The American Bar Association concerns itself with every law except the moral one. The group this week endorsed "cell nucleus transfer technology," its euphemism for cloning human embryos then killing them for medical research.
The ABA's pro-cloning report is the usual grab bag of sophistries, red-herring observations, and beside-the-point throat clearing.
Cloning human embryos to harvest their useful parts is justified by the ABA in the name of "scientific knowledge for the improvement of human health," not, of course, counting the health of the embryo.
The ABA relies on that noted embryologist Orrin Hatch to glide over in one paragraph the moral objections to embryo-killing. Since Hatch says killing two-week old embryos for medical research is okay, it must be, according to the ABA. The group also points out that two other weighty Republican thinkers, Arlen Specter and Gerald Ford, approve of research cloning as well.
After hiding behind these "Republicans," the ABA gets to its real point: We want to live longer! It can't understand why cloning opponents wouldn't want to take advantage "of the immense potential health benefits of therapeutic research."
Anybody who opposes cloning for medical research is opposed to "the freedom of scientific inquiry," says the ABA.
Cloning critics should get in line behind the critics of Galileo, it says: "A number of legislative proposals to ban both reproductive and therapeutic cloning research have been advanced at the state and federal levels by authors who insist that the notion of cloning for any purpose is repugnant. Such a reaction is neither surprising nor unusual. Medical advances often have been greeted initially with the same fear and trepidation that the new cell nucleus transfer technology has raised. In the 17th century, for example, the church compelled Galileo to retract his support of Copernicus' hypothesis that the Earth revolves around the sun. Socrates and Charles Darwin also suffered society's wrath for their forward-thinking ideas."
Cloning critics also stand athwart freedom of opinion and international law, suggests the ABA. It quotes the United Nations statement that "everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
After approving of cloning in principle, the ABA strikes an oddly moralistic tone about reproductive cloning. It believes the creation of cloned human embryos for science is fine as long as scientists plan to kill them. Reproductive cloning, however, worries the ABA, because "there would be serious risks of multiple miscarriages by the mother and severe developmental abnormalities in resulting children."
But why is this a problem, according to the ABA's moral philosophy? Think of what scientists could learn from those medical pile-ups! Besides, how are scientists supposed to perfect reproductive cloning unless you afford them a few test runs?
But scientists shouldn't worry too much. It is only a matter of time before the ABA reconciles itself to reproductive cloning. Notice the ambiguity in its present opposition to reproductive cloning: "When weighed against any benefits, the dangers of human somatic cell nuclear transfer in its current state of development warrant prohibition of the use of this technology to replicate a human being. The government's compelling interest in imposing restrictions on this technology is bolstered by the availability of alternative means to achieve parenthood - e.g., through adoption or use of other reproductive technologies."
The ABA, by the way, didn't spend all of its time on cloning at its meeting this week. The group addressed other significant professional issues facing lawyers, such as whether the lovers of "terrorists' victims" should receive government assistance. It thinks they should.