April 5, 2002


Sins of Petition: How the left got tricked into opposing cloned embryo research. (Chris Mooney, 5.6.02, American Prospect)
In truth...left-liberal support for the Rifkin statement is rather less than it seemed. Of the five ostensibly left-leaning individuals besides Rifkin that the Times centrally cited, one (Emory University women's historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese) actually voted for Bush; two (Our Bodies, Ourselves co-author Judy Norsigian and New York University sociologist Todd Gitlin) have since endorsed a statement that deliberately avoids a Brownback-style ban; one (University of Maryland political scientist Benjamin Barber) can't even remember signing Rifkin's petition in the first place; and one is the always iconoclastic Norman Mailer.

And that's just the beginning of confusion over this petition. Though Rifkin's 68-name list does include some true-believing environmentalists and feminists who continue to make common cause with Brownback, a number of its more influential signatories have begun to back frantically away from the statement. Many are stunned to discover they had put their name to a petition arguing for the criminalization of medical research.

First a disclaimer : I have absolutely no evidence for the following theory; it is purely speculative. That said, I think we see here the functioning of both Leon Kass's "wisdom of repugnance" and the iron fist of political correctness clamping down on Leftist academics. It certainly seems, though each of them chooses to plead ignorance instead, that the folks who are now begging off of this anti-cloning petition originally signed it because they felt the same visceral repulsion at the prospect of this kind of experimentation on humans as most of the rest of us feel. But then they realized, mostly via browbeating from their friends on the Left (like Chris Mooney), that their hastily expressed opinion has ramifications that they aren't willing to face up to. After all, if we try limiting limiting what scientists and doctors do with and to fetuses, merely because we know in our hearts that it is deeply troubling, then mightn't we have to reconsider the advisability of letting them kill fetuses by the tens of millions? I mean, surely it can't be worse to screw around with a kid's genes than it is to kill her, can it?

And, let's face it, that's the subtext of this whole discussion. Either humans are mere meat, upon which science should be allowed to work its wonders, the consequences by damned, or else each person has a unique soul and God-endowed dignity and such treatment is abhorrent and antihuman. Pity these poor quick-penned intellectuals who strayed into Left heresy and now must don hair shirts and repent; it must be a terrifying thing when your heart contradicts the politically-correct diktats you're supposed to follow.

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992133>Cloning pregnancy claim prompts outrage  (Emma Young and Damian Carrington, 05 April 02, 2002, NewScientist.com)

A woman taking part in a controversial human cloning programme is eight weeks pregnant, claims Severino Antinori, one of the two controversial fertility specialists leading the effort.

"One woman among thousands of infertile couples in the programme is eight weeks pregnant," Antinori is reported as saying at a meeting in the United Arab Emirates. If true, this would represent the first human cloning pregnancy.

Antinori's colleague, Panos Zavos at the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky, had previously announced that the pair planned to clone a baby by the end of 2001. Both Zavos's office and Antinori's office in Rome refuse to confirm or deny the report to New Scientist.


Antinori claims to be able to screen the embryos to reduce the risk of abnormalities but Gardner says: "There's no way you can do it - you could only spot gross changes in chromosomes or in the number of chromosomes." There can be single gene defects, he adds, and problems with imprinting - the latter do not just relate to malformation but are also linked to cancer.

Rudolf Jaenisch, a cloning expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says: "I am appalled that these people are attempting to produce cloned humans. This is irresponsible and repugnant and ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence from seven mammalian species cloned so far.

"All evidence indicates that most clones die early - the lucky ones - and the rare survivors may have serious abnormalities which may become apparent only later," he says. "Antinori seems to use humans as guinea pigs to advance his questionable agenda. He needs to be stopped."

Donald Bruce, of the Church of Scotland's Science, Religion and Technology project, says: "Antinori is conducting experiments on people, playing on their vulnerability. His cavalier attitude to the significance of the animal cloning experiments and the risks involved puts him beyond the pale of responsible scientists."

Which calls to mind this quote from Nicholas Rescher :

Some information is simply not safe for us--not because there is something wrong with its possession in the abstract, but because it is the sort of thing we humans are not well suited to cope with. There are various things we simply ought not not to know. If we did not have to live our lives amidst a fog of uncertainty about a whole range of matters that are actually of fundamental interest and importance to us, it would no longer be a human mode of existence that we would live. Instead we would become a being of another sort, perhaps angelic, perhaps machine-like, but certainly not human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 5, 2002 9:03 AM
Comments for this post are closed.