Commentary

Show Caution On Cloning Regulation

By Michael Gough
This article originally appeared in USA Today.

Politicians are rushing to make human cloning a crime. They need to slow down, step back and think carefully about what they’re proposing.

A good many scientists and ethicists believe that murky language in the proposed legislation could end ongoing, perfectly legal research directed at solving human infertility problems and developing cell-cloning techniques to produce nerve tissue for accident victims and skin for burn victims. Moreover, the murkiness gives unelected bureaucrats and judges enormous authority to decide whether research is criminal.

Even if the language can be fine-tuned, the government needs to demonstrate a compelling reason to justify regulation. Politicians make references to a “consensus” against cloning and philosophical and ethical objections to it. Any consensus was stronger 10 months ago when we learned about Dolly. The perceived menace of clones has receded as people have realized that they deal with clones - twins and triplets - all the time. And far from being united in opposition to cloning, ethicists are staking out many different positions. Listening to those debates is a better course than writing unclear legislation.


The proposed legislation would ban privately funded research. It would seal us off from benefits of such research and trample on the reproductive rights of citizens.


Two presidential orders have already stopped federally funded cloning research. The proposed legislation would ban privately funded research. It would seal us off from benefits of such research and trample on the reproductive rights of citizens.

The legislative fervor was prompted by Dr. Richard Seed’s recent announcement that he is going to clone a human. Dr. Seed failed in a 1984 attempt to set up fertility centers. He has no specialized knowledge of cloning research. The chances are slim indeed that he will be able to raise money to build and equip a clinic and recruit scientists and physicians to work there amid charges of irresponsibility and unethical practice.

Legislation intended to thwart him could end promising research in the United States, but it will be done in other countries. Surely it’s better to allow the research here, where the exchange of scientific information is generally open and where there’s an inquiring press, than to drive it overseas and underground.

Michael Gough is director of science and risk studies at the Cato Institute.