Charles Nailen/The Hoya  

Members of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics spoke about the moral and scientific repercussions of cloning to a crowd of about 50 people in Georgetown University Medical Center’s Research Building on Wednesday evening.

The guest panel was introduced by Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Center for Clinical Bioethics scholar Edmund Pellegrino. “Things have happened recently in medicine that can and will have a significant impact on our lives,” Pellegrino said.

First to speak was Leon Kass, Ph.D., chairperson of the president’s Council on Bioethics and professor at the University of Chicago. Kass briefly outlined the five points set forth in the council’s report. First, he explained that the council has evaluated the cloning issue based on human benefits and dangers, as well as its impact on procreation.

Second, Kass said that the council formulated fair and accurate terminology. It decided to use the terms “cloning to produce children” and “cloning for biomedical research” to describe potential processes. These terms were needed to “discuss the issue fairly and without euphemisms,” according to Kass.

Third, he asserted that the 17-person council unanimously agreed that cloning to produce children should be opposed both morally and legally. “[Cloning to produce children] impacts the freedom and dignity of a cloned child, parents and society. It would be a major step to turning procreation into manufacturing,” Kass said.

The report’s fourth point was that all council members, regardless of their stance, agreed that each side had something vital to defend, despite the fact the council could not come to a concrete conclusion regarding cloning for biomedical research. “We cannot be cavalier about basic life or human suffering,” Kass said.

Finally, Kass discussed the two policy recommendations that the council advised in its report. The council vehemently called for a permanent ban on cloning to produce children. The issue of cloning for biomedical research, however, was supported by a seven-member minority of the council who wanted to proceed with new regulations on issues such as embryonic growth. The remaining 10 members agreed on a moratorium on cloning for biomedical research to provide more time for debate and to develop viable regulations.

Kass, a personal opponent of all forms of cloning, outlined four major arguments against human cloning. He argued it is unethical to experiment on a child, as mishaps can result in deformed children and that there are severe implications of individuality and identity. He pointed out that a child may essentially be a twin to his or her own mother or father, “if we can still call them that.”

Kass also asserted that human cloning was a “major step to making man himself a manmade thing.”

Last, he explained that human cloning would aggravate the meaning of a parent-child relationship. He notes that for a cloned infant, a person with the same genetic makeup has already lived and the clone will have to live up to that blueprint.

Kass said that the most sensible and effective program would be to ban human cloning – a recommendation that failed because both sides of the council were entangled in argument over embryo research. He made his final point that “embryos for research is crossing a moral boundary, and no powerful benefits from embryo or stem cells have been proven.”

The next speaker was Michael Sandel, a member of the president’s council and government professor at Harvard University. Sandel was part of the seven-member minority who rejected a moratorium recommendation in favor of regulation. He emphasized the important potential benefits of cloning for biomedical research such as curing Alzheimers and diabetes.

“The objection some people have is to the means employed. Extracting stem cells from an embryo is killing the embryo, a six-day embryo, not a fetus,” Sandel said. “If people believe a six-day implantation embryo is a person, then cloning for biomedical research should be banned for the same reason we do not permit people to take five-year-old children and yank out their organs for biomedical results.”

He then explained the middle ground that some take – wanting to ban creation of embryos for the sole purpose of utilizing stem cells, but allowing research on leftover stem cells at fertility clinics. He points out that this is morally untenable because if one believes that an embryo is equivalent to a child, he must realize that even children destined to die would not have their organs extracted.

Sandel defined the view that these embryos are in fact just as valuable as a child as one of “equal moral status.” He explained that this view is unpersuasive for three reasons. First, if one holds to that view, then harvesting a stem cell and killing an embryo is as bad as harvesting organs from a five-year-old. However, the penalty for destroying an embryo provided in even the most stringent legislation is inadequate in comparison.

Second, he posed a question. “If a fire breaks out, and you can save one five-year-old child or a tray of 100 stem cells, what would you do?” Finally, he pointed out the fact that often times in natural pregnancies, embryos fail to implant properly and die. The implication that a loss of pregnancy is the same as infant mortality raises the question of why leaders are not mobilizing society to regard it as such. In addition, he pointed out that under this philosophy, a proper burial should be provided for a loss of pregnancy.

Countering Kass and Sandel’s arguments was professor of philosophy at Georgetown University and member of the president’s council Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, who has a difficult time believing the argument that a cloned embryo is not a human being.

Gomez-Lobo rejected the concept of “consequentialism,” which asserts that an action should be judged purely on its benefits rather than the action itself.

“We cannot deny that an embryo is a human being because genetics in an embryo are carried throughout life,” Gomez-Lobo said.

He concluded that he was a supporter of the equal moral status concept and believes that in vitro fertilization, as well as all forms of cloning, is immoral.

The next speaker was Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Center for Clinical Bioethics scholar LeRoy Walters, who presented three arguments against a federal ban on research cloning. First, “a federal ban at this time is premature: it would in effect announce a conclusion to the debate on research cloning that is still ongoing – a debate in which no ethical consensus as been reached,” he said.

Walters’s also argued that a federal ban would “constitute an unprecedented intrusion into the freedom of scientific inquiry in the United States and . be a radical imposition of the power of the president and Congress on the 50 states: it would effectively reverse current public policies on research cloning in 39 of the 50 states.”

Last to speak was Father Kevin Fitzgerald, S.J., also a Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Center for Clinical Bioethics scholar. He urged the United States to expand its efforts internationally in order to increase its understanding. Because the concept of health care various in different cultures, international committees on current scientific issues are needed, he said.

Fitzgerald expressed his confusion over the fact that while some Americans are outraged over cloning, people should be outraged at the one-third of people around the world who do not have access to sanitation in areas where children die everyday.

This event was sponsored by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University.

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