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Morality in motion

National | Clinton's lukewarm opposition to cloning likely to grow cold

Issue: "Hong Kong," June 28, 1997

When President Clinton starts talking about what is moral, as he did when recommending a national law banning human cloning, it's time for us to lock up our daughters. Commenting on a report by his National Bioethics Advisory Commission, the president said such a law is needed to protect "the miracle of life" from the accelerating rush of science. Of course, Mr. Clinton opposes any law that would slow down or stop abortion, even the partial-birth variety, which has been accelerated by the rush of science unconstrained by moral law. For this president, the miracle of life is negotiable, depending on what "science" wants to do and what opinion polls allow. The president's position against some cloning is not rooted in any immutable ethic. Rather, Mr. Clinton wants to ban the procedure for only five years, allowing time to "continue the national dialogue" on cloning, which means checking the public temperature. Congress would have to determine whether the ban should be continued. Do we want to grant such life-and-death power to a Congress that struggles to manage less consequential affairs? Mr. Clinton would allow the cloning of embryos and their use for "experiments," but he would ban their implantation in the womb. But why? Since the president and the courts don't believe life begins until after birth, why not experiment until the baby has completely exited the birth canal? Why not harvest the organs of the cloned unborn? Why restrict any experiments or procedures? If we are here by accident, with no God to guide us, why shouldn't science be our god? You can't have it both ways, as the president regularly tries to do. He can't speak of the "moral horror" that would come from made-to-order humans and simultaneously favor the continuation of abortions. Why is one horrible and the other tolerable, even desirable? And by what standard does he judge such things? The president's morality is in constant motion. Just four weeks ago, in a White House address to victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the president said: "Science and technology are rapidly changing our lives with the promise of making us much healthier, much more productive and more prosperous. But with these changes we must work harder to see that as we advance we don't leave behind our conscience. No ground is gained and, indeed, much is lost if we lose our moral bearings in the name of progress." Moral bearings should not be rooted in conscience, because conscience can be reprogrammed and is more individual than corporate. The president's Bioethics Commission took a utilitarian approach to cloning, which effectively says that people can be used to advance science instead of science helping people. It is a dangerous swap that can quickly lead, as we saw with Nazi Germany and Tuskegee, to the rapid dehumanizing of humanity. Even The Washington Post wants the line drawn at human embryo experiments, calling such efforts "unconscionable." The descent of man from his once-exalted position as a unique being created in the image of God to an accident in an impersonal universe has been extraordinarily fast. When moral absolutes are sucked out of society, nothing is left to keep medical technology from cutting, probing, experimenting, even killing, except a vague and sentimental disgust. The late Walker Percy looked at the implications of a soulless technology in one of his last books, The Thanatos Syndrome. The time is the mid-1990s. AIDS patients have been quarantined. Suicide is the top killer of teenagers. Technology has progressed, but the world remains the same. "Qualitarian life centers" have sprung up across the country like fast-food franchises since the landmark case of Doe vs. Dade, which decreed, with solid scientific evidence, that the human infant does not achieve personhood until 18 months. At these centers you can quickly and conveniently dispose of young and old alike if they become unwanted. Far-fetched? Not anymore. The failure of this president to impose morality in one category of life weakens his ability to impose it in any other. Any embryo, given the right circumstances, has the potential to develop into a fully formed baby. By allowing experiments on the youngest members of the human family, we remove another section of the protective ring around all of us, diminishing all of us. c 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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