Did Obama Allow Human Cloning? Part 3 of an E-mail Debate

Catholic scholars Robert P. George and Douglas Kmiec on Obama's new embryonic stem cell research policy

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Here's the third installment of the E-mail debate between conservative Roman Catholic legal scholars Robby George and Doug Kmiec over whether President Obama's executive order on embryonic stem cell research authorizes federally funded human cloning.

In the first E-mail in this post, Kmiec writes to me to acknowledge that Obama's executive order prohibits reproductive cloning, implicitly acknowledging that it does not ban cloning across the board. In the second E-mail, George asks Kmiec to explicitly recognize that Obama's executive order authorizes the government to fund cloning human embryos for research, which entails their destruction.

See the first installment of this debate here, the second installment here.

From: Kmiec, Douglas
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 12:43 p.m.
To: Robert P. George
Cc: Gilgoff, Daniel
Subject: RE: Cloning


I doubt that you are interested in the play-by-play of this side conversation, but in an attempt to clarify further as requested by Professor George, whose judgment I respect in terms of the ethical nuances of the stem cell debate, let me reiterate something I said in my original post, with the clarification indicated in [italics]

"I am far from a scientific expert, so I must rely on pro-life scientists to give objective report of how to honestly evaluate the alternatives. Of course, with or without an alternative to embryonic cells, Cardinal Rigali has it exactly right, no innocent human life is to be sacrificed for another even with the promise of medical breakthrough. That said, I do commend the President for his strong prohibition of reproductive human cloning. As Cardinal Rigali indicates, the prohibition must ethically extend to cloning generally. I know that my affirmation of Cardinal Rigali ' s statement made this point implicitly, but I have no hesitation to state it explicitly as well."

As you can see, Dan, the amendment is a clarification, not a correction, since having endorsed the Rigali statement in as unequivocal a fashion as I did, the praise for the President's "prohibition of human cloning," necessarily referred to reproductive cloning or there would have been little or no disagreement between the Cardinal and the President.

I apologize to involve you further. Of course if you think this matter of interest to your readers, especially if you think your readers might have been confused in the way suggested by Professor George, you certainly have my permission, indeed encouragement, to reprint this exchange in whole or in part as your journalistic training may suggest. I cannot speak for Professor George, of course, but I am encouraged that he promises to do some writing on this topic. My hope is that the writing is aimed at helping the NIH appreciate ways in which the Catholic natural law affirmation of human life deserves to be respected in the scientific administrative guidance to come, and that all involved realize that is more important than re-stating our differences.

With every good wish,


From: Robert P. GeorgeSent: Friday, March 13, 2009 11:44 a.m.To: Kmiec, DouglasCc: Gilgoff, DanielSubject: RE: Cloning

Dear Doug:

Now I am puzzled. The question is not what Cardinal Rigali's position is on cloning (though I'll say a word about that in a postscript, since it bears on the question of whether what is needed is merely a clarification or a correction) or your agreement with him (about which I have never been in doubt). The question is what President Obama's position is . I wrote to you because readers of the interview with Dan Gilgoff were told in your voice that the President prohibited human cloning. In fact, far from prohibiting it, the President, in an unprecedented move, authorized funding for research on stem cell lines derived from human embryos that are created by cloning specifically for use in research in which they are destroyed.

It was an innocent misstatement on your part, because you had been informed otherwise. I accept that completely and without so much as a second thought. But if the record is not clearly corrected as to what President Obama's position actually is, readers will be left with the impression (from a reliable source who is known to be pro-life and who highly regarded by the President and people in his administration) that the President prohibited human cloning, when the reverse is true.

So to make my request very simply, all I am asking for is an affirmation of the following facts, all of which are now demonstrable:

President Obama did not prohibit human   cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer to create living human embryos)   and does not oppose it. What he opposes is the implantation and gestation of human embryos that were created by cloning—that is what he means in saying he is opposed to "reproductive cloning."   The President   supports the practice of cloning to create living human embryos for purposes of scientific research in which they   will be   destroyed to produce pluripotent stem cells. His executive order has made research using cells and cell lines produced by creating human embryos by cloning eligible for federal funding. This is the first time that federal money has been made available for research using materials derived from embryos created and destroyed specifically for research purposes.

Those are the facts set forth in a straightforward way (without editorializing adjectives and adverbs), and I don't see how anyone could possibly contest them. (Although if even so much as a syllable is wrong, please tell me.) Obviously, supporters of "therapeutic cloning" would not want to contest them, since they are very happy with the President's decision.  (I've talked with several in the past three days.) Of course, we who are pro-life citizens are deeply unhappy about that decision, but the facts are the facts.

Perhaps, Doug, you could just say whether the facts as I have set them forth in the bold italics above are incorrect or in any respect less than an accurate statement of what is true. If you say that they are correct, and Dan would be kind enough to inform readers, that I think is all the correction of the record that is needed. Readers would then know exactly what the President's policy on cloning is and is not. I would be happy to just leave it there. If Dan is interested in your invitation to him to publish our exchange, I am happy to give my consent. It was a good idea in that it might help to inform readers of where we now are in the debate about stem cells and embryo-destructive research.

Sorry to keep pushing, but the issue is so important that I think readers who have (inadvertently) been given inaccurate factual information about our government's policy and the use of our tax money need to be informed of what is actually true. 

Best regards,


PS: It is not right to say that Cardinal Rigali or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes "reproductive cloning," or to suggest that they share President Obama's position on the subject. In fact, they opposed the Feinstein-Hatch-Harkin-Specter bill banning "reproductive cloning" (co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama) because it banned not cloning (SCNT), but allowing the human being created by cloning to survive past the embryonic stage. Of course, the Cardinal and the Bishops are against any cloning of human beings, but once a cloned human being exists in the embryonic stage it is the position of Cardinal Rigali and the Catholic Church that he or she has the same fundamental right to life that all of us have. I know you agree with this, and I am in no way suggesting that you don't. I am just pointing out why we cannot truthfully say that Cardinal Rigali and the Church agree with President Obama on "reproductive cloning." To get to the heart of the matter, the Church rejects (albeit on the basis of sound philosophical and scientific understanding, not revelation) the language of "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning as misleading and pernicious. All successful cloning is reproductive: it brings into existence a complete, living member of the species in the embryonic stage of development. Reproduction has happened once the embryo exists. No cloning is "therapeutic" since the subject of the cloning process (the embryo) is in no way healed or helped by the process. Indeed, in what is called by its supporters "therapeteutic" cloning, that subject is deliberately destroyed so that his or her cells can be used for purposes unconnected to his or her health or well-being.