New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey signed into law January 4 a bill that allows therapeutic human cloning and gives parents the option of donating unwanted embryos to stem cell research.
Supporters say the law will result in cures for life-threatening and chronic diseases. Opponents say the law will lead to the killing of thousands of tiny human beings. They also say non-controversial forms of research — such as that on adult stem cells — offer just as much if not more promise.
"Despite facing overwhelming opposition from many fronts along the way, today we celebrate a great day for families, for research, and for the hope that miracles may be just around the corner," McGreevey said in a statement.
The law bans one form of human cloning — reproductive cloning — while allowing another kind, therapeutic cloning. Therapeutic cloning is referred to in the new law as "somatic cell nuclear transplantation," and differs from reproductive cloning only in that the embryo is not implanted in a woman's womb.
In both therapeutic and reproductive cloning, the same process is used to create the cloned embryo.
The law also allows parents to donate unwanted embryos — such as those left over following fertility treatments — to stem cell researchers.
Stem cells are at the heart of the debate. Some scientists argue that the stem cells harvested from embryos — they must be destroyed in the process — are the key to unlocking medical discoveries. Other scientists say that adult stem cells, which can be harvested from adult cells and don't require the destruction of embryos, hold just as much promise and don't carry ethical concerns.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the law is a form of "biotech cannibalism" in which "we consume our own young for the potential benefit of already-born humans."
"It is a morally despicable decision that reveals a breathtaking moral bankruptcy," he said. "Additionally it is based on the highly questionable scientific assumption that embryonic stem cell research is to be preferred over research from stem cells that do not cause the death of their donor. All of the most promising research that has been done with stem cells has been done with stem cells that do not come from human embryos."
In December, three New Jersey state congressmen — Chris Smith, Mike Ferguson, and Scott Garrett — issued a statement warning about the bill's possible ramifications.
It "would not only allow the cloning of human beings for research purposes, but would also allow cloned human embryos to be implanted into a woman's womb, allow the cloned human to develop to the fetal stage, and then use this human child for research where he or she could be killed for their 'spare parts,'" they stated.
"This legislation will launch New Jersey blindly into the vanguard of terrible human rights violations and grisly human experimentation. We are literally facing the prospect of creating a human clone and implanting this cloned baby into a woman's womb. Once this happens, nothing can stop the world's first human clone from being born and starting a horrible new era of human history."
The law uses a narrow definition of human cloning, calling it "the replication of a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material through the egg, embryo, fetal, and newborn stages into a new human individual."