By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Here's the fourth installment of the E-mail debate between conservative 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 argues that Obama's executive order prohibits reproductive human cloning and that that's a significant development. But he also notes that he wants to see all cloning banned and has told the Obama administration as much. He encourages George to do the same and to help launch a national dialogue on the matter.
In the second E-mail, George accuses Kmiec of muddying the waters on Obama's cloning policy and calls for Kmiec to issue a "clear and accurate statement of the President's policy on human cloning."
From: Kmiec, Douglas
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 9:41 p.m.
To: Robert P. George
Cc: Gilgoff, Daniel
Subject: RE: Cloning
No reason to be puzzled.
The President's ban on "human reproductive cloning," and the way in which he uses the term is virtually identical to that of the National Academies of Science (NAS). His ban on human reproductive cloning also seems to mirror rather closely the recommendation of the National Academies of Science Report entitled Scientific and Medical ASPECTS of HUMAN REPRODUCTIVE CLONING (2002).
The Report of the NAS gave large focus to what was medically and scientifically possible, leaving most ethical questions to the Commission on Bioethics. While the ethical considerations raised in your highlighted paragraph . . . necessarily govern our thinking, and that paragraph is from our point of view also a fair statement of the President's position, I should point out that when you say the President has not banned human reproductive cloning, you have chosen to define terms differently than the National Academies of Science. Again, I can concede your definition as being better, and I do in terms of its explanatory power, but I am less certain that the President warrants criticism for his usage of terminology accepted by the NAS.
Is the President's ban on "human reproductive cloning" of no significance? I doubt either of us would say that, even as we believe greater limitation appropriate. In this regard, I note that even the ban on "human reproductive cloning" that the President has put in place by his executive order is controversial and opposed by some of the scientists who authored the NAS Report. Again, you and I would think the absence of that ban would be unthinkable.
Turning to research other than "human reproductive cloning," the NAS Report differentiated it from nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells and recommended what the President's executive order now permits: namely, in the words of the NAS Report:
"the scientific and medical considerations that justify a ban on human reproductive cloning at this time are not applicable to nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells. Because of its considerable potential for developing new medical therapies for life-threatening diseases and advancing fundamental knowledge, the panel supports the conclusion of a recent National Academies report that recommended that biomedical research using nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells be permitted. A broad national dialogue on the societal, religious, and ethical issues is encouraged on this matter."
Given the divergence of opinion between what the National Academies of Science recommends above—which again is the policy President Obama has chosen to follow—and the ethical limits stated in your highlighted paragraph, the need for your leadership in a "broad national dialogue on the societal, religious and ethical issues" is unquestioned in my mind.
As I mentioned in my original post with Dan, I have already raised my disagreement with the President. I take it you share in my dissent. In your own words, "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"; Or, in my earlier words, "I do commend the President for his strong prohibition of reproductive human cloning . . . [but] the prohibition must ethically extend to cloning generally."
Professor, after this extended dialogue I cannot believe any possibility of confusion or puzzlement remains to be wrung from my words.
All best wishes,
P.S. In reviewing matters, I had occasion to note that in his statement, Cardinal Rigali quoted our brother in Christ, Cardinal George, to the effect that President Obama did not need to issue his executive order since "basic research in the capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines produced with nonfederal funds since 2001." I know Cardinal Rigali was making a secondary argument here, and the embryos involved in "cell lines" no longer have independent viability, but I must say, holding out the pragmatic acceptance of such embryonic experimentation sits uneasily with your more direct instruction. With all due respect, reliance upon ethically dubious embryonic cell line experimentation would seem to have greater potential to confuse the Catholic faithful than my praising the President for a point of common ground, even if, as you say, it is not a particularly ample area. See, e.g., the strong criticism of the stem cell line research made by the Church fathers when former President Bush announced it. (According to the American Bioethics Advisory Committee: "Catholic bishops and theologians called President Bush's decision to permit experimentation on embryonic cell lines a "disappointment" [without] recognition of "an unfortunate inconsistency" in moral reasoning in President Bush's executive order. At the time, the Catholic objections to President Bush's decision raised three interconnected moral categories: 1) scandal; 2) indirect or negative cooperation with intrinsic evil; and 3) indirect encouragement of future acts of evil.")
From: Robert P. George
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 8:48 p.m.
To: Kmiec, Douglas
Cc: Gilgoff, Daniel
Subject: RE: Cloning
This is not complicated.
You said that President Obama prohibited cloning. That is what readers of Dan Gilgoff's interview were given to believe on your authority. It is what they will believe if you do not correct the record and provide an accurate account of President Obama's policy. But for reasons that elude me, you seem reluctant to do that. Instead, you offered Dan and his readers a clarification of your own opposition to cloning for any purpose—something that was never in doubt. Again, what is needed, lest readers be left misinformed, is a clear and accurate statement of the President's policy on human cloning.
Here, point by point, is that policy. My request is for you to inform readers that this is in fact his policy (unless you deny the accuracy of these points).
(1) President Obama did not prohibit human somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which is the scientific name for cloning. (This is true, is it not?)
(2) Human cloning (SCNT) remains perfectly legal under the President's policy. (This is true, is it not?)
(3) What the President opposes (and refers to, following the NAS usage, as "reproductive cloning") is the implantation and gestation of a human embryo produced by cloning. (This is true, is it not?)
(4) President Obama supports the practice of cloning to create living human embryos for purposes of scientific research in which they will be destroyed to produce stem cells. (This is true, is it not?)
(5) President Obama's executive order has made research using cells and cell lines produced by destroying cloned human embryos eligible for federal funding. (This is true, is it not?)
(6) This is an unprecedented step inasmuch as it makes federal money available for research using materials derived from human embryos created and destroyed specifically for research purposes. (This is true, is it not?)
These are not matters of interpretation, nor as stated do they reflect any particular ethical view or any position on the ethics of human cloning. They can be acknowledged as factually correct by supporters as well as critics of President Obama's policies. Why not acknowledge them so that readers who were (inadvertently) misinformed by your statement that President Obama prohibited human cloning will be fully and accurately informed? If you remain unwilling, I would be grateful if you would tell me which of the statements above is inaccurate as a description of the President's positions and policy. By setting them out point by point and asking whether each is true, I've tried to make it as easy as possible for you to do that. Pardon me for not simply letting the matter drop. I would have done that after your first reply, had the matter not been one of such profound importance.
PS: A side point, but perhaps worth making: President Obama does not have a point of common ground with pro-life citizens on what he (and the NAS) calls human "reproductive" cloning. As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (and every major pro-life organization) opposes the "reproductive cloning" ban supported by the President because what it actually bans is the implantation and gestation of an embryo that was created by cloning, not the creation of the embryo itself. The bill co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama was sponsored by Senators Feinstein, Hatch, Harkin, and Specter. You did not support it, did you? If you did, you are the only pro-life scholar or activist of my acquaintance who did. I suspect you didn't. To support it would be, in effect, to support mandatory embryo killing, as was pointed out repeatedly by the Pro-Life Secretariat of the USCCB. Enabling the cloned embryo to survive would constitute the crime. That is why it is an error to suppose that a ban on "reproductive cloning" (as defined by President Obama and other supporters of the ban) gives us part of what we desire for the sake of human dignity. It is not merely that such a ban "doesn't go far enough," as someone might mistakenly suppose; it bans something that we think it would be wrong to ban—permitting a living human embryo, albeit one produced by an immoral means, to survive. As I said in my previous message, the Church and all pro-life citizens hold that an embryonic human being who is brought into existence by cloning possesses an inherent and equal right to life, just like everyone else. I know we do not disagree about this.