By David Alton
In April 1999 I won a place in a parliamentary ballot. This enabled me to choose the subject for debate. I used it to question the surreptitious manner in which human cloning was becoming a reality without any proper parliamentary or public debate.
In the ensuing House of Lords argument, and during the subsequent battles, the great and the good of the scientific and philosophical fraternities united to pour scorn on the contention that so-called therapeutic cloning was the bridge across which full scale reproductive cloning would march. The claims by the Raelian Cult that they have, indeed, achieved this goal (whether true or not) simply underlines how quickly the unthinkable becomes the norm, the accepted.
The timing of the Raelian announcement, over Christmastide, was illustrative of the darker forces at work within this debate. The parody of the birth of the new Adam in the Bethlehem stable by the creation in the laboratory of the cloned Eve, as the baby is to be called, is obvious.
For the Catholic, hearing this announcement, on the vigil of the slaughter of the holy innocents, it merely underlined the cyclical nature of the battles between good and evil. Once again Rachel will be heard weeping over the loss of innocent life.
Inevitably on hand to assure us that such a development should not be greeted with alarm were the usual suspects: an advisor to the British Government and the former Episcopalian Scottish Primate, Dr. Richard Holloway.
Professor Sheila McLean, a senior ethical adviser to the Blair government, said that cloning could be morally justified and called for a worldwide debate on the issue. Professor McLean, of Glasgow University, said that reaction to the human cloning announcement had been dominated by knee-jerk opposition on religious grounds and that there had been no “convincing argument against reproductive cloning”. We should not be surprised by the willingness to accept this latest attack on the sanctity of human life. It is all of a piece.
The first harbinger of the acceptability of reproductive cloning came as usual from Baroness Mary Warnock. Over the past 18 years she has always provided philosophical ballast for those intent on embryo experimentation.
Having previously opposed human cloning she moved the goal posts yet again by pronouncing that there might well be circumstances in which reproductive cloning should be permitted. This was while her many allies in Parliament – including Richard Harries, the Anglican Bishop of Oxford – were continuing to argue that a little bit of cloning – “therapeutic cloning” – was alright, but reproductive cloning was thoroughly reprehensible, and one wouldn’t lead to the other. The great and the good would be on hand to prevent it from happening.
In virtually her next breath, Lady Warnock then prepared her friends to abandon the 1990 sophistry about embryos enjoying “special status” and “respect.” She said this was not possible if you were going to flush them down the drain.
Endearingly honest though this is, doesn’t it graphically illustrate how the previously unthinkable has occurred. Since her 1990 report nearly a million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon, with only 4% seeing the light of day. In saying that it is impossible to equate this destruction with high-sounding phrases like “special status” and “respect” we are at least agreed.
And doesn’t it also demonstrate conclusively that these anti-life positions follow logically one from another? Abortion has led to embryo experimentation and this has led to cloning. The much-maligned Catholic Church has often been alone in speaking against the systematic destruction and commodification of life.
And as these latest developments have unfolded I for one have thanked God it has done so.