As the U.S. Senate nears a vote on human cloning, an increasingly
polarized debate about cloning embryos for research is threatening
to block legislative action that would ban the production of
full-term human clones. At the same time, the terms and tenor
of the controversy are obscuring public understanding of the
social implications of cloning technology, including its potential
for opening the door to a new eugenics.
The debate about embryo cloning has largely pitted "the
status of human embryos" against "medical progress."
Two well-organized and well-funded constituencies dominate this
debate: conservative anti-abortion forces that oppose any legislation
that allows embryo cloning, and biomedical/biotech interests
that oppose any legislation that bans embryo cloning.
Congressional consideration of cloning legislation could easily
end in a stalemate. Proposals by pro-choice progressives and
liberals for alternative policies that would impose strong controls
on embryo cloning but not ban it, or a moratorium until such
controls are devised and the need for embryo cloning confirmed,
have begun to receive attention. But in the absence of politically
influential constituencies advocating such alternatives, most
legislators can be expected to support one or the other of the
polarized positions now on the table.
These developments are dangerous in a way that goes well beyond
the current Congressional struggle. If forced to choose between
the positions advocated by the two active camps, many liberals,
progressives and moderates who would otherwise support governmental
regulation and control would throw in their lot with the biotechnology
industry before they align themselves with a position favored
by the anti-abortion religious right.
It would be tragic if the newly emerging politics of human
genetic modification were abandoned to conservatives in this
manner. The great majority of liberals and progressives would
oppose a resurgent eugenics that introduces new forms of discrimination
and injustice. And most liberals and progressives understand
the need for societal controls over powerful technologies.
The next few years will be a critical period for preventing
new eugenic and "post-human" technologies and philosophies
from taking root. We will need to craft responsible policies,
alert key constituencies, build cultural momentum, and create
a progressive politics committed to a future of genetic justice.