Cloning offers more solutions than fears

George Lucas could be too late when, in 1999, his “Star Wars” prequels feature an army of cloned soldiers. America is already frightened by that very image, as well as designer babies and headless organ donors, all brought to us by the debate over cloning technology that’s exploded since Dolly the sheep entered the scene. President Bill Clinton’s 1997 executive order banning federal research into human cloning was a response to the dark images of science fiction now unleashed upon the world of the possible. But others are not so afraid of what cloning can do. “There were an awful lot of people against the automobile too,” said physicist Richard Seed. He wants to open a human cloning clinic to fight infertility. If Congress enacts a nationwide cloning ban, Seed will take his business overseas, or to Mexico, or the Caribbean. If anything, the Illinois physicist has strengthened the anti-cloning movement. Several states as well as members of the international community are calling for a ban. French President Jacques Chirac is hosting a conference of 20 European nations to consider a continental cloning ban. Any resulting treaty would also be open to American and Canadian endorsement. Europe’s anti-cloners fear that cloning will alter the human gene pool. But the threat of scientific abuse is not sufficient justification for outlawing a technique that has tremendous potential to alleviate human suffering. Even many physicians distrust technology that can tamper with the very stuff of life — the genetic code of DNA. But who adheres to the sanctity of life more than medical researchers dedicated to eliminating sickness and disease? To extend and save lives, society already permits eye glasses, open-heart surgery and radiation therapy. Technology is never, in itself, a curse. How we use our tools is the measure of humanity, and cloning is a tool that can do much good. Take the problem of infertility. A cloned child would certainly be the result of careful genetic engineering. But so are the children of in vitro fertilization, and America welcomed the McCaughey septuplets without distinction from naturally conceived infants. Thus Seed’s proposed clinic. Organs and other tissues can be cloned for human transplant, free from the risk of patient rejection. Other potential applications of specialized cell cloning hold tremendous medical promise, such as growing new skin for burn victims, culturing bone marrow for treating cancer patients and manipulating genes to cure sickle cell anemia. Continued genetic research will facilitate further advances in biomedical and agricultural research. Outlawing human cloning goes too far. The minute risk of fascist armies of clones does not outweigh the great potential to cure disease and ease suffering. Already Clinton has appointed a national bioethics commission to study cloning technology’s ethical implications. Congress has undertaken a similar review. These measured, deliberative responses are appropriate. Cloning, like other technologies, must eventually be well-regulated. For now, the subject deserves careful thought — and the kind of experimentation Seed promotes.