Thursday, April 28, 2011

'What we do is none of your business,' cloning advocate says

Jonathan Slack, director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota, reportedly said this in his opposition to the proposed human cloning ban now before the state Legislature: "It isn't the business of legislators to decide what researchers can do."

That's arrogant and ridiculous. We are a democratic society. If researchers started doing lethal experiments on mentally handicapped children, our government -- representing the people of our state -- would almost certainly intervene. In any decent and civilized society, some things are not permitted. Egregious violations of human rights should not be permitted. Rape, murder and theft should not be permitted. Nazi doctors should not have been allowed to perform their gruesome experiments on human subjects.

Princeton professor and leading bioethicist Robert George explained recently:
[S]ince we are a democratically constituted people, we are going to have to resolve by democratic procedures disputes about what the [ethical] norms are [regarding research], and how they apply in particular cases. Now that, I'm afraid, is politics. Not in some pejorative sense—rather in a good sense, in the democratic sense. Together, we deliberate, debate, and decide.
Is human cloning the kind of practice that should be permitted, or not? That's the real question. Slack has not dealt with it. He and his colleagues have given no response to the contention of the ban's supporters -- based on the scientific facts of human embryology coupled with moral reasoning about the nature of human value -- that human cloning crosses a core ethical line and should not be permitted.

(Incidentally, I think Slack showed up for the recent discussion without having read the bill in question. He reportedly said, "Genes are being cloned every day and there is cloning of human cells. Could lawyers consider that to be human cloning?" The bill explicitly says that gene or molecular cloning is not affected. Only the creation by cloning of a human organism -- aka "human cloning" -- is affected. I don't know how any lawyer could get around the actual language of the bill, or how it could be made any more clear.)