Bulletin - The U.S. Congress Votes on Human Cloning: A Clouded Victory
Genetic Crossroads August 2nd, 2001
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, apparently
with 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
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 Dennis
Kucinich, 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
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
infrastructure to put this framework and program onto the public
# # #
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 http://www.bumc.bu.edu/www/sph/lw/website/index.htm.