Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium is famous in National Football League circles for its raucous red and yellow bowl of Chiefs fans, an imposing "12th man" drowning opposing teams in waves of noise. Sen. Sam Brownback was wrapping up his Thanksgiving weekend by bringing his 13-year-old son Andy from their Topeka home to his first NFL game when business intruded. As the first quarter wound down, a cell-phone call turned the senator's thoughts from crossing goal lines to crossing ethical lines. A staffer relayed the news that executives from a company called Advanced Cell Technologies were boasting that they had cloned human embryos.
"I was horrified," Sen. Brownback told WORLD. "This is one of the things I have been warning about for months. But I was shocked myself." In the father-son football preparations, he had paid no attention to the Sunday morning news shows, where other politicians (and ACT's proud president) had first sounded off. Even as the Chiefs were putting together their first home win of the season, Sen. Brownback was at work. He quickly joined a conference call of anti-cloning activists who were planning a press conference for the next day in Washington. On the drive home, he strategized with aides: "We started discussing the options. Could we get the House bill passed, or just get a six-month moratorium?" The moratorium sounded more realistic, allowing room for months of debate without a permanent agreement in place. Sen. Brownback then called the White House, telling a top aide that he wanted to take the moratorium route, and he was told the president would need time to think about his response.
Early in November, Sen. Brownback had dueled with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who sought to toss out the president's limits on federally funded human stem-cell research. Sen. Brownback wanted to bolster the president's position. Both senators realized that their strategies to attach embryo-policy amendments to large spending bills might further delay an already long-overdue appropriations process, and they called a truce.
But Sen. Brownback told WORLD the cloning news meant all deals were off, and that he won't rule out any course of action to force his colleagues to take up the issue. "I really believe that this trumps the entire situation. I have no problem with bringing up Sen. Specter's issue at this time as well. But we need to speak on this before technology gets far ahead of the policymaking."
On Nov. 26, in a packed press conference at the Russell Senate building, Sen. Brownback declared he would first ask the Senate to consider a House-passed cloning ban-approved by a whopping 103-vote margin in July-and then consider the moratorium Plan B.
Sen. Specter has belittled Sen. Brownback's "science-fiction" cloning arguments against federal funding for embryo-destroying stem-cell research. Major media coverage often played up assurances that the supply of embryos for research would come from a fertility-clinic surplus otherwise destined for the trash can.
The cloning news changes all that.
The president's carefully nuanced, reasonable-persons-may-disagree position on stem-cell research gave way to an emphatic rejection of human cloning for any purpose: "We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what's taking place ... it's morally wrong, in my opinion," the president declared after he was prodded by a reporter at a Rose Garden event for liberated relief workers Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry. Plans to create a federal Bioethics Commission-delayed by the terrorist attack and war in Afghanistan-are back on the fast track: An executive order establishing the commission is expected any day and the names of the commissioners by the end of the year. Leon Kass, the University of Chicago ethicist who will lead the commission, told WORLD he plans to move to Washington after the holidays.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey declared the cloning news "should set off a four alarm wake-up call in the U.S. Senate," and that senators should stop delaying and pass the House ban. "Let's be clear. We are in a race to prevent amoral, scientifically suspect tinkering with the miracle and sanctity of life." Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott issued no formal statement or press release, but Sen. Brownback said Senate GOP leaders expressed no queasiness over the issue and its potential to frustrate other legislative goals.
But cloning opponents face a brick wall in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who's holding firm to a previous plan to hold a cloning debate in February or March. Sen. Brownback's proposal to bring the House bill immediately to the floor was rebuffed as expected. The majority leader also discouraged the moratorium idea, claiming it "will not save lives and could extend unnecessarily the search for a cure for a lot of these diseases that ought to be cured as quickly as possible." House leaders tried to keep the pressure on with press conferences, but privately grumbled that Sen. Daschle was finding time to focus on hardly urgent business for his constituents-a railroad retirement package and a farm bill that doesn't expire for another year-while cloning remains legal.
Sen. Daschle is flip-flopping his way to a new appreciation for cloning's "therapeutic" possibilities. In August, he opposed the idea in full: "I think virtually every one of my Senate colleagues is opposed to human cloning. I'm very uncomfortable with even cloning for research purposes." But as the ACT news brewed on Sunday morning, Sen. Daschle told Fox host Tony Snow, "I support the cloning for research purposes, but we vehemently oppose any cloning for purposes of human replication."
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, hopes the majority leader will reconsider as his constituents in South Dakota absorb the new developments: "It would be one thing to be a defender of the farmer, but it'd be entirely different to be a supporter of human embryo farms."
Senate Republicans and White House aides are having lots of discussions about how to clear the Daschle obstacles. Brownback aides express confidence that if a vote is allowed, a cloning ban will carry the day. Polls show nearly 90 percent of Americans oppose human cloning. "If they adjourn for Christmas without moving, senators shouldn't be surprised if they're left holding the bag," said Mr. Johnson. "There may be more of these cloning revelations by late January."
The House vote demonstrated that uneasiness with cloning exists all along the political spectrum. The bill, sponsored by Republican Dave Weldon and Democrat Bart Stupak, drew the votes not only of staunch pro-lifers, but also of many middle-of-the-roaders on the abortion issue, and liberal advocates of legal abortion who fear corporations trafficking in embryo manipulation for profit. That same coalition could develop in the Senate. Already, freshman Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton, a supporter of embryo-destroying stem-cell research, has denounced cloning as "dangerous tampering" with human life.
One of the strongest left-wing groups opposing human cloning is Friends of the Earth, whose leader, Brent Blackwelder, joined Sen. Brownback at the Russell building press conference to denounce a possible "Pandora's box [of] entrepreneurial greed and scientific arrogance under the guise of alleviating human suffering."
For now, the only ethical restraint against cloning concerns are the biotech companies' own boards of ethical advisers, who are paid by the companies and often serve to defend their practices to the public. ACT's lead adviser, Ronald Green, a professor of ethics and religion at Dartmouth, has been busy urging reporters to embrace the idea that these lab experiments aren't on humans. They're on "activated eggs."
When he steps back from all the legislative wrangling, Sen. Brownback marvels at the small worth some in the political culture attach to early human life. He points to endangered-species laws: "You can't touch a bald eagle's eggs. You can't even mess with their habitat. But right now, you can do anything you want to a human egg."