Politics & Policy

The Feminine Touch

Creative coalitioning comes to the cloning debate?

Easter has brought with it a basket of eggs (or lack thereof in this case) from an unlikely source for those who oppose human cloning.

The foremost promoter of Proposition 71 in the California legislature, the referendum that passed in the Golden State in November, has called for a moratorium on egg extraction. Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D.) is concerned about the effect the procedures have on women.

The golden eggs that are necessary for “big biotech’s” dreams of cloning–whether they call it somatic-cell nuclear transfer or cloning, it’s the same thing–come from “donors” who, in some cases, get paid large sums for their “contributions” (this is how the fertility biz works). But those donations may come at a price for those women: Science doesn’t fully know the long-term effects of egg donation.

The concern here–recently voiced by feminist Judy Norsigian in the Boston Globe and in a Massachusetts statehouse hearing–is that women are being exploited in the pursuit of radical medical research that has heretofore been near impossible to oppose for fear of opposing “miracle cures.”

Norsigian wrote, “A primary concern is the substantial risks to women’s health posed by the extraction procedure and the inability to obtain true informed consent from egg donors given the current lack of adequate safety data.”

She continued, “A woman undergoing IVF stimulation in order to become pregnant (or to help another woman become pregnant) is usually informed of ‘unknown’ and potential long-term health risks, but she accepts these risks because of the demonstrated possibility that a baby will result from her efforts. The risk versus benefit calculation for a healthy woman providing her eggs for stem cell research is not the same.”

Of course, despite her key role in legalizing cloning in California, Senator Ortiz’s new call is not a new bandwagon for most of her former allies. “Shock and dismay” is how the Sacramento Bee described the reactions of her old crowd.

California is a complicated case because the law is already in place. But way to the east, Ortiz’s call is reverberating–or, at least, it should be.

This moratorium call could not have come at a more significant time for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The Republican is currently in the throes of a make-or-break moment for Massachusetts. The legislature there is poised to embrace embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning, and do so with loose regulations, if the state senate gets its way. The legalize-and-fund crowd is winning the debate because it still has firm control over the terms used. As is typical, most folks don’t want to oppose it and have no reason to–it’s life-saving research, they’re told. Alex P. Keaton supports it, so who couldn’t? Or are you a Luddite who opposes medical progress?

But there are real concerns folks have about this research that state after state is embracing. And not just right-wing pro-lifers. Most politicians–right and left–talk the talk of opposing cloning. But then things get complicated. Most people, including pols, are lost somewhere in the false division between somatic-cell nuclear transfer–what was only recently referred to as “therapeutic” or “research” cloning, though the c-word has been largely dropped–and reproductive cloning, when a crying baby actually comes from the endeavor. But green-lighting that first kind of cloning does open the door to the second kind–and some of the language of the laws, in fact, makes that clear. And in both cases, as Romney has emphasized throughout the debate, new embryos–life–are being created.

The argument, though, has been largely one-sided for a while now, inasmuch as embryonic-stem-cell research and research cloning are talked about in terms that are hard to debate. Remember John Edwards and his snake-oil-salesman shtick during the recent presidential campaign? That general packaging, sadly, is not terribly uncommon. But with lefty feminists like Sen. Ortiz and Judy Norsigian concerned about what this supposedly miracle research could mean for some women, a new strange-bedfellow coalition may be developing. It might be not only an opportunity for state politicians, like the ones in Massachusetts, to take a deep breath and consider the full implications of their legislation, but a chance for the public-policy debate to expand. Why isn’t there more conversation about adult-stem-cell research and its successes? That’s a line of questioning that has the opportunity to be most fruitful–free as it is of the key ethical problems involved in embryonic-stem-cell research.

In California, outside of the courts, the Ortiz news is an opportunity to reconsider what has been started. In Massachusetts, this feminine touch may be just the ally Mitt Romney–who’s taking grief from all sides for his imperfect yet hardline-against-creating-new-life position (he’s for using frozen embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures)–needed.

Call Ortiz’s moratorium push a rest stop on the road to a Brave New World. U-turns still possible before getting back on the speedway.

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