May 30, 2002


Personhood in a Petri Dish (Richard Cohen, May 30, 200,
The Brownback bill is supported by President Bush. No surprise there. In general, if you scratch an anti-cloner you will find someone opposed to abortion. (Although some pretty implacable abortion foes such as Sen. Orrin Hatch and former president Gerald Ford oppose the cloning ban.) And, for the most part, if you scratch
someone in favor of experimental cloning (almost no one supports it for human reproduction) you will find someone supportive of abortion rights. So this debate really is an extension of our cultural division. It is, at bottom, about sex--how to control it, how to punish it.

Brownback and his supporters are entitled to their beliefs. But they are primarily religious ones--a determination that life begins when they believe it does. They feel so strongly about this that, in the Republican-controlled House, they rejected a substitute bill that would have permitted cloning for medical purposes only. Why? Because ultimately, they want to declare the fetus or the electrically zapped egg a person, protected by the Constitution. To destroy it is murder. Goodbye abortion.

But this bill is nothing less than an attempt to impose a religious doctrine on the rest of us. It is not that far removed from the Vatican's attempt to silence Galileo because he supported the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun. It is an attempt by legislative fiat to stop science in its tracks: Thou Shalt Remain Ignorant.

But even the Vatican couldn't keep the earth from revolving around the sun. And not even Congress can stop medical research elsewhere in the world. If therapeutic cloning can be done, it will be done -- and the desperate (not to mention the affluent) will get on airplanes for their treatment. The rest will suffer or die -- all in the name of personhood for a bunch of cells in a petri dish.

Wow, this column is profoundly dim-witted. First, Gerald Ford is pro-abortion. Second, neither the abortion issue nor the cloning issue is about sex (unless it's about having sex with clones), they're about who's human and who we can kill--as even Mr. Cohen acknowledges. Third, his point about opposition to cloning (and abortion) being based solely on religious beliefs is a nonsequitir. The same was true of slavery. And like cloning, our getting rid of slavery did not get rid of slavery in the rest of the world. So should we have kept the peculiar institution? The prohibition of murder likewise represents an "imposition" of religious doctrine on the rest of us. So what? Should we therefore allow people to kill each other?

Finally, let's grant that the Vatican couldn't keep the Earth from revolving around the sun. We can't stop corporations from fudging their balance sheets, people from driving drunk, kids from doing drugs, husbands from beating wives, priests from molesting children, bigots from beating gays, terrorists from blowing people up, one tribe from practicing genocide on another, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum. So should we give up? Should we admit defeat and stop even trying to prevent such things?

What is Mr. Cohen's point?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 30, 2002 10:24 AM
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