Insight

Congress Votes on Human Cloning--Behind the News

From Genetic Crossroads.

After three hours of intense debate the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 265 to 162 to pass the "Weldon bill" (HR 2505), banning both the creation of clonal embryos and their implantation in a woman to produce a cloned child.

This vote is a victory for opponents of human cloning, designer babies, and the new commercial eugenics. But it's a victory that reveals a larger political failure--one with chilling implications.

The move in the U.S. Congress to ban human cloning was initiated by social conservatives and opponents of abortion. Seeing this, many liberals and progressives reflexively took the other side, apparentlywith little understanding of the issues or of what is at stake.

During this week's House floor debate and in earlier committee hearings, conservatives spoke with passion about the dangers of eugenics, of commodifying human beings, of the Nazi obsession with creating perfect humans, of the peril of letting private industry control the human genome, and of the need for science to operate within social and ethical norms.

It was the liberal Democrats who uncritically adopted arguments that have been deployed by eugenic engineering enthusiasts: that human cloning can't be stopped, that reproductive cloning might be acceptable, that government shouldn't interfere with scientific research, that private industry is leading the way to a dazzling future of genetic improvement, and the like.

This is a dangerous development. For the production of human clones and designer babies to become accepted among liberals and progressives as forward-looking, and for opposition to these technologies to become identified as a conservative, reactionary, right-wing stance, would be a tragedy of world historic proportions.

Here's the vote count on the Weldon Bill:

Republicans: 200 Yes 19 No Democrats: 63 Yes 143 No Independents: 2 Yes 0 No

Many of the 63 Democrats who voted in favor of the bill are social and economic conservatives from swing districts. A second large group consists of traditional liberal-labor- Catholics representing blue-collar constituencies. A few are traditional white southern conservatives. A handful are left-liberals, some of whom, like David Bonior and DennisKucinich, are Catholic and opposed to abortion.

What is missing is the core liberal Democratic leadership. The California Democratic delegation, for example, the most progressive in the country, unanimously voted "no" on the Weldon bill.

How did this come to pass Liberals and progressives have historically fought for equality, justice, and human dignity. Now many appear to be using arguments that could lead straight to a world of designer babies and genetic castes.

Part of the explanation is that most Americans, including most members of Congress, are unaware that the creation of clonal embryos is a big step towards allowing us to create "designer children." Without this awareness, opposition to clonal embryo research that might produce cures for cancer, diabetes, and other diseases can appear to be unconscionable. In fact, support for embryonic stem cell research, using embryos produced in IVF procedures, can and does coexist with support for a moratorium on embryo cloning.

Some of the scientists, biotech entrepreneurs, and bioethicists who call for a green light on embryo cloning are motivated by their distaste for any social oversight of their work: For them, "regulation" is a dirty word. Others in this group explicitly embrace a vision of designer babies and eugenic engineering.

The only significant constituencies thus far mobilized around the issues of human cloning and inheritable genetic manipulation are the religious anti-abortion conservatives on the one hand, and biomedical / biotech interests on the other. With only these options apparent, the alignment of liberal elected officials is understandable. Understandable, but no less dangerous, wrong, and unnecessary. To avoid being pushed over a precipice into a world of eugenic engineering and designer babies, we need to draw lines where they will make a difference.

Our work is just beginning. We need to develop a framework and program for popular and decision-maker education and engagement on the new human genetic technologies and eugenic engineering. And we need to develop the infrastructure to put this framework and program onto the public agenda. # # #

The next issue of Genetic Crossroads will review the argument for at least a moratorium on embryo cloning, discuss the politics of cloning legislation in the U.S. Senate, analyze media coverage of the topic, and suggest how people concerned about these issues can be involved.

In the meantime, if you haven't yet registered for the September 21-22 conference at Boston University, "Beyond Cloning: Protecting Humanity From Species-Altering Procedures," please do so now. This will be a very important event for those committed to building a movement to challenge the new eugenic engineering agenda. For program and registration, see the Beyond Cloning website.

Opinion: The passage of this law does not mean that designer cloning will not take place. On the contrary, it is likely to become a lucrative offshore trade. What will we do when a US citizen attempts to repatriate their clone as a citizen And a larger question: this process is with us. Clones and designed children will be a part of the future, whether the US agrees or not. How do we, as a people, respond to that Do we recognize clones created in countries where it is legal as people Will they be people

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