Defending Cloning and Stem Cell Research against Faith-Based Curbs. (the New Bioethics)

Article excerpt

Heated controversy surrounds today's efforts to develop ethics by which to manage emerging biotechnologies. Since President Bush's August 9, 2001, decision to limit federally funded stem cell research to existing lines, debate has swung back and forth on issues such as whether adult stem cells are as pluripotent as embryonic ones (they aren't) and whether the existing lines are adequate to permit scientific evaluation of embryonic stem cells' potential (they aren't).

On November 28, 2001, President Bush created the President's Council on Bioethics to study the issue of cloning for reproduction and cloning for biomedical research, and to report with policy recommendations. That report was issued in July 2002. All seventeen Council members voted to ban reproductive cloning; seven voted to ban cloning for research purposes, three favored a moratorium, and seven voted to permit cloning for research to proceed now, with regulation.

The report expressed the concern of conservatives that "society (and not only the embryos) will suffer irreversible moral harm by crossing the boundary that allows nascent human life routinely to be treated as a natural resource." This view turns on seeing embryos at their earliest stages as identical with humans that will, if those embryos are allowed to develop, clearly exist. This key belief, as well as the tactics of some of its proponents, deserves careful investigation. For, if it cannot stand up to non-theistic philosophical analysis, basing governmental policy on it crosses the boundary separating church and state.

FREE INQUIRY and the Council for Secular Humanism have long been active in this debate. Consistently we have defended approaches that respect the freedom of scientific inquiry. (1) Consistently we have opposed arbitrary limits on research rooted primarily in preconceived ideas, including traditional religious doctrines. In 1997, the Council issued "A Declaration in Defense of Cloning and the Integrity of Scientific Research." Thirty-one leaders in biology, philosophy, ethics, and other fields signed this document, which the defended the inherent moral licitness of biotechnologies including human cloning. (2)

Public debate is just that--public--and one can never be certain what use others may make of one's statements. In March of 2001, we were startled to hear that the "Declaration in Defense of Cloning" had been distributed in the halls of Congress . …