Human Cloning — Just a Matter of Opinion?

Some Newspapers, But Not All, Embrace the Latest Manipulation of Life

WASHINGTON, D.C., DEC. 1, 2001 ( In the days following the announcement by Advanced Cell Technology that it had cloned a human embryo, a number of newspaper editorials rushed to support the development. But some papers were deeply troubled by the news.

Two British papers, the Guardian and the Independent, strongly defended the decision to clone humans. The Guardian hailed the ACT announcement as “good news” and said it could lead to a breakthrough in disease control.

The editorial praised the decision by Parliament earlier this year to permit research on embryos, stating that those under 14 days of age “are smaller than a pinhead, have no head, brain, heart, or recognisable human feature.”

The Independent derided the opposition to human cloning expressed by the Vatican and other groups as “the usual tirade of condemnation.” Cloning should be welcomed, affirmed the editorial, as “An overwhelming majority of informed opinion argues that creating human clones in this way heralds a revolution in medicine.”

“It is vital that we allow human cloning to go ahead,” continued the leader. “It is invidious to argue that a microscopic ball of cells devoid of any specialised nervous system or sentience in some way commands the same rights as a fully formed human being in pain and distress.”

In the United States, the Washington Post talked of “frenzy” in the reaction to ACT´s announcement and urged the Senate to resist any attempt to impose a complete banning on cloning. “[I]t´s far from clear that therapeutic cloning, even if successful, would fall into the category of creating and then destroying a potential human life,” opined the Post.

The editorial noted that the experiments had not proceeded to the point where stem cells could be produced and taken for any use. In fact, the cells produced only made it as far as the four- or six-cell stage before dying. The Post favors permitting cloning of humans for scientific research, but not for reproduction.

The New York Times was more doubtful about the supposed breakthrough declared by ACT. Describing it as “at best only a modest advance along the road toward therapeutic cloning,” the Times´ editorial judged that the way in which ACT´s work was done could well hinder further advances in this field.

ACT failed to produce a lone embryo in its attempt to insert genetic material from an adult into a human ovum whose existing nucleus had been removed. An alternative approach only resulted in three embryos.

The Times backs cloning for research purposes, although the editorial acknowledged the need to come to terms with the ethical issues of cloning. Congress should only ban reproductive cloning, opined the editorial, so as not to disrupt medical progress.

The Boston Globe noted that the U.S. House of Representatives has already outlawed the use of federal funds for any research with cloned human embryos, whether for reproductive or therapeutic ends, but that this ban has not been supported by the Senate.

The Globe declared its support for allowing cloning for “therapeutic” research, while prohibiting it for reproductive purposes.

For the Los Angeles Times, “Cloning aimed at replicating humans is ethically troubling, not to mention medically reckless.” But the editorial downplayed the ACT experiments, observing that they only managed to get a single ovum to divide into six cells.

The paper called for scientists working in the area of biotechnology to be subject to laws “reflecting national values.” It argued, however, that the reaction to work being done by ACT was overwrought and that the best thing President George W. Bush could do would be to move up the naming of the members to his bioethics advisory commission.

Banned in Europe

The Wall Street Journal did not take a position either in favor or against human cloning. It saw a need to consider the matter very seriously before proceeding. No fewer than 29 European nations now prohibit human cloning for therapeutic ends, and only a single European country, Britain, has explicitly authorized cloning for research purposes.

So, pointed out the Journal, it´s not a “conservative” president from Texas who is worried about cloning, but an ethical matter that has caused serious concern in many places.

The editorial did say that it would find it difficult to oppose a cure for serious diseases that comes from cloning. Yet the paper was very critical of the repeated stories of “breakthroughs” in this field that are characterized by a “remarkable display of scientific and social hubris.”

It is not acceptable, argued the Journal, to give scientists a green light simply because a procedure is technically possible. The ACT announcement, the paper said, prompted a number of questions: “Whether, for example, there is something inviolate and even sacred about the earliest elements of human life. Or whether the medical needs of the already born trump any moral claims that discarded or unclaimed embryos might have to personhood.”

Killing life

A clear denouncement of human cloning came from the Washington Times editorial. “Their immoral means,” noted the paper, “do not justify their intended ends.”

The editorial noted how ACT President Michael West insists: “Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not an individual. They´re only cellular life. They´re not human life.”

But, noted the Washington Times, “artificially nurturing a woman´s egg — which is a gift from God — into an embryo without benefit of fertilization by a male´s sperm is, nonetheless, human cloning and should be condemned as such.”

The Chicago Tribune was also worried about the research conducted by ACT. The announcement of human cloning “suggests that, in the name of stem cell research, virtually anything goes.” Creating “a nascent form of life with the sole purpose of exploiting it for stem cells and then destroying it” is not acceptable, declared the editorial.

Public opinion is divided on the matter, noted the Tribune, with many who are polled declaring that stem cell research is morally improper because it puts end to an early form of human life. At the same time, many people are also in favor of continuing research in this field.

The editorial noted that it´s not clear at this stage if reproductive cloning is feasible, and is not the question under discussion now. Insofar as therapeutic cloning is concerned, the editorial concluded: “What is clear is that Congress at the very least should declare off-limits the creation of human life forms purely for experimentation and destruction.”

For defenders of life at all its stages, human cloning is another example of how “progress” is outrunning society´s capacity to establish ethical limits. Scientific research, John Paul II has often observed, must be oriented toward the integral human good. Many in the media have not yet heeded that message.

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