken “with the purpose of producing a human being.” Indeed, embryonic germ cells–which are specifically mentioned as usable for stem-cell research–are obtained from embryos that have developed in wombs for six-eight weeks. For that matter, “adult stem cells” are found in fetuses as well as in born people. Thus, the legislation not only would explicitly legalize human cloning but would also permit implantation of cloned embryos into wombs, and their gestation through the ninth month, so long as the intention for doing so was not to bring a cloned human baby to birth.
The mainstream media still discusses these issues as if scientists only want to use embryos left over from IVF procedures in stem-cell research. But those days are long, gone. Indeed, it is now undeniable that Big Biotech and its politician and university allies do not even intend to restrict biotechnological research to early embryos situated in petri dishes. As Washington’s S-5594 clearly demonstrates, the ground is being plowed already to allow cloned fetal farming, the next, but certainly not last, step intended to lead us to a Brave New World.
–Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. He is the author most recently of Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World..