- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Prohibit the spawning of cloned human embryos either for reproduction or pioneering medical research.

Prohibit the importation of medical knowledge extracted from cloned human embryos to treat the afflicted or the dying.

Last week, President George Bush preached the moral urgency of those twin prohibitions. Congress is also poised to enact the White House sermon.

But the well-intentioned legislative exercise seems morally misbegotten.

President Bush reasons that cloned human embryos are lives; that morality shuns killing one human to aid another, at least absent consent; and, that no matter how benign cloned human embryo research, (seeking relief from pain and suffering for the living and those yet to be born), noble ends do not justify depraved means. Q.E.D.

The syllogism, however, seem too glib by half. Suppose a child, a middle-aged married female, and an elderly man are adrift on a raft. All will starve before reaching shore unless one is cannibalized. Their lives have been equally irreproachable. Doesn't morality dictate killing the man in his sunset hours to save the infant and spouse with exciting long years ahead instead of letting all three perish? Doesn't the life-giving end justify the homicidal means, analogous to the right to kill in self-defense or defense of another?

The case for cloned human embryo research seems even stronger. The embryo, like the elderly man, is morally faultless. It is mentally disabled from consenting to research to benefit others. In such circumstances, as with the permanently comatose and brain-damaged surviving on artificial respiration and feeding, surrogate consent to terminate life is permitted if consistent with the probable will of the patient.

Now imagine yourself a cloned human embryo. You would never have come into being without a medical research objective. Wouldn't you consent to terminating your inchoate life to alleviate the grimmest of human afflictions and bereavements? Wouldn't that follow the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you?" Indeed, that morality informed a recent British High Court decision to separate infant Siamese twins, enabling one to live despite accelerating the impending death of the other.

Mr. Bush's denunciation of importing cloned human embryo research to treat patients also seems wayward. Even assuming such medical advances would be morally suspect, its use to alleviate pain and suffering should not raise moral scruples. The Hippocratic oath places the best interests of the patient at its apex. A physician who forgoes a life-giving treatment because of a tainted knowledge source would thus seem guilty of malpractice.

Suppose the loathsome human experimentations of Nazi death Dr. Joseph Mengele or Japan's notorious counterpart, Unit 731, yielded knowledge that would better protect our military personnel from danger. Should we withhold the protection because of its satanic fatherhood?

To argue that cloned human embryo research does not guarantee success that stem cell research on adults is equally promising is unpersuasive.

Scores of Nobel Prize laureates deny the proposition. Moreover, research would be unnecessary if what was to be discovered was known in advance. The history of medical progress, like the history of science generally, is a history of trial and error.

Some discern the potential for a commercialization of women's wombs if cloned embryo research were permitted. But that mischief could be countered by prohibiting material rewards in creating embryos, like the criminal proscription on the sale of human organs for transplantation.

Cloning to reproduce is less morally compelling than cloning for research. Coveting a child who resembles a cherished deceased is not ignoble, but neither is it clutching, like relief from acute pain and suffering. An absolute ban, however, is not therefore justified. Liberty is the rule, not the exception, in a free society. Government should be saddled with showing a serious likelihood of a nontrivial evil before overriding the reproductive choices of mature adults.

Some speculate that human cloning would be the locomotive for a master race, or would occasion gruesome deformities. These worries are legitimate, but miles short of substantiation or the probability needed to justify preventive measures. New knowledge, to be sure, is power; it can be hijacked for nefarious ends. But does that mean we should end all frontier research? We developed the atomic bomb during World War II and the hydrogen bomb during the Cold War to save millions from death or subjugation. The known potential for misuse or theft of nuclear weapons or even of an uncontrolled chain reaction that could destroy the planet did not daunt.

Experience since the birth of the nuclear age shows a decisive net gain in human lives and welfare. Further, human evils are as likely to spin from the old as from the novel. The horrifying 1994 Rwandan genocide featuring 800,000 corpses was perpetrated at record speed with rudimentary weapons not far removed from the Stone Age, not with Adolf Hitler's gas chambers. Ditto for Pol Pot's Cambodian genocide. That moral certitudes are beyond human certainty does not dictate paralysis. We must act guided by intuition and exacting moral reasoning. On that score, a blanket renunciation of human embryo cloning for reproduction or medical progress seems wanting.


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