How senators justify cloning—and infanticide.

How senators justify cloning—and infanticide.

How senators justify cloning—and infanticide.

Politics and policy.
Dec. 31 2002 2:46 PM

Killing Eve

How senators justify cloning—and infanticide.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Within a few days, DNA tests should establish whether the first human clone has arrived. The birth of the baby, nicknamed Eve, was announced Friday by a leader of the Raelian cult. Most scientists doubt Eve is a clone, but they agree on two things. First, the various groups that have been trying to clone a human will succeed pretty soon, if they haven't already. Second, clones are prone to serious defects. If the defects don't kill the clone in the womb, they can doom it to a short and miserable life.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

It's likely that Eve—or the next clone, or the next—will suffer such a defect. You can imagine what follows. Somewhere in the offshore clinic, somebody presses a pillow to the infant's face to end the experiment.

Is it murder? Is Eve a human being? Not necessarily, if you buy the current arguments in defense of medical research cloning.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is one of four sponsors of a bill that would allow the creation of cloned human embryos but would ban their implantation in a womb. On Feb. 5, 2002, Hatch testified, "No doubt somewhere, some, such as the Raelians … are busy trying to apply the techniques that gave us Dolly the Sheep to human beings. Frankly, I am not sure that human being would even be the correct term for such an individual heretofore unknown in nature." That statement remains on Hatch's Web site.

On April 30, Hatch said there were two moral differences between a cloned embryo and a human being: The clone "is never fertilized" and "will not be implanted." On June 13, he added that if the clone were implanted, "even then [it] probably will not become a human being, because it is theoretically possible, but nobody is absolutely sure if that can happen."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a fellow lead sponsor of Hatch's bill, declared on June 14 that the "unfertilized egg" created by cloning "is no different than a clump of blood cells. … An unfertilized egg is not capable of becoming a human being." Has Eve changed Feinstein's opinion? Evidently not. On Sunday, Feinstein reasserted her distinction between "human cloning" and "medical stem cell research." The latter, she implied, doesn't involve humans. Some people think "life begins when an egg is fertilized," Feinstein observed. "If only an unfertilized embryo is utilized, I think that removes the sort of abortion politics that have dominated this debate."

The first cloned baby—Eve or whoever comes after her—won't be fertilized. If fertilization is a prerequisite to humanity, as Hatch and Feinstein suggest, that baby will never be human. You can press the pillow over her face and walk away.

If Hatch and Feinstein don't want to live in that world, they'd better find another way to explain why it's OK to clone a human embryo to give it death but not to give it life.