Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Cloning Issue Deserves Better Than "Why Not?"

Magazine article The Human Life Review

The Cloning Issue Deserves Better Than "Why Not?"

Article excerpt

The U.S. Senate is about to take up and debate the issue of human cloning-- whether to ban it outright, or to allow the technology for therapeutic purposes alone. On one familiar level, this is frightening. Normally the Senate confines its mental energies to such matters as highways for West Virginia and tossing logs onto bonfires around fallen executives. Perhaps sensing their lack of standing as philosophes, some senators at the dawn of this debate have grafted themselves to a letter signed by 40 Nobel laureates, who unified themselves to denounce President Bush's proposed ban on human embryo cloning experimentation.

The senior senator from Massachusetts (Ted Kennedy, for readers under 30), announced the other day that "Congress was right to place medicine over ideology in the past, and we should do the same again." Arlen Specter sees the banners taking America back to the "Dark Age."

The 40 Nobelists, including a few economists, expressed their fears this way: "By declaring scientifically valuable biomedical research illegal, Senator Brownback's legislation, if it becomes law, would have a chilling effect on all scientific research in the United States" and would "send a strong signal to the next generation of researchers that unfettered and responsible scientific investigation is not welcome in the United States." Who said scientists no longer believe in absolutes?

William F. Buckley Jr. once famously wrote that he'd rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty. All things considered, I'd rather have the cloning issue decided, just now, by the first 100 names in the U.S. Senate than all the Nobel laureates in America.

This is saying something, insofar as I'm not sure what Teddy Kennedy is talking about, though presumably if the enemy that day was ideology, his side won. More to the point, I might prefer putting more faith in science than the World's Greatest Deliberative Body on this decision if we were living in 1952 and not 2002. A lot has changed since then and on balance for the better. These 40 Nobelists have contributed mightily to a better life for all. Science triumphed through those years, however, by staying loyal to the rigor it imposes on falsity and truth. But now, when science has driven itself, and us, to a point where we must decide whether its work with human biology will be moral, or not moral, we not only lack equal intellectual rigor for the task, we indeed may have no rigor at all anymore.

Let's begin with the final paragraph of the Nobelists' letter, wherein they swear off cloning a person: "We, the undersigned, urge that legislation to impose criminal and civil sanctions against attempts to create a cloned human being be enacted." There, in all of 22 words, is the concession they offer to a world of concerns about the slippery slope of this technology: Trust us; we, the undersigned, won't do it. But I don't trust them.

The subject of this column is not therapeutic cloning itself. Nor do we wish here to take up the problems the biotech industry has had finding new-product flow that will redeem the unfulfilled promises it made to investors. Biotechnology's prospect of alleviating disease such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's is too great to simply say no, never. My argument is with the way we think now, with what has come to be known as the postmodernist intellectual tradition, a real force in the culture of ideas in academia, media and politics. …

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