Sunday, February 29, 2004

Everybody is Doing It

Concerned that South Korea has reportedly cloned a human embryo and the U.S. has not, Dan Henninger argues against crying "Stop!" to "progress" in this area. His argument amounts to, "everyone else is doing it; we should too." So the spokesman for progress and novelty uses the line kids have been feeding their parents for millennia.

In his effort to keep up with the biotechnology Joneses, Henninger concedes that "this is not a call for 'global government.' Local traditions matter." And perhaps this is his problem; he only sees the aversion to cloning as a local prejudice. His piece is devoid of reasons for and against; it's all feeling -- being cutting edge, not being left behind, etc....

Cloning a blastocyst and then destroying it after fourteen days (the policy Henninger favors) argues for the radical control of one generation over the other. What Henninger wants is, according to the President's Council on Bioethics, "exploitation of developing human life" for the sake of scientific progress. Asexual reproduction will put us in the habit of exploitation. It is a line or boundary the crossing of which and the resulting ramifications Henninger does not even acknowledge. What is so weak about his piece is its refusal to articulate arguments or give reasons. He shows no evidence of having read the council's findings or papers. He merely views it as crying "Stop!"

Perhaps there are good arguments in favor of cloning for therapeutic purposes (especially arguments regarding what we owe to the suffering), but Henninger hasn't articulated them, short of complaining that we shouldn't let other countries do it before we do. He should refrain from writing essays on the subject until he has something more substantive to say than, "everybody is doing it." He neither does justice to cloning's opponents nor to its advocates whose primary mission is the alleviation of suffering.

The President's Council on Bioethics has produced a volume that is a model of dispassionate inquiry and fairness. It does not come to conclusions that everyone would like. But it presents the strongest arguments on both sides. Henninger would do well to read it before he ventured another comment on the subject.

Update 11:29PM -- Golbitz tells me I'm not being fair to Henninger whose more political argument is that the banning of cloning in the U.S. is irrelevant. It will happen somewhere, after all; and, without being globalism fetishists, we should face up to globalization and the erosion of sovereignty.

True, I've shortchanged an argument about globalization; but, again, Henninger gives no evidence of having read the arguments in the council's report.


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