Where is all of this leading? Will anyone say? Can anyone say for sure? In congressional testimony last June, Kass said, ‘‘Anyone truly serious about preventing human reproductive cloning must seek to stop the process from the beginning, at the stage where the human somatic cell nucleus is introduced into the egg.'' The House of Representatives has passed legislation prohibiting such cloning, but the Senate has yet to act.
On Monday President Bush said that cloning humans is ‘‘morally wrong, in my opinion'' and ‘‘We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it.'' But morality is more than one man's opinion — or it used to be. Haven't we been legally destroying human life for nearly 30 years in a procedure called abortion, mostly for the convenience of inconveniently pregnant women? Abortion supporters will find it difficult to credibly oppose cloning. Having weakened protection for the unborn, they cannot now protest new efforts to dehumanize them.
One of the problems in the debate about the value of human life is that it has come up against individual rights, including the right to feel good. The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity notes in the latest edition of its newsletter, ‘‘Dignity'': ‘‘There are far-reaching implications of cloning for the human society,'' but because we now focus only on the individual, it has become more difficult to see the consequences for society and our collective future.
For example, it is now deemed a ‘‘right'' to have a child whose DNA matches that of the adults. Kass has challenged that ‘‘right,'' saying that a legal precedent for such a right does not exist and that the idea of creating a child via cloning must be attacked, though with compassion. The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity brings up another important moral question in its newsletter: ‘‘If a woman's college-age son — a clone of her husband — reminded her of her spouse at the time she first fell in love with him, serious relational and marital problems might arise within the family.'' In Kass's words, ‘‘Turning the world upside down to make sure that (a few couples) can have a genetically-related child is not sensible.''
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, a bioethicist and cancer researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., believes that cloning humans has enormous implications for our concept of freedom. He told ‘‘Dignity'' (www.cbhd.org): ‘‘When we attempt to control all the various elements of our lives to the extent that this … technology seems to indicate, we have in a sense chosen to relinquish some of that freedom (whether we are successful or not). We can no longer now be the creatures that we were before.''
In an April interview with ‘‘Dignity,'' Kass noted: ‘‘There are … people who care about what it means to be a human being — not in some kind of technical, philosophical sense — but (because) they recognize threats to the things that they hold humanly dear.''
Not so much, these days. Our inattention to such things brought us abortion. Other threats to our humanity, like cloning, will be nearly impossible to stop. That's because to stop it, one must be able to appeal to a moral absolute, which was jettisoned before many people reading this were born.