TCS Daily

Clone Rangers

By Henry I. Miller - December 30, 2002 12:00 AM

"Bush administration supporters are preparing a fresh effort to pass legislation that would outlaw all forms of human cloning," the Washington Post reported last week.

This news follows a move last month by the United States to block an initiative by Germany and France for a worldwide ban on cloning to create human beings, demanding that the ban should also include the cloning of human cells for therapeutic or research purposes.

Not only is the U.S. position - complete prohibition - extreme, but even the more conservative, limited ban is insupportable. The reproductive cloning of humans raises vexatious technical, ethical and practical issues, to be sure. A technical failure could lead to grotesque deformities or the premature "death" of the clone, and subtle anomalies in gene expression - which are known from animal experiments to occur in clones - could show up as unacceptable traits in human offspring.

Even if the procedure were wholly successful, questions could arise as to who is responsible for the clone's development (to say nothing of its upbringing and college education). Finally, there is no clear medical necessity for the procedure, no patient whose life or limb is at risk without it.

But legal prohibition - national or international - is a poor answer. Even if a new law or treaty were able to eliminate reproductive cloning from most of the world, practitioners would likely spring up in places with minimal regulation, next door to the quack cancer and fountain of youth clinics. The actions of rogue cloners in these wholly unregulated milieus could be disastrous.

The potential problems of cloning are, arguably, best left to the forces of the marketplace and the existing protections of national legal systems. If, as experts expect, reproductive cloning is largely unsuccessful, its practitioners will find themselves without clients. If they fail to deliver on their contractual obligations or cause death or injury to an infant, they may be subject to various civil and criminal legal strictures, including fraud, breach of contract, criminal negligence, and manslaughter. They might even be subject, ultimately, to "wrongful life" suits brought by the clone or its agents.

If bureaucrats pursue a legal prohibition , it is likely that they, the research community and society at large will be confounded by the law of unintended consequences.

Henry I. Miller, a physician, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of To America's Health: A Proposal to Reform the FDA.



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