What do I think about the first successful (albeit
short-lived) cloning of human embryos for the purpose of deriving
stem cells? Readers with a low tolerance for ambivalence are
advised to 'quit' now because my answer will neither condemn nor
celebrate the news from Worcester. At the risk of making matters
worse I must confess that I have been thinking about cloning off
and on (mostly 'off' to be sure) for thirty years - certainly long
enough to have formulated a clear opinion one way or the other. But
I'm perplexed and, if I may presume upon your indulgence, I'll try
 My first encounter with cloning came in a freshman biology
class in 1971 where we studied the method by which the Cambridge
biologist J. B. Gurdon had recently produced his famous frog. I've
never forgotten the last lecture of the course, when the professor
told us that scientists were making rapid progress in research of
enormous consequence for human dignity, ethical values and society.
It was up to philosophers, theologians, artists and poets, and all
of us as citizens, he said, to attend to these developments and
consider what might be at stake. It is the business of science to
expand our knowledge but it is everyone's business to evaluate the
uses to which that knowledge could be put. Across campus in my
religion course Paul Ramsey was expostulating on the question
"Shall We Clone a Man?" from his 1970 book Fabricated Man: The
Ethics of Genetic Control. And, of course, his answer was an
emphatic "NO." Some of his arguments were distinctly Christian,
others were broadly humanistic and all of them seemed to me
compelling at the time. They still do.
 In my own bioethics classes, I always assign readings by
Gilbert Meilaender and Leon Kass who have over the years eloquently
and effectively pressed both lines of Ramey's argument. Vigilant
defenders of human dignity, they counsel us to resist the
temptation to succumb to technological and utilitarian imperatives.
In the face of our Promethean aspirations, they remind us that we
are embodied, finite creatures who would do well to respect limits;
the transgression of which we may come to bitterly regret. I share
these concerns and try to get my students to take them seriously
even if, as is often the case, they ultimately disagree.
 All of this is to say, I have a strong inclination to join
the chorus of critics who not only judge all forms of human cloning
to be morally unjustifiable but also advocate a legal ban. But I
can't, because the voices of Ramsey, Meilaender and Kass are not
the only ones resonating in my mind. There are others. They belong
to people in my family, my college, my parish, my community, who
suffer from diabetes, Parkinson's, paralyzing spinal cord injuries
and other conditions that might one day become treatable using
cloned stem cells. Perhaps you've heard them too. When I try to
imagine myself explaining to them that "Our high moral regard for
one to two week old embryos prevents us from pursuing promising
medical research that might lead eventually to effective therapies"
I can't. Can you?
 Yes, the benefits are hypothetical. But their suffering is
very real. And yes, there may be other equally promising lines of
research that are less problematic morally in that they do not
require the creation, use and destruction of human embryos. We
should investigate them as well. Perhaps we should even give them
priority. But should we foreclose the possibility of therapeutic
cloning before we have been able even to assess its promise?
 The controversy surrounding therapeutic cloning boils down
to two issues. First, there is the fundamental and all too familiar
question of the moral status of the early embryo. Is it the moral
equal of you or me? Is it simply microscopic matter to be handled
in whatever way suits our purposes? Or perhaps it's something in
between; not nothing yet not one of us. Some of us consider the
early embryo a full member of our moral community on the basis of
religious conviction or a secular analogue. Few, if any, would say
it's just "stuff." Some of us reckon that the embryo-fetus gains
moral standing as it develops. The moral significance of various
developmental stages (individuation, implantation, integration of
the nervous system, viability, birth, etc.) has been the subject of
 In the context of the present discussion of therapeutic
cloning to derive stem cells, it seems important to remember that
we are talking about embryos in first few days of their
development. We allow embryos to be created, screened and frozen in
infertility treatment programs. And the law allows women to abort
fetuses long after the point at which stem cells would be collected
in therapeutic cloning research. Of course, these facts do not
prove that cloning embryos is morally justifiable. They aren't even
an argument. But they do suggest that in other contexts there is no
political-legal consensus that human embryos are inviolable. That
being the case, should therapeutic cloning be prohibited?
 The second issue is the possible (probable?) slippery slope
from therapeutic to reproductive cloning. Reproductive cloning has
very few advocates (and I am not one of them). Even Advanced Cell
Technology, the company that cloned the embryos, is said to favor
criminalization of reproductive cloning at the present time. OK,
but what about in the future? Would the acceptance of therapeutic
cloning today make it more likely that we will approve reproductive
cloning tomorrow? Leon Kass believes it's not only likely but
virtually certain. It's just wishful thinking to believe that a
line could be drawn and held between therapeutic and reproductive
cloning. If we do not wish to have the latter, we'd better not
countenance the former. It's that simple. Or is it?
 He may be right. I can not say he's wrong. But slippery
slope arguments are slippery things. Not only are they speculative
but they seem to deny the possibility that reason and good will can
make moral distinctions and stand by them. Should we forego the
possible benefits of a new technology because we fear we won't be
able to control it? To say "yes" seems too pessimistic. To say "no
problem" seems too optimistic. Doubtless, there is good reason for
extreme caution. Prudence dictates regulation and oversight. But
prohibition? Even if it were possible, would it be desirable?
Again, the voices.
Leon Kass, "The Wisdom of Repugnance: Why We Should Ban The
Humans," New Republic, Vol. 2 (June 1997), pp. 17-26.
Gilbert Meilaender, "Begetting and Cloning," First Things, Vol.
74 (June-July 1997),
Paul Ramsey, Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic
Control, New Haven, Yale
University Press, 1970.