As far as Washington journalists were concerned, the president's bioethics council's report on human cloning was a snoozer: The Lexis-Nexis journalistic database mustered less than 70 stories on the subject over the past week. (By contrast, punch in WorldCom and you get over 1,000 stories.) They should have made a bigger deal of it. The debate that produced the recommendation of at least a four-year moratorium on human cloning represented the first-and last-meaningful debate on the issue this year.
The report grandly hopes for a "national discourse" and "further democratic deliberation" during its proposed cloning moratorium. That's not likely. More than a week after the report's release, the president hasn't even publicly acknowledged it, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) opposes even a debate on legislation aimed at slowing the push for cloning.
The council itself was closely divided. Seven favored a total cloning ban. Seven opposed cloning babies but favored energetic research on cloned embryos with some government guidance, and three swing voters joined the anti-cloning group to endorse a four-year moratorium.
That's unacceptable to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), lead sponsor of legislation green-lighting research cloning; she wants federal support for the practice, but considers no law better than a delay or a ban. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), lead sponsor of a cloning ban, told WORLD, "It would have been nice if the . . . panel would have come out 100 percent for a complete ban on cloning, but what they tried to do is noble and right."
Sen. Brownback will keep fighting, but Republicans are certain debate on a cloning ban will not come unless control of the Senate tips back to the GOP. Sen. Daschle has made that a little harder by protecting Democrats who are politically vulnerable for their liberalism on social issues, like Missouri's Jean Carnahan or Georgia's Max Cleland, from having to vote on a contentious issue like cloning.
Far from the political fray, the council's chairman, Leon Kass, said he was satisfied that the panel had answered the president's request for a civil and thorough discussion. But the White House kept its comments on the report to a decorous minimum. "We've been thanked for our efforts," Dr. Kass told WORLD, but he hadn't spoken with the president since the report was finished.