Nations Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against
the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings
People and Jewish Law: A Preliminary Analysis
The United States bars government-funded scientists from cloning human cells
to cure diseases. But the nation has not outlawed cloning a human being.
This ScienCentral News video reports on the politics of human cloning.
Ethics & Politics
For most scientists, the issue is pretty clear-cut. A great majority condemn
any attempt to clone a human being, but favor creating cells that can generate
human tissues to fight aging and disease.
But the first steps in reproductive and therapeutic cloning are identical (see
Cloning - The Science). Would permitting therapeutic cloning research
give carte blanche to those who wish to implant a cloned embryo in a woman's
uterus to create a baby? On the other hand, would a ban on all cloning deprive
patients of a right to the best treatments? And what if reproductive cloning
became a safe method of treating infertility? Would patients have a right
to it? Questions like these have led to the current legislative impasse and
an ongoing ethical debate.
"It's wrong to make a human baby that's a duplicate of an existing person,"
says leading medical ethicist George
Annas. "It should never be done."
Annas chairs the Health
Law Department at Boston University School of Public Health, and founded
Global Lawyers and
Physicians, a human rights organization working on the proposed
United Nations treaty to outlaw reproductive cloning. He says cloning
humans would be wrong not only because it's currently unsafe and because proving
its safety would involve unlawful human experiments. Annas also says it would
be wrong for ethical reasons.
Children, he says, have a right not to be clones. "Even in this hypothetical
world that you could possibly do this in a safe manner without subjecting
women and children to horrible disabilities and death, even in that situation
it would be wrong for the children," Annas says. "It would be treating
the children like products, like pets in a sense, and in a sense depriving
them of their human dignity."
And, Annas says, cloning to make babies is not a reproductive right because
cloning is not reproduction. "There's no right to have a twin brother
or a twin sister, which is all you can get from cloning yourself," he
says. "I don't have any sympathy for that at all."
An international treaty would make it a crime to make a cloned baby anywhere
in the world, so that "those two or three people in the world" who
want to clone humans—Kentucky infertility entrepreneur Panayiotis
Zavos, Italian obstetrician Severino
Antinori, and the Raelian
religious sect—can't "jurisdiction-shop."
The treaty would commit countries to "passing national laws and enforcing
national laws against cloning to make a baby," says Annas. So we need
both a treaty, followed by National laws."
Separating the issues
On July 31, 2001, the US House of Representatives voted to ban
all forms of human cloning. But the Senate has balked at outlawing therapeutic
cloning, with conservative members like Arlen
Specter and Orrin
Hatch arguing that therapeutic cloning is pro-life.
Nevertheless, Annas says, there is a concern that permitting therapeutic cloning
research will enable reproductive cloning, but he believes laws can be passed
and enforced to prevent that. "I also think you'd have to make it a crime
to freeze a cloned human embryo and to have a Federal oversight agency that
registers all researchers who are doing research with cloned human embryos.
And once you have those safeguards in place, I think there's no reason not
to permit research to make medicine out of cloned embryos, while forbidding
making children out of them."
Annas disagrees with ethicists who say there's any ethical obligation to pursue
therapeutic cloning. "We're permitted to do human research under certain
circumstances, when we can do it without violating the rights and dignity
of humans and you have an important research question," he says. "But
I don't think we're obligated to do this... in fact, I think that you want
to explore all the other options, including adult stem cells, umbilical cord
stem cells, human stem cells from aborted fetuses... before we get carried
away in making unique stem cells from cloned embryos."
Meanwhile, though, Annas says many ethicists and scientists are upset that
politicians have not been able to separate the two issues and outlaw cloning
babies immediately. He's critical of President Bush's stance.
"It doesn't make any sense to say, I don't want to outlaw something I
don't want to happen, just because I can't get Congress to outlaw something
else that I also don't want to happen," he says. "There's no Congressman
and no Senator in favor of making a baby with cloning. You'd get 100 percent
of both the House and the Senate... to vote in favor of a bill outlawing or
banning making a baby clone today. And that's what should happen.
"The question is, whether we'll get a ban before the first human clones
are born, or after," Annas adds. "Historically, we don't act until
something horrible has happened. So it may be after. You know, I hope that
the first clones are healthy—I actually do. But if they're not, that'll trigger
a ban almost immediately."