More MS news articles for Mar 2002

Fear of Cloning

The pursuit of knowledge must be recognized as a natural right

Update: 03/15/02

It's doubtful that the recent resurgence of Luddism has been completely put to rest, but, for the time being at least, scientific research into cloning will continue in the state of Colorado. Despite endless variations on the hoary old warning that "there are things that man was not meant to know," opponents of a ban on human cloning won a small victory in that state's legislature. Concerns over the possibility of stalling potentially life-saving research spurred the House Appropriations Committee to kill a restrictive proposal by a 9-4 vote.

Unfortunately, the ban on cloning approved last summer by the U.S. House of Representatives hasn't entirely faded. It's still pending in the Senate and has the president's support -- though Senate passage is far from certain.

In traditional terms, the battle over cloning has been an odd struggle -- and likely will continue along the same lines. The usual conservative and liberal divide falls apart on the issue. The Washington Post recently wrote of an "odd bedfellows" coalition of environmentalists and right-to-lifers calling for strict controls on cloning research. Libertarians, individualist conservatives and open-minded liberals tend to embrace the possibilities offered by the technology. The split over cloning research -- whether for therapeutic uses or for the more distant goal of reproduction -- comes between those who favor the free expansion of knowledge, and those who would impose draconian controls on the human mind.

That political and cultural divide is certain to become increasingly important in the near future.

That research restrictions would likely be unenforceable is irrelevant. The sort of people who once chained Prometheus of mythology are still with us, and have yet to learn their lesson. Without even delving into the issue of outright defiance -- which has been promised by some researchers -- there's the haven offered by friendlier jurisdictions. The British government passed a law permitting limited cloning in December of 2000, and that law was formalized upon the release of a highly favorable House of lords report in February.

But a U.S. ban on cloning research would likely make the country something of a backwater in biotechnology, as money and talent flowed overseas. Such a ban would also bode ill for the government's attitude toward freedom of inquiry. What will the U.S. become when legislators are comfortable banning whole fields of knowledge?

Watch the Senate -- and this space -- for future developments.

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