Politics & Policy

Gov. Blunt’s Weird Science

In Missouri as in Massachusetts, a Republican governor has been battling legislators over human cloning. There are, however, two big differences. Missouri governor Matt Blunt faces a legislature controlled by his own party, whereas Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney confronts a heavily Democratic legislature. And Romney is fighting against cloning, while Blunt is fighting for it.

Blunt’s battles have received less attention than Romney’s–in part because Romney may be running for president in 2008, while any presidential ambitions Blunt has lie further in the future; in part because Massachusetts is in the northeastern corridor, which still interests the national media more than the Midwest. But the controversy in Missouri, however unnoticed, has certainly gotten heated. Pro-lifers have accused the self-described pro-life governor of “betraying” them. Earlier this month, he accused them of political “game playing.”

In truth, there is a sincere disagreement between most pro-lifers and Gov. Blunt. The governor should think twice about taking cheap shots at constituencies that helped to elect him. Pro-lifers should refrain from accusing him of a betrayal, since he disclosed his position when he ran last year.

Unfortunately, his position is an incoherent mess.

Gov. Blunt says he opposes human cloning and even opposes some forms of stem-cell research. In January, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’m opposed to creating new human life merely to destroy it for new human resources.” The newspaper said that “he would not rule out criminalizing such research in Missouri.” But, Blunt said, “I’m not convinced [somatic-cell nuclear transfer] is creating new human life.”

Leave aside the fact that “somatic cell nuclear transfer,” which Blunt supports, is the same thing as cloning, which he claims to oppose. Blunt has no objection to the creation of human embryos through cloning. He just wants those embryonic clones to be killed in research rather than implanted in a woman’s womb and allowed to develop into infant clones. Blunt is redefining the word “cloning” for political convenience.

“Blunt is redefining the word

’cloning’ for political convenience.”

But that bit of salesmanship follows the playbook of the national pro-cloning movement. Blunt’s other contradictions are all his own. How does he explain why an embryo at a fertility clinic should be protected but a cloned embryo should not? Some of Blunt’s allies in Missouri have argued that an embryo that is not implanted is not alive, since it cannot develop on its own into a baby. Whatever the merits of that argument–which we think highly dubious–it is closed to Blunt: The fertility-clinic embryos are not in wombs, and cannot develop unaided, either.

So Blunt’s argument has to be that embryos created through in vitro fertilization are “new human life” while embryos created through cloning are not. But there is no reasoned, and certainly no scientific, basis for this distinction. Blunt says that cloning doesn’t create a “fertilized egg.” But this is just another word game: The egg is not fertilized because instead a scientific process that mimics it has occurred. In cloning, as in natural reproduction or IVF, a new organism of the human species is created. (If it weren’t human, the researchers wouldn’t want it.)

Science could develop to the point where it would be possible to develop an embryo created through cloning into a baby–perhaps even without its ever being implanted in a womb. There are researchers interested in artificial wombs, and some interested in cloning babies. If we reached that point, and someone proposed experimenting on those babies, Blunt would have no ground for objecting: Sperm would never have met egg.

Has Gov. Blunt thought this issue through? Does he care about the merits? Or does he just want Missouri’s biotech industry to thrive and to be grateful to him? These are not, in themselves, illegitimate goals. But Blunt’s political “game playing”–to borrow a phrase–is not a good reason to allow the destruction of human beings in the early stages of development, however they were created.

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