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Editorial: Human cloning - At the brink of a deep pit

Friday, January 3, 2003

The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is the slowest of the year for news-gathering organizations. Anyone seeking a great deal of publicity for an event that is dubious at best and an outright hoax at worst would see the advantage of getting the world's attention by breaking a news story during the last week of the calendar year.

Perhaps that's why last week's announcement of the birth of a cloned baby girl received so much attention. News organizations -- including the world's largest, The Associated Press -- gave the story a boost because there was little else competing for the attention of news gatherers.

Despite the careful hedging in all the cloning reports, the story still managed to grab extra attention, much the way a supermarket tabloid entices us as we wait in line to pay for our groceries. The AP, for example, dutifully reported that the organization announcing the cloned baby offered no proof, no details, no photographs and no mother and child.

The baby is said to be a clone of its mother, an American woman whose husband is infertile. The announcement was made by Clonaid, a cloning company affiliated with a religious sect that believes space aliens brought life to Earth (as revealed by a space alien during a 1973 visit with Claude Vorilhon, the French leader of the sect known as Raelians).

That said, if the story turns out to be true, there are serious implications in the announced birth of a cloned baby.

For starters, there is by no means any agreement on the moral implications of cloning human life. There is much to be said, however, for a statement from a theological ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, who stated simply: "The very attempt to clone a human being is evil."

It is a convoluted world that, on the one hand, sanctions the taking of human life for purposes of personal convenience through abortion while, on the other hand, sanctions cloning to create new life that may have significant flaws.

The seriousness of the problems that have resulted from cloning other animal life have already been demonstrated. In those experiments, cloned animals have developed abnormalities and life-threatening problems due to malfunctioning or degenerating organs. To risk the imposition of such a fate on a human infant is beyond the pale of moral consciousness.

Even if the announcement of a cloned baby turns out to be false, the fact remains that there are many other efforts afoot to do exactly that.

Some advocates of human cloning are attempting to divide the issue by making a distinction between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning -- the latter being the production of cloned cells to be used for research or to provide cures for life-threatening diseases.

While these arguments will continue, there has been no convincing case made that overcomes the moral and ethical questions that accompany any cloning research. The United States has no law against human cloning. It should.

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