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December 1, 2001
Column #1057


     A remarkably diverse coalition called Americans to Ban Cloning (ABC) surfaced this week after a Massachusetts firm announced it had cloned the first human embryos. The liberal United Methodist Church joined the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and pro-choice feminists and environmentalists spoke as forcibly as National Right to Life - demanding that the U.S. Senate enact a bill already passed by the House to ban human cloning for any purpose.

     Over Thanksgiving weekend scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a small biotech firm, announced that they succeeded in cloning the world's first human embryo. The embryo grew into six cells and then died. So it is more of a failure than a success

     However, readers of U.S. News & World Report read the breathless prose of ACT's medical research director, Robert Lanza, ''I feel as if all my loved ones are trapped in a burning building, dying of diseases like diabetes and heart disease,'' he says. ''I have the fire extinguisher  the therapeutic cloning technology - that can save them, but people are trying to take it out of my hands.''

     What the cover story does not say is why many Americans are horrified by experimental cloning of human beings. President Bush put it simply: ''We should not as a society grow life to destroy it. And that's what's taking place.''

     Nigel Cameron, founding editor of ''Ethics and Medicine,'' now director of the Wilberforce Forum, says, ''Human dignity is indivisible. Either the embryo is a unique and distinct human being, or it is not. The technique itself is subhuman - replication rather than reproduction.''

     Perhaps such views are expected from conservatives. But what about liberals? The United Methodist Church is liberal on issues like abortion. Yet eight years before a sheep named Dolly was cloned in Scotland, a study of cloning began which resulted in a condemnation of cloning in 2000, by the church's highest body, the General Conference which meets quadrennially.

     The Conference stated that cloning could lead to the ''use and abuse of people, exploitation of women, (the) tearing of the fabric of the family, the compromising of human distinctiveness, the lessening of genetic diversity...The prevalent principle in research that what can be done should be done is insufficient rationale.''

     Therefore, Jaydee Hanson, a UMC staff member urged a Senate Committee to ban ''all human cloning, including the cloning of human embryos,'' whether ''privately or governmentally funded. Be wary of the temptation to adopt today's latest technology as the final understanding of God's ways of creating and healing humans.''

     Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth, often testifies to Congress on policies supported by Democrats, but opposed by Republicans. However, not on cloning.

     ''We have the supreme arrogance of certain people who are doing genetic engineering.'' He cites Lee Silver's book, ''Remaking Eden: How Cloning and Beyond Will Change the Human Family'' which predicts that most families will not make babies the normal way, but ''will choose to make their children smarter, fitter and prettier.'' 

     That attitude, that humans ''have the wisdom to remake the species with designer babies, means you are fundamentally reshaping human character, which is the height of arrogance.''

     Of course, Advance Cell Technolgy says its human embryo is for therapeutic research, not for designer babies, which they say is completely unethical, because the risks to both child and mother are too great. 

     However, the company's ethics are questionable. Two years ago ACT tried to put a human nucleus into a cow egg and let it divide. And if some embryos are created for research, a black market will develop, selling cloned embryos for reproduction.

     Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, argues, ''As Americans we must now decide whether we are going to be a country that allows the destruction of our tiniest human beings for the supposed benefit of older and bigger human beings.''

     U.S. News failed to report that breakthroughs are already being made with the use of adult stem cells, taken from patients own bodies, which are achieving astonishing results. On November 12, Japanese scientists reported that adult stem cells taken from patient's own hip bones were used to repair heart damage, for example.

     In July the House passed a total ban on cloning for research or reproduction by a big bipartisan vote of 267-162. Yet the Senate has failed to take up the bill. This week Sen. Brownback asked for a vote in the Senate, but it was postponed till February or March.

     Early action is essential. House Majority Leader Dick Armey said, ''We are in a race to prevent amoral, scientifically suspect tinkering with the miracle and sanctity of life.''

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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