Cloning Doubletalk

Dianne Feinstein and Orin Hatch pretend that their bill to legalize human cloning is actually a ban. Original Article

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Orin Hatch have just introduced Senate Bill 812, which explicitly legalizes human cloning and—since a shortage of human eggs is currently impeding human cloning research (one egg is needed for each attempt at cloning)—the bill also authorizes researchers to pay women to undergo egg procurement.

And if the purpose of the legislation wasn’t bad enough, there’s its name: Feinstein and Hatch mendaciously named S. 812 the “Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Protection Act of 2007.”

How can a bill to legalize human cloning be instead called a ban? Through the time-tested method of disingenuous legislating—the bogus definition. Here’s a rarely discussed truth: Key words and terms in legislation mean only what a bill’s authors say they mean, rather than their actual definitions. If a dung beetle was defined in legislation as a butterfly, for the purposes of that bill, the dung beetle would be a butterfly. Which is essentially what S. 812 does. It defines the term “human cloning” inaccurately and unscientifically so that Feinstein and Hatch can pretend their bill will outlaw human cloning.

To understand the dishonesty of S. 812, we must first define cloning accurately and describe exactly what it is that the process creates. “Cloning” is the popular term given for “asexual reproduction,” which in mammals (theoretically, including humans) is accomplished through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)—the same method used to create Dolly the sheep. SCNT is easy to describe but hard to accomplish:

  • First, the nucleus is removed from an egg cell and replaced with the nucleus taken from a somatic (body) cell. As a consequence of the nuclear transfer, the genetically modified egg has the full complement of chromosomes.
  • Next, an electric current or chemical is use to stimulate the genetically modified egg.
  • If the SCNT process works and all goes well, a cloned embryo comes into being, a point recently affirmed by James Thomson, the scientist who first derived human embryonic stem cells, and who stated regarding human SCNT, “If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn’t know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is”—meaning a human embryo.

Just as there is no further fertilization after sexual conception, once the SCNT process is finished, there is no more cloning—a new organism has already come into being. From this point on the question becomes what to do with the cloned embryo that has been created. If it is to be destroyed in research, it is sometimes called “therapeutic” or research cloning. If it is to be implanted and gestated to birth, it is usually called reproductive cloning. But whichever use is to be made of the embryo, the act of cloning is complete once the SCNT process has been fully accomplished.

With this basic biology in mind, we now turn to “human cloning” as (mis)defined in S. 812. In the definitions section of the bill, it states:

The term ‘human cloning’ means implanting or attempting to implant the product of nuclear transplantation into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.

This definition is pure bunk. Implantation is no more human cloning then implanting an embryo created via IVF is human fertilization. Rather, implantation is one potential use of the embryo created through human cloning. The bill’s definition is junk biology. The point being to allow Senators Feinstein and Hatch to pretend that they are banning human cloning when their bill actually legalizes it.

The Feinstein-Hatch bill also purports to outlaw the purchase and sale of human eggs, a matter rightly seen by many feminists and human rights activists as necessary to prevent the exploitation of poor women for biotechnological research.

As we saw in the description of SCNT, each attempt at cloning requires one egg. But human cloning is very difficult and will take a long time to perfect. (South Korean cloning researcher Hwang Wu-suk burned through some 2,000 eggs and was still unable to create a single cloned human embryo.) Thus, for cloning research to really take off, scientists will need tens of thousands of human eggs. But eggs are a rare commodity and scientists are already complaining that an egg shortage is holding back cloning research.

Making matters more difficult, eggs are not currently easy to obtain. It requires that egg suppliers undergo an onerous and sometimes dangerous procedure known as super-ovulation in which a woman of child-bearing years is injected with high doses of hormones so that her ovaries release 10 to 20 eggs in a cycle, instead of the usual one. These eggs are then removed with a needle inserted through the vaginal wall. This procedure is not only uncomfortable (it requires anesthesia), but it can also be risky. About 5 percent of women who undergo super-ovulation experience serious side effects, such as infection, infertility, paralysis, loss of limbs (due to blood clots), and even death.

Given these dangers, few women readily volunteer to become egg donors. As a consequence, some researchers argue that they should be authorized to buy eggs from women. Feminists and others object, worrying that egg markets will exploit poor women who, unlike their better-off sisters, will be enticed to risk their lives, health, and fecundity so that Big Biotech can get rich from human cloning.

And just as it “bans” “human cloning,” S. 812 purports to ban egg purchases, too. Only it doesn’t. Section II (e)(2) states:

Prohibition on Purchase or Sale—No human oocyte or unfertilized blastocyst [meaning cloned embryo] may be acquired, received, or otherwise transferred for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.

Sounds good, right? Not so fast: What Feinstein and Hatch appear to take away from Big Biotech with one hand, they then give back to with the other, by restricting the meaning of the term “valuable consideration” in Section 2(C)(ii). To wit:

The term “valuable consideration” does not include payments . . . to compensate a donor of one or more human oocytes for the time or inconvenience associated with such donation.

So, while the eggs themselves may not be purchased, women can be paid to for the “discomfort and inconvenience” of being super-ovulated to produce the eggs, which, money in hand, she would then “donate” for cloning research. This sleight of hand would put Mandrake the Magician to shame.

Through deceptive definitions and smoke and mirror redirection, the Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Protection Act of 2007 claims to ban human cloning, but actually legalizes it. It purports to prohibit egg buying, when instead it explicitly opens the door to paying women to be egg “donors.” And it purports to protect “stem-cell research,” even though that area of experimentation isn’t anywhere mentioned in the bill—other than in the title. The question then, is whether Dianne Feinstein and Orin Hatch are intentionally deceiving the American people, or are merely ignorant about the content of their own legislation.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an attorney for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His website is

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.