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ANALYSIS: Prophetic bioethics missing from presidential council

DEERFIELD, Ill. (BP)–Immediately following the appointment of the President’s Council on Bioethics, I urged that we postpone judgment about the composition of the council until we had its first report in hand. Since the charter of the council states that its role is to counsel the president on bioethical issues, the proof of the pudding, I argued, would be in its policy recommendations. Well, their first report is out (www.bioethics.gov/cloningreport) and now we have recommendations to consider.

While there are many laudable aspects of the report released on July 11, it contains some remarkable problems. The council recommends a complete and permanent ban on cloning with the purpose of bringing a cloned child to term. While that is a “no-brainer,” I suppose the council should be commended for recommending what nearly every sane person in the world believes.

On so-called “therapeutic” or “research” cloning, the council recommends a four-year moratorium to allow for a fuller and more focused public debate. This recommendation is highly problematic.

Though this may be the best recommendation one could hope for from a committee as diverse as the President’s Council on Bioethics, it is far from satisfactory. First, this is not a congressional body meant to reflect diverse constituencies. The purpose of this body is to inform the president of the United States on what is arguably the most momentous decision of this century. If we cannot ban human cloning in all its forms, where will we be able to draw lines in the future? We were looking to this council for moral leadership, not a reflection of the confusion of our culture. We needed a prophetic voice, not a morally ambiguous compromise.

Second, while the council wrestled with the difficult problems of terminology, they continued to perpetuate the false distinction between “reproductive” cloning and “research” cloning, or as they put it, “cloning-to-produce-children” and “cloning-for-biomedical-research.” This is a distinction without a difference. Both forms of cloning are reproductive in that they aim to produce cloned human embryos — either for research in a lab or implantation in a woman’s uterus. Since human embryos are human beings in every important sense of the term, both types of cloning ought to be illegal. To use living human embryos for research purposes is unconscionable.

We must be clear: the primary argument against human cloning is not based on whether it is safe. Currently, we can state unequivocally that cloning is unsafe. Nearly all cloned mammals suffer serious, even lethal, defects. Undoubtedly, however, many of the safety problems will be addressed in animal research. If human cloning were as safe as normal reproduction, would we accept it? Absolutely not! Our reasons against cloning human beings — whether to use them as human guinea pigs or to bring them to term — are moral and theological, not pragmatic.

What do we do now? Since the House of Representatives has already passed a ban on all forms of human cloning, we need to urge the Senate to do the same immediately. Only one bill currently before the Senate would ban all forms of human cloning. That bill, S. 1899, also known as the Brownback-Landrieu bill, has widespread, bipartisan support in the Senate. We need to urge our senators to pass the bill without delay. We also need to inform our senators that should they fail to do so, we will be certain that human cloning is an issue in re-election campaigns.

Christians must do what the council failed to do: send an unmistakably clear message to our Senate that we will not settle for less than a comprehensive ban on all forms of human cloning.
C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. is consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and editor of Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics.

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  • C. Ben Mitchell

    C. Ben Mitchell is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., as well as research fellow with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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