WASHINGTON—When Wesley J. Smith was young, parents who couldn’t have children often adopted. Smith remembers growing up with adopted kids, and as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, he talks with parents who adopt. But in the near future, some adults could skip adoption in favor of genetically modified babies—with three parents.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said at the Family Research Council on Thursday that the government needs to ban all stages of human cloning because scientists are already pushing their experiments too far. He has introduced a bill that would outlaw the process.
“This is a right and wrong argument,” he said. “You’re creating something that is a human being.”
American scientists are already succeeding at cell-level human cloning, with human embryos in May 2013 and with an embryo cloned from an adult human skin cell in April 2014. In both cases, the embryos died in petri dishes.
The Food and Drug Administration met in February to consider allowing research that could lead to genetically modified human births. “Oocyte modification” is a form of cloning in which scientists would take the mitochondria, or energy producers, from one egg and replace it with mitochondria from another egg. The resulting embryo would have DNA from two women and one man.
While proponents say this process would allow women with rare genetic problems to give birth, Smith said it’s too risky and opens up too many ethical problems. For instance, homosexuals or groups of three lovers could use it to give birth to a child. In addition, the process takes huge amounts of eggs, often harvested from young women in a risky procedure that can cause infertility. Scientists in the Netherlands and Israel are experimenting to see if they can mature eggs from aborted female babies.
“It just shows how objectifying this can become,” Smith said.
Harris first introduced his ban on human cloning in 2012, but the bill died after being referred to a committee. The current version, introduced in May 2013, still is waiting for a committee report.
Harris’s bill has a slim chance of entering a committee and an even smaller chance of passing the Democrat-dominated Senate. Smith, a lawyer who writes about embryonic research and other human rights issues, said the FDA could very well allow cloning in the future.
Both Harris and Smith believe the real problem is that few people know what’s happening with embryonic research. Wealthy groups who fund the research sometimes cover their work through semantics. While scientists call their work cloning in journals, press releases call it embryonic or somatic cell nuclear transfer.
“At some point, a group of individuals has to say, no, this is wrong,” Harris said. “I think we haven’t allowed enough noise about it.”