Clinton vs human cloning

Jonathan Ewbank ewbank at MONOD.BIOL.MCGILL.CA
Wed Mar 5 15:52:26 EST 1997

I wasn't entire sure whether to take this post entirely seriously, but 
just in case it was meant sincerely, here is my response to Howard 
Olson's misguided rhetoric. [The complete article by Howard Olson can be 
found at:]

>In a blatant display of political oportunism, President Clinton shows
>a sudden concern for ethics.

A strange statement to be made by someone describing himself as a 
bioethicist. I'm a biologist, and I am aware of a continuum of 
debate on ethical issued sponsored by the US government. To take just two
examples, "Splicing Life, A report on the social and ethical issues of 
genetic engineering with human beings" was published by the President's 
Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical 
and Behavioral Research in November 1982, almost fifteen years ago. And 
three years ago saw the publication of the National Advisory Board on 
Ethics in Reproduction (NABER) paper "Report on human cloning through 
embryo splitting: an amber light." (Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. 
4(3): 251-282, 1994 Sep.). Anyone actually interested in these matters 
can consult the relevant databases, such as BioethicsLine, or the US 
government sponsored catalog of published material related to the 
ethical, legal and social implications of the Human Genome Project (see
Of course, perhaps the statement was a sarcastic reference to the 
President's personal ethical behavior, but if the author is aiming for a 
debate on the issues he addresses, then I would hope that he would be able 
to distinguish the person from the office.

Onto the body of the argument:

>Clinton and those he seeks to appease on the statist Left & Right
>ignore the simple human fact of self-ownership. If human beings do not
>have the right to clone themselves they do not have the right to
>reproduce in any form without government consent. 

This is an entire non-sequitur. It's like someone trying to justify a 
abolition of speed limits on roads saying, "If human beings do not have 
the right to drive their own cars as fast as they wish, they do not have 
the right to travel by any means whatsoever without government consent".

>The level of techonology is irrelevant to the simple fact that humans 
>have the right to dispose of their own tissue in any way they see 
>fit. The alternative is state-ownership of human beings. This is 
>unconscionable both ethically and scientifically.

This is simply ridiculous! Firstly, people do not "have the right to  
dispose of their own tissue in any way they see fit". Imagine what 
would happen if I chose to "dispose of" my "tissue" in a public place! 
Try cutting off your fingers and eating them the next time you're in a 
restuarant; at the very least it's an offence against public decency.
But more seriously, as has already been recognised in other areas of 
human reproduction, the level of technology is relevant to what one can 
and cannot do. That is why there exist bodies to oversee in vitro 
fertilisation and other aspects of physician-assisted fertility. One may 
have the right to reproducive freedom, but may not necessarily have the 
right to all available resources to pursue one's own particular goal; 
this is hardly unqiue to the field of reproduction.
And to continue the analogy given above, the degree of regulation of 
transport is related to the level of technology. I for one am glad of
the fact that in most countries before one can drive a car on public 
roads one requires a licence, while I know of none in which walking 
tests are mandatory....

>Basic laws protect the rights of humans from enslavement that
>opponents of human cloning pretend to fear in their simplistic
>propaganda. In reality, authoritarians of both the right and the left
>seek control over human life. Rulers and would-be rulers seek to use
>the issue of cloning to establish the principle of state-ownership of
>human life.

Your exposure to such ideas has clearly been greater than mine.
I would appreciate a reference to a source where "the principle of 
state-ownership of human life" is promoted.

>Niether scientists nor the public can allow this to happen. We need to
>have freedom to experiment so that viruses and all other infectious
>agents can be defeated as fast (or hopeully faster) than they can
>evolve. Limiting the rights of people to donate their tissue to
>medical science for these or any other purposes is to doom humanity to
>death from emergent viral and other pathogenic infections.
>Biotechnology and medicine in other areas may al;so benefit from human
>cloning in ways we cannot even imgaine now.

The presence of a constant threat to human well-being does not 
remove the need for individuals and societies to behave in a
ethically proper manner, unless of course you are convinced by the 
dictum "The ends justifies the means". Having worked in 
acedemic and commercial laboratories in the UK, France, Germany, the US 
and Canada, I would hazard the opinion that there is currently ample 
"freedom to experiment".

>But , most importanly, banning human cloning will establish the right
>of the State to control human reproduction and human life in toto, by
>establishing the precedent created by such a law as Clinton and others
>are seeking.

In just the same way that banning personal possesion of assault weapons 
is a blow to personal liberty and the first step on the road to 
collectivisation of private property perhaps?


Jonathan Ewbank
Department of Biology                  ewbank at
McGill University                      (514) 398 6278
1205 Dr Penfield Avenue                fax   398 5069
Montreal  PQ
Canada    H3A 1B1

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