Letter to Senate on the Harkin/Feinstein Cloning Bill (S. 2439)

May 20, 2002

Dear Senator:

On May 1, proponents of human cloning introduced a slightly revised version of a proposal long advocated by many in the biotechnology industry.  This bill, S. 2439, would take us down the path toward what President Bush has called "a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts."  I am writing to urge you to oppose this legislation.

S. 2439 and its legal and social impact have been misrepresented by supporters in several ways.

First, it is titled a "human cloning prohibition act" but does not ban any human cloning, for any purpose.  It allows unlimited use of cloning to create human embryos, then tries to ensure that all these embryos will die before birth.  Thus the bill defines a subclass of humanity as nothing more than research material, to be produced solely in order to be destroyed. 

Second, it claims to "protect important areas of medical research," but does not distinguish important from trivial research, or research from other ways of mistreating cloned embryos.  Nothing in this bill prevents mass production and destruction of cloned human embryos for commercial use, idle speculation, or any other reason.  Its only restriction is that no cloned human must get out of the laboratory alive.  It even allows research aimed at refining the cloning procedure, to make cloning for live birth feasible in the future.

Third, it is hailed by supporters as a "compromise."  But it addresses no substantive criticisms of earlier bills on cloning sponsored by Senators Harkin (S. 1893) or Feinstein (S. 1758).  It is a "compromise" between the Harkin and Feinstein bills, combining defects of both.

Fourth, like the earlier Feinstein bill, this bill claims to enact some restraints by extending current regulations for federally funded research to privately funded "nuclear transplantation" (embryo cloning) research.  However, those regulations provide no standards or limits for such research, or for any research involving human embryos outside the womb.  This provision is meaningless.

In one respect this bill seems worse than past proposals on cloning.  The Harkin cloning bill, S. 1893, banned efforts to implant a cloned embryo in "a woman's uterus or a substitute for a woman's uterus."  The new bill, S. 2439, allows implantation in such a substitute, as long as it is not proved to be the "functional equivalent" of a uterus.  Since the "function" of a uterus is to sustain an unborn child to live birth, this provision seems to allow use of an "artificial womb" or other means to sustain the cloned unborn child to any stage that falls short of this. 

S. 2439 therefore takes us down the slippery slope toward "farming" cloned humans to the fetal stage, for harvesting of developed organs and other horrors.  The bill's findings even describe a "clone" as "a complete, live-born animal" (sec. 2 (5)), suggesting that mandated destruction of the child at any point before live birth would prevent "cloning."  A bill recently introduced by Senator Dorgan (S. 2076) takes this same disturbing step: It allows the use of cloned embryos to "initiate a human pregnancy," and even the implantation of cloned embryos in any "mammalian uterus," as long as this is not done "for the purpose of creating a cloned human being" (by which the sponsors seem to mean a live-born cloned human being).

By banning pregnancy or live birth, instead of banning use of cloning to initiate human development, these bills focus their legal penalties on desperate infertile women and their physicians, instead of on scientists who irresponsibly mass-produce human life in the laboratory as research material.  Even more unjustly, these bills seek to impose a government-mandated death sentence on the completely innocent victim of the cloning procedure, the helpless cloned human.  Such legislation could be described as anti-woman and anti-life at the same time.

This issue transcends the usual boundaries of our perennial national debate on abortion.  Enactment of legislation like S. 2439 or S. 2076 would mark the first time in our history that Congress defined a class of unborn humans who must be destroyed.  In other words, upon enactment of such legislation, the only federal crime related to cloning would be the crime of allowing a cloned human to survive.

This is a case in which how we achieve an important goal is at least as important as whether we achieve it.  We should ban human cloning -- by banning the use of the cloning procedure to create new developing humans in the first place, as in the Brownback/Landrieu cloning ban (S. 1899).  Legislation which allows the practice, and then seeks to dehumanize and destroy the humans thus produced so we can pretend we have banned cloning, is worse than doing nothing.  I urge you to oppose S. 2439 and S. 2076, and to approve the genuine ban on human cloning offered by S. 1899.


Gail Quinn
Executive Director