Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

The House Votes on Cloning: Good News! Bad News!

Last Wednesday the House held a surprise vote on Rep. DeGette’s (D-Colorado) Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007. The bill that would prohibit reproductive, but not therapeutic cloning was defeated by only nine votes. That same morning, the White House issued a “Statement of Administrative Policy” declaring “The President unequivocally opposes all forms of human cloning” and that the President would veto any bill that allows even therapeutic cloning. The good news is that the House bill did not pass. The bad news is that Congress, the President, and a dozen or so states would like to ban at least some forms of cloning.

The Act would have prohibited human cloning which it defines as “the implantation of the product of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.” It would have prohibited both actual human cloning and any “attempt to perform” human cloning. The bill did not define “equivalent of a uterus” or what would constitute and “attempt” to perform human cloning. Vagueness is a problem in all efforts to ban cloning because of the possible chilling effects such prohibitions can have on scientific advancements. Ten years in prison or a ten million dollar fine would be a harsh penalty to pay for a misunderstanding of scientific motives.

Science is no longer something done in the basement of a mad scientist’s mansion. Scientific inquiry requires teams of researchers with universities or research institutions to back them. It is possible to conceive of one mad scientist or even one mad scientist who convinces another to go along, but a whole team of mad scientists? That is not only highly unlikely, but nearly impossible. The only way something that horrific could conceivably happen is if government sponsored a highly top secret project. No one in the private sector could command that amount of secrecy without the public finding out what was going on.

This isn’t the first time there have been efforts to ban new reproductive technologies for fear of mad scientist and monster babies. There were cries to ban in vitro fertilization (IVF) in the 1970s, but Congress never passed any such laws, and the research proceeded without the creation of any “monster babies,” only millions of happy infertile couples who now have children – children, who by most estimates, have fewer birth defects than children born without the assistance of reproductive technologies.

Cloning is an integral part of several potential medical advances. It is essential to embryonic stem cell therapies, potential infertility therapies, and possible genetic therapies. The best course of action for the federal government is no action at all. If we are lucky, Congress and the President will remain at loggerheads long enough for cloning to continue to play its part in the advancement of science. But, what might happen at the state level is another story.

Forty Years of Loving

Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. It’s a good time to reflect on the social progress that Brink Lindsey discusses in The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Changed America’s Politics and Culture. Indeed, the Freedom to Marry Coalition has been celebrating the anniversary with a series of newspaper ads highlighting the interracial marriages of such prominent Americans as Jeb Bush, Mitch McConnell, Clarence Thomas, Jim Webb, and Tiger Woods.

But Virginia’s attempts to impede the course of true love didn’t begin or end with its “anti-miscegenation” statute. As I noted for Reason a couple of years ago, in the early part of the 20th century the state was in the habit of sterilizing “imbeciles.” The Supreme Court, influenced by Progressivism, approved that exercise in social engineering. And in our own times, Virginia has been repeatedly banning same-sex marriage, not worrying excessively about how much collateral damage it does to wills, custody agreements, medical powers of attorney, or joint bank accounts.

I wrote about the state’s tradition of interfering with private choices:

Neither of these now-derided laws is a perfect match with the predicament facing gays in Virginia, but both flowed from an arrogant desire by the state to control private relationships. The state is schizophrenic about such things, but if the past is any indicator, things do not look good for gay Virginians. In the 1995 case of Sharon Bottoms, the Virginia high court took a two-year-old child away from his lesbian mother, because of her sexual orientation. If voters pass the amendment against gay marriage and civil unions next year, it would have real teeth. Already, many gays in Virginia are talking about moving to Washington or Maryland if what they view as an anti-gay crusade doesn’t recede. If things continue on their present course, the state might have to amend its slogan, “Virginia is for lovers,” to include the caveat, “some exceptions apply.”  

Tyranny Can Be Fun

The Washington Post has a travel article about Atlantic City featuring a brief review of this amusing little bar in the Tropicana Casino:

We stopped at Reichstag (no cover!), a bar with faux-Nazi decor. A portrait of Hitler hangs over the hostess station, and the light fixtures are shaped like Nuremberg Rally torches. For $12.75, I enjoyed the best Pilsner I’ve ever had.

Not so funny? How about this:

We stopped at Red Square (no cover!), a vodka bar with faux-Commie decor. A portrait of Lenin hangs over the hostess station, and the light fixtures are shaped like the turrets of St. Basil’s. For $12.75, I enjoyed the best vodka tonic I’ve ever had.

Is it funnier now?

Rhetoric

Thomas Sowell has some interesting thoughts about political rhetoric:

An issue can be enormously important and well within most people’s understanding. Yet the way words are used can determine whether people are aroused or bored.

One of those issues is what legal scholars call “takings.” There is a masterful book with that title by Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School.

But if you are in a bookstore and see a book with the title “Takings” on its cover, are you more likely to stop in your tracks and eagerly snatch it off the shelf or to yawn and keep walking?

Read the whole thing.  For more about how the pols use and abuse language, go here.

The Show was a Hoax, but the Organ Shortage Is Real!

It is disappointing that it takes the sensationalism of a hoax reality show to focus attention on a very real tragedy.

On Friday June 1st, as part of the Dutch “Big Donor Show,” it was revealed that the woman willing to donate a kidney to one of three lucky contestants in need of an organ was an actress. The whole show was a publicity stunt to motivate the Dutch government to reform its organ donation laws which currently only allow organ donation between family and friends.

In the U.S. organ donation is not just limited to family and friends, but the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 forbids anyone from receiving “valuable consideration” for a human organ. This provision is interpreted as prohibiting the donor from receiving any compensation beyond the good feeling of having done an altruistic deed. Medical expenses directly related to the transplant and recovery are usually paid by the transplant unit or the recipient’s insurance, but any payment of expenses beyond these initial transplant related costs are legally questionable. Both state and federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow organ donors to recover other more distantly related costs such as lost wages, travel expenses and future medical expenses potentially related to the donation.

Given the very real tragedy of an average of seven people dying daily in the U.S. while waiting for an organ that never comes, why not allow “valuable consideration” in order to save lives? Maybe a reality show competition isn’t the most tasteful way to proceed, but giving someone life-long medical coverage, life-insurance, or whatever other arrangement competent adults are willing to make, seems a logical way to proceed.

The common argument that receiving “valuable consideration” for human organs must be prohibited because it offends human dignity is paternalism at its worst. Only the donors themselves are in a position to judge what is or is not an affront to their dignity. It is hard to imagine how saving a life, whether someone is compensated for doing so or not, could ever be an affront to human dignity.

Sigrid Fry-Revere interview on Fox News before show was revealed as a hoax:
http://www.cato.org/realaudio/fry-revere-on-fox-news-05-31-07.html

CBS News report that “Big Donor Show” was a hoax:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/01/health/printable2876573.shtml