A Glass Half Full

  On July 6, Ted Williams, one of my heroes and one of the greatest baseball players of all times, died. Now there's the question of his body. Will it be cremated in Florida with the ashes scattered off the coast, as he directed, or frozen in Arizona to be sold in pieces for the manufacture of greatest-baseball-player-of-all-times clones? We've talked a lot about cloning on "BreakPoint." The Senate has yet to vote, and the issue is far from settled. But last week the debate got pushed in the right direction. On Thursday, the President's Council on Bioethics issued its report "Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry." Let me begin by saying that the report is not all we had hoped for. We had hoped the President's Council would endorse the policy the president himself embraces -- a total ban on all human cloning. But the Council came up with a compromise position that calls for a total ban on "cloning-to-produce-children" and a four-year moratorium on "cloning-for-biomedical-research." It's not all we wanted, but a step in the right direction, and we'll take what we can get. First, as journalist William Kristol notes, "The report insists on using truthful and non-Orwellian language with respect to cloning." The report rejects linguistic cloaking devices that want to redefine cloning. "Somatic cell nuclear transplantation," a phrase we hear, is cloning, and it doesn't create a ball of cells, but an embryonic human being. In the report the majority of council members grant the embryo moral significance and status. Second, it sets the stage for the ongoing debate about cloning. Leon Kass, the Council's chairman, noted in The Wall Street Journal, "A national moratorium would . . . allow us to debate the question of research on cloned embryos in the larger context of all embryo research, as well as future possibilities of genetically engineering human life." In other words, deal with all the bioethical issues at once. Third, the report clearly sets forth the case for the humanity and dignity of embryonic humans and does this in an official government document. The personal statement in the report, issued jointly by Wilberforce Fellow Dr. Robert George of Princeton and Dr. Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown -- both Council members -- forcefully and logically argues toward the conclusion "that law and public policy should proceed on the basis of full moral respect for human beings irrespective of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency. Justice requires no less . . . Embryonic human beings, no less than the human beings at other developmental stages, should be treated as subjects of moral respect and human rights, not as objects that may be damaged or destroyed for the benefit of others." Finally, the report itself notes that what's at stake in the debate is, in part, "whether society can or should exercise ethical and prudential control over biomedical technology and the conduct of biomedical research." On this issue, where the meaning and dignity of human beings is at stake, we can and must take that ethical stand. As Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, "Otherwise, the most irresponsible of researchers will create our national policy on cloning by default." Hopefully, this report will cause the Senate, finally, to act. For more information: "Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry" (Washington, D.C.: The President's Council on Bioethics, July 2002). You can read the statement by Chuck Colson and Nigel Cameron, Dean of The Wilberforce Forum and Director of the Council for Biotechnology Policy (CBP), at the NEW CBP website: To receive the FREE CBP "Biotech Policy Update" monthly e-newsletter, send an e-mail to with "subscribe" in the subject line. Leon R. Kass, "Stop All Cloning of Humans for Four Years," Wall Street Journal, 11 July 2002. William Kristol, "The Kass Council's Good Counsel," The Weekly Standard, 22 July 2002. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020426, "Linguistic Cloaking Devices," 26 April 2002. For an overview of cloning, read the "BreakPoint Cloning Fact Sheet" at Gilbert Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996). "'Siblings near agreement over father's remains," Associated Press, 15 July 2002.


Chuck Colson



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