How Does the European Press Address Cloning? the Answer Depends on the Level of Debate and Who Is Saying What. (Science Journalism)
Blond, Olivier, Nieman Reports
Only outside of the continent might people think of Europe as being a fully integrated political and sociological entity. From within, there is a great diversity of thought among the 15 members of the European Union. Divergent views about the scientific issue of cloning offer a perfect example of this disparity. Reporters who cover the issue remain largely prudent since cloning is still an unfolding issue about which there are and will be many different perspectives. But, at times, there are sensational clone-related events that lead to an eruption of more debate.
In Germany, the ruins of fascism and World War II still infiltrate most cultural subjects. In the realm of biotechnology, Germany was among the first western European countries to pass a law forbidding embryo manipulation. Most striking was the publication in 1999 of a book, "Rules for The Human Zoo," written by liberal philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. Many perceived it as a justification of eugenics, whereas Sloterdijk believed he was inviting readers to reflect on new challenges offered by the rapid progress in science.
Starting with a story in the German weekly Die Zeit, a long, complicated debate was engaged. It involved many thinkers and philosophers and resulted in much confusion for everybody, including the participants. Journalists from a number of German and foreign newpapers tried to report accurately on the numerous and evolving points of view, but the debate was blurred because Sloterdijk's text was understood as a justification of eugenics and Nazism. This prominent philosopher argued against these accusations, presenting himself as a left-wing thinker. But the emotions connected with these accusations hindered for a long time any subsequent assessment of his ideas.
In France, history also twists the debate. Many intellectuals want to address cloning while considering policies involving universal human rights. They establish themselves as abstract consciousness for the human being--an echo of the French revolution. The various scientists who have led the national ethics committee, like Axel Kahn, frequently addressed the press on the issue of cloning. (Revision of the bioethics law was due in 1998 but is still delayed.) But if this debate is regularly portrayed in the newspapers, it has not yet found its place on the political agenda since it seems that politicians are afraid to take a position on such a sensitive issue. Only a few days after former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said he would authorize therapeutic cloning, he withdrew his decision. In the recent presidential campaign, French leaders did not address the cloning issue.
In contrast to theoretical debates in France and Germany, cloning has been considered as an issue of practical concern in Italy. There, citizens wanted to know more about the possibility of giving birth at an older age and about specific benefits they might receive from the current progress of scientific research and new opportunities offered through genetic engeneering. Until July 2001, Italy had some of the most tolerant laws regarding the use of fertility science in Europe. A post-menopausal woman could receive implants as a method of giving birth.
In Italy, however, one name became emblematic of this scientific controversy--as Sloterdijk did in Germany. That name is Severino Antinori, a professor of medicine at the University of Rome. In August 2001, Antinori was the first to publicly announce the launching of diverse human cloning programs. Accompanied by slogans such as "reproductive cloning is a form of therapy," his comments provoked many emotional reactions, as he had obviously hoped they would.
While covering such news, journalists inform readers of the general trend against reproductive cloning, and they often react negatively to Antinori's flamboyant speeches. …